Plot Sketch: The Lion & the Owl

I spent the last six days writing this out because I couldn’t get it out of my head enough to work on editing my novel, or tackling that screenplay. Where did it come from? I recently re-read Howard Brenton’s stage play, the Romans in Britain for its 1980s take on the English occupation of N. Ireland, and that led to me re-read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.


Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3


Romans land, and Aedan and the scouts return to the hillfort and inform Taran and the Ancalite army. Aedan informs him that there are too many Romans to face head-on – but when his mother returns with an army, Taran makes the decision to attack them at a point along the Avona River.

Aedan warns that they will not win – and when they return to the hillfort having lost, many of the younger warriors begin heeding Aedan. The next night, a storm hits the hillfort, bringing torrential rain that washes the soil out from the log fortification surrounding it. Aedan warns Taran and his mother, Ciniod, that the hillfort isn’t safe, and the Romans will get in–but he doesn’t tell them how or why.

The Romans appear as predicted, and during the fight, Romans get into the fort through the gaps under the fortification walls. Taran, Aedan, and his mother flee with a group of soldiers and head north. They arrive at a mountiuntain top hold run by Cassivellaunus and Ciniod quickly ingratiates herself to him.


The same storm destroys Roman ships, forcing Caesar to return to the beachhead. Titus and his superior are dispatched back to the continent for more while Vitus and his old friend Gaius ‘Volusenus’ Quadratus, lead foraging missions of the interior.

Scipio, Planus, and Drusus join their horses in pulling timber from a nearby forest in anticipation of setting up a permanent basecamp. Castor arrives on his horse, telling them that Vitus and his legions are under attack. They arrive to find the Britons on even footing with the legions. They ride in and repel the bloody skirmish. Castor witnesses a gangly-painted druid hopping from one horse to the next with acrobatic skill as he cuts the throats of the riders, including Drusus. Suddenly, the druid is grabbed by the leg and hurled to the ground by Scipio.

Scipio dismounts as Castor covers Drusus and holds him until he dies. The gangly druid backflips repeatedly until clear of the battlefield. He looks back, never removing his owl mask. Scipio grabs a spear and hurls it at him. The druid turns to flee, but his smock gets pinned by the spear. He rips free of it, running naked into the woods with other retreating warriors.

Elevated for their bravery, Scipio, Planus, and the others cremate their dead before accepting their new ranks. Vitus takes Scipio on his mission to map the land around the Thamesis and determine the location of tribal villages


Aedan dislikes living among Cassivellaunus and his thugs but takes a liking to one young man, Kelr, whose leader-mother, Avalin, wants no part in a retaliatory expedition against the Romans. Her son, however, is the violent sort who’s keen on a fight, and his aggression attracts Aedan. Taran is smitten with Avalin and joins her when she returns to a cave system hidden by waterfalls where her tribe is hiding.

Cassivellaunus orders Ciniod to follow them, giving her a group of warriors to protect their return. Tired of the group, Aedan follows Kelr into the woods and strikes him. The young man is unaccustomed to Aedan’s brand of violent romance and doesn’t hit him back. Bored and disappointed, Aedan leaves him standing alone. At a nearby creek, Aedan hears something beyond the waterfall. He steps into the rushing water and, on the precipice of the falls, looks down upon a tall, muscular man swimming naked in the river. The young man notices Aedan, who stares long at his green eyes and shorn light hair.

Emboldened by his arousal, Aedan takes out his penis and begins masturbating. Instead of cowering, the man grins, opening his mouth to hasten Aedan along. He ejaculates and then pulls out a knife, pointing it at the man. The man waves him down, daring him to jump, but Aedan’s excitement fades when he sees Roman armor and a helmet on the ravine bank. A noise in the brush catches the man’s attention and gives Aedan a chance to flee. He rejoins the caravan, using his sense of smell, and finds his mother, Kelr, and the warrior group, taking apart a tiny Roman camp. She sends the two horses running while Kelr burns the tents, and the men eat a stag roasting on a spit. Ciniod asks if he’s seen anyone, and Aedan shakes his curly black head, telling her no.


Scipio returns from swimming and finds his father cowering in a nearby ditch, clutching his map bag. An armed group of Ancalites make short work of their camp, led by a Druid priestess, who orders everything burned and runs their horses off; then, the painted young man from the pond appears. When she asks if he’s seen any Romans, he shakes his head and tells her he hasn’t; she then maternally fusses over him, telling him to partake in the spit-roasted stag they found.

Scipio and Vitus sneak away unseen and, by late afternoon, recoup their two steeds. They ride inland, Vitus keen on mapping the river’s largest settlements. Under the full moon, they camp near a reed bank.

Scipio reveals that the young druid among the hostiles caught him bathing but said nothing to the woman when she asked. Vitus scolds him first for making himself vulnerable but then comically teases him for never growing out of his attraction to boys. Vitus playfully confesses that his mother, Scipio’s grandmother, remained a notorious lady-lover until her last day.

The following day, they come upon three settlements, the largest of which contains a growing army. They return to the coast, but they’re captured before rejoining the legion’s camp.

Ropes drag the pair to a cliffside camp, where the druid woman, Ciniod, separates Scipio from his father. She sits Vitus down before her young son, a druid called Aedan, who speaks Greek. He asks why the Romans have returned, and when Vitus says nothing, Aedan tells him, ‘Your General King is hated by his senators and seeks favor among the common men with these wars against the Celts.’

Vitus is shocked at the druid’s grasp of Roman politics but grows concerned when Ciniod brings in a druid he recognizes from the Belgic battlefield. Taran informs the priestess that Vitus killed her man, but she holds young Aedan back, reminding him that the gods will ‘take the killer’s blood in the ritual fire.’

Two brawny Celts tie Vitus to the same tree as Scipio; Vitus informs him that their abductors are the family of that insane burning-headed druid in Belgica. Later, Scipio’s father sobs: Nemesis punishes me for my misdeeds. A confused Scipio reminds him that actions in war cannot earn retribution, but his father speaks of transgressions at home.

Ciniod orders her thugs to bind Vitus and Scipio tightly.

Horses drag the pair to a wicker hut on the cliff’s edge, where the painted young man from the waterfall awaits. He wears a frightening straw mask and stands naked under a wind-blown robe as Scipio and his father are strung up by their ankles.

Scipio tries to reason with the young druid, but this fails.

Vitus fears their captors will butcher them like pigs, so he tells Scipio that he loves him and that they’ll see each other on the shores of the River Styx, where they will be reborn through Jove’s good graces. Scipio pleads for mercy until his father reminds him that he’s Roman.

His senses regained, Scipio examines their makeshift prison and feels cool air on his naked back. He twists his body around and, through the wicker strands, sees Roman ships approaching; they’re against a cliff, and the ocean is below them. Scipio tells his father they must swing their bodies to tip the hut over; they can swim once in the sea. Vitus assures him there’s nothing but rocks below, but Scipio says he’d rather die on the rocks than be butchered like a hog.

The young Druid in his straw mask appears carrying a torch and a knife.

Scipio begs for his life again, and when the druid hesitates, his mother whispers in his ear that Vitus (this Roman pig) beheaded his father. Without a preamble, the druid keeps his eyes on Scipio as he cuts Vitus’ throat.

Scipio struggles so violently that the druid is either unable or unwilling to cut his throat; the young man touches the torch to the wicker, setting it ablaze and leaving the hut. Choking on the smoke, Scipio swings his body like a pendulum until the hut is up-ended; fires burn him as the hut falls over the cliff’s edge.


Aedan the Ancalite finds himself among strangers when the tribes unite under King Cassivellaunus. He dons his owl cowl and body paint before fighting alongside the others when Roman legions arrive at the Thamesis.

His nimbleness proves him an asset on the field as he hops onto the shoulders of allies and enemies, killing his share of legionaries. The tide turns when many Celtic fighters flee at the sight of a shield-plated elephant. The archers on his back rain arrows on the front lines as Aedan slowly approaches the beast. He slides beneath it and drives a spear into its underbelly, making the beast topple and spill its archers onto the riverbank. One of them, a pretty man, begs for mercy under Aedan’s spear, and Aedan whispers, ‘Thank your Gods tonight, for I will let you live today.’

Across the battlefield, he sees a fierce soldier laying waste to the Celts around him; the tall, muscular man in nothing but leg armor is shirtless under his phalera vest, and covering his head is the snout and mane of a lion. Aedan recognizes the man’s body as that of the Roman whose father killed his.

 Aedan retreats when his mother’s chariot flees the field with their leader, but he turns back to savor the carnage. The lion-headed soldier emerges from the line and points his sword at Aedan. Emboldened by the gesture, Aedan pulls back his cowl and opens his robe, grabbing his penis, he shakes it at the lion-headed soldier. The soldier moves fast, snatching a spear from a dead Celt, he hurls it at Aedan, who barely gets away, leaving behind his owl-feathered cowl pinned to the ground.

Later that night, in the caves behind the waterfall, Aedan seeks out Kelr.

The man obeys every command by Ciniod and has proven himself as a leader among the guerilla gangs pestering the Roman foraging parties. Kelr is bitter about the Celtic retreat and is in no mood when Aedan slaps him in the face and opens his robe wanting his dick sucked. Kelr asks if Aedan can hold him instead, but the young druid wants no part of such conventional intimacy.

Later, the guerilla gangs dispatched begin disappearing. Kelr and his group return, every man badly wounded. They were slaughtered by a contingent of Romans led by the Lion Man, a ferocious Roman who hides his eyes under the snout of a Lion headdress. Aedan tells his mother he saw this man and knows him to be the Roman who got away from the sacrificial burning; Ciniod assures him that the man fell to his death on the rocks.

Kelr’s injury brings a visit from his uncle, the leader of the Ancalites. The man is puddy in Ciniod’s hands, breeding resentment from Aedan, who sees her manipulate the man as she did his father. When Aedan concocts a plan to poison the Romans by infecting their water with poisonous mushrooms, Kelr speaks out, calling the plan cowardly, and Ciniod agrees.

Discouraged by his mother, Aedan infiltrates the Roman camp, sneaking into a clutch of penned-in women, enslaved Bibroci captured in battle. From them, he learns that the centurion Lion Man is responsible for beheading over a hundred Bibroci—but he tolerates no rape and has kept the women safe. The lofty man possesses beautiful eyes and a lean muscular build, but burn scars mar his jawline and right shoulder.

The older druidess among them tells Aedan that the Roman leader, Caesar, often expresses concern about the centurion’s rage, yet his relentless violence proves beneficial with each new skirmish. Another druid, young yet older than Aedan, also hides among the women; like Aedan, he’s fond of men, and his mother protects him. When Aedan declares his intent to poison the Roman water supply, the women happily cover for him so he can slip away—but the young man sneaks out to warn his Roman lover, Castor.

Aedan flees the camp in the dead of night after dropping mushrooms in the Roman camp’s gathered and pooled water; he’s shocked to discover the Lion Man alone in the trees, the lion headdress draped upon a sword stuck in the ground.  He approaches with a dagger but retreats when another soldier appears. The soldier, Castor, expresses concern about his wounds—they must be salved daily if they’re to heal. He then tells the young Roman about a druid in camp with a plan to poison their water supply.

The young Roman grabs Castor and tries to kiss him. They struggle, the Lion Man aroused by Castor’s resistance. Aedan watches from the trees, also stimulated, until Castor pulls his sword and threatens ‘Scipio.’

A ruckus rings out in the camp, and a soldier named Titus appears, yelling about some Celts murdering Caesar’s wounded elephant. Suddenly, Kelr runs through the trees, and seeing Aedan, calls for him to flee. His presence revealed, the Lion Man growls, grabs his sword and headdress, and gives chase.


Aedan hops from one tree to the next as Kelr sprints beneath him. When they reach the Ancalite hideout, a cave behind the waterfall, Aedan tells Ciniod that the young Roman survived and seeks vengeance. Before they can converse further, shouts throughout the cave indicate Roman infiltration.

The Lion Man cuts down everyone in his path, and his headdress protects his nose and eyes when Taran attempts to blow poisonous dust at his face. He drives a sword through Taran and, glancing up, spots Aedan and Ciniod. Enraged at the sight of them, he orders his soldiers to throw their torches into the cavern pools, setting the gaseous water alight.

Aedan, Ciniod, Kelr, and his mother race to another exit as heated gas billows through the cave system. Aedan loses track of them when he slips through a crevasse and falls into the river below. Resting on the riverbank, he heard the Lion Man roar: Find the Owl. Bring him to me, alive!


Scipio presents Caesar with Taran’s head, and Caesar, in turn, takes Scipio to a tent where they’ve chained Ciniod and Kelr, and Kelr’s mother. He is permitted to do as he wishes after Caesar departs—and Caesar tells him that the druidess is responsible for his father’s death—she ordered it, and killing her should end it. Scipio nods yet doesn’t acknowledge the man’s request.

Kelr struggles against the Roman men holding him when Scipio puts his blade to his mother’s neck and asks: ‘Where’s the Owl?’ When Kelr refuses to tell him, Scipio cuts the woman’s throat. Kelr howls out, and Ciniod hopes to draw his ire by reminding him that she killed his father.

Before he can run a sword through her, The Owl appears, dagger in hand, and stabs the Roman holding his mother in the chest. Another soldier grabs him as Scipio runs a sword through Kelr when he breaks free. The Owl screams something in his language, and a soldier translates: ‘Vitus killed my father.’

Scipio reminds the Druid that his filthy father crossed the sea to wage war, and if the Fates ended his life, then so be it. After the translator explains this, The Owl kicks at him and struggles violently against the man holding him.

Ciniod wrests herself free, but Scipio cuts her Achilles tendon. He orders the two soldiers holding The Owl to release him. When they do, the Druid hurls himself at Scipio, but he’s not strong enough to stop him. Forces onto his stomach, the Druid fights as Scipio joyously tears his clothes off. She crawls to them when Scipio calls for ‘the oil.’

Scipio raises her son by the hair, forcing him to his knees, then masturbates him, touching his burned face to the whining druid’s cheek. He asks if his skin feels warm because it still burns daily. The Owl bites at him, earning him a slap. When he ejaculates, Ciniod sees the hint of a smile on her son and sobs that the gods have finally blessed him with a suitable lover.

Aedan is hauled out of the tent by Scipio. He fights anew, caught up in a violent passion he cannot explain. In front of enslaved women and the archery corps, Scipio strikes him repeatedly and then drapes him, punch-drunk, over a saddle on its stand.

Ciniod is brought out, and Scipio runs a sword through her. Aedan cries out in a rage, but Scipio is upon him. He anally rapes Aedan while she bleeds to death. He thrusts deeply until Titus and Planus pull him from the bleeding druid.

The next day, Caesar summons Scipio, Planus, Titus, Castor, and others from Comum to his tent, which now displays the heads of Taran, Kelr, and Ciniod outside. Scipio receives an advancement to Tribuni Angusticlavii; he will return to Comum and rebuild the garrison there to aid the fort that Titus and Planus will oversee at Bellagio. Castor and the rest will rebuild Octodurus and reestablish the road-watch network from Cisalpine Gaul to Mediolanum.

Scipio asks why he’s being sent back as an administrator after proving himself on the battlefield; Caesar informs Scipio that the people of Comum have been stripped of their Roman citizenship, even those colonists born in Rome, and that Scipio’s uncle, it’s representative in the Senate, killed himself after being whipped like a dog in public by Marcus Claudius Marcellus.

This enrages Scipio, but he remains calm when Caesar orders him to oversee his family’s business now that his father and uncle have passed.

Scipio departs Britannia aboard a bireme called the Souk for a journey across the channel. He sails with nine others under his administrative command, including his friends Titus, Planus, and Castor. They remain on its top deck for the trip, and Castor is troubled to find the battered druid tied to Scipio’s ankle.


Aedan wakes before sunset atop the deck aboard the Souk as it departs Portus Itius at Gesoriacum. He’s been washed roughly by slavers but given back to Scipio in nothing but a wool robe.

Bound by rope to his rapist, Aedan waits for the man to sleep before he crawls to the port bow to urinate. He sees the devastation at Iuliobona, where hundreds of Celtic bodies lay rotting on the beach. Suddenly, his Roman captor is behind him, whispering that the shores of the Thamesis will look like this by year’s end. Aedan turns and pisses on Scipio’s booted foot. The man slaps Aedan across the face, and Aedan hurls himself at the bigger man, hoping to claw his nails deep—but one punch renders him unconscious. He wakes later to find Roman and his friends sharing a meal on a blanket.

One of them, Planus, tosses a piece of freshly steamed halibut at him, but Aedan turns from it; he tells him that it’s a fish and safe to eat. Castor reminds Planus that the druid is human and no doubt aware of fish, while Titus wonders if any Celt is human. Planus wonders if the ‘the wily beast understands’ Latin, while Titus thinks that ‘given the bitch’s glare,’ he understands well enough. Scipio leans over and asks Aedan if he understands Latin, and when he spits in his face, Scipio slaps him. His lip bloodied, Aedan licks it seductively, then spits again, this time at the fish.

Scipio wakes and drags him along as they board a merchant freight ship at Burgdigala. Down in the cargo hold, he unties his foot and secures Aedan to one of the ship’s beams. A physician appears and begins treating Scipio’s burn scars while an anxious Castor watches.

One of the crew members hangs a curtained partition, blocking Aedan’s view as dozens of rowers arrive to begin their labor.

When the drumming begins, the ship starts moving. Aedan peeks out to find dozens of dark-skinned men at their oars, pulling to the drumbeat. A well-dressed man walks between their rows, reciting basic Latin; he’s teaching these men the language as one would teach a child.

Aedan listens for many days, refusing to eat anything brought to him by the concerned Planus, yet he drinks the water offered by the well-dressed man. On the fifth day, the bandaged Scipio appears with buttered bread and oysters. Aedan refuses to eat, so the Roman threatens him: if he won’t eat willingly, he’ll have the food chewed up by one of the rotted tooth rowers and then forced down his throat. Aedan calls his bluff, knowing the Roman wouldn’t bother the oarsman.

Scipio forces Aedan’s mouth open and shovels oysters into it before making him swallow. Aedan grabs Scipio’s penis, squeezing it hard first, then jerking it violently. Scipio falls for his manipulation and jams his penis into Aedan’s mouth—warning him that if he bites him, he will die. Aedan chokes on him instead, bringing up the oysters and laughing heartily at the mess. Scipio grabs his head and lowers it to the vomit, determined to make him eat it, but the well-dressed man protests as Titus arrives and pulls Scipio away.

Another week passes, with Aedan’s grasp of Latin more fluent, thanks to the well-dressed man’s lessons. He tells the man that he murdered the Roman man’s father because his father murdered Aedan’s father. The well-dressed man is far too refined to understand such brutal things, but the Romans destroyed his world as a child—but he’s Roman himself now, and soon, Aedan will be Roman as well.


At the port in Narbo, the druid is dragged by Scipio to a local tavern, where he’s forced to sit on the floor like a dog while the Eques Legionis eat a final meal before splitting up; some taking the road north to Comum.

Castor secures another bireme bound for Massilia, where a new doctor treats Scipio’s skin, suggesting a good swim for non-treatment days. Scipio balks at this, unwilling to swim; the doctor expresses disappointment; Scipio’s father often boasted of his son’s swimming prowess. Scipio reminds the man that growing up on a massive lake like Comum, there’s little to do except swim.

Aedan wakes on the surface deck that night and overhears Castor and Scipio whispering; the man demands Scipio sell the druid, but Scipio tells him to mind his business. Castor ends their relationship, calling Scipio a rage-filled husk that will bring no man joy. Scipio says nothing as the mournful Castor walks to another deck area to sleep.

Scipio slips around Aedan and forces him onto his back. He covers Aedan’s mouth and, taking out some oil, slathers it between his legs. Aedan struggles but doesn’t bite Scipio’s hand over his mouth—he remains silent, even as Scipio slips painfully into him. Scipio quietly pushes into him repeatedly, his menacing eyes on Aedan’s enraged ones, until Aedan’s orgasms, bucking under him, and his climax prompts Scipio’s.

Around daylight, Aedan wakes to find himself unchained and Scipio washing with the other Romans near a bathing trough. He quickly jumps overboard and finds the strange waters warm, clear, and blue.

Scipio drops in behind him, charging through a curtain of bubbles, he swims after Aedan, overtaking him before they struggle in the depths. Furious, he hauls Aedan back to the bireme; he drags him below and begins beating him in front of the Roman rowers—many of whom cheer when the druid tries to fight back. Castor arrives, begging him to stop, and when Titus comes to pull Scipio away, he’s shocked by the druid’s arousal and laughter.

The ship arrives at Genua, where Scipio tosses a tightly bound Aedan into a trunk with holes for the nine-hour ride to Mediolanum. Scipio opens the chest every hour, and forces water down Aedan’s throat.

At Mediolanum, he takes the druid from the trunk and checks into a hospitium downtown. Aedan reeks of urine, having relieved himself several times on the journey. He’s dropped into a hot pool by Scipio, who jumps in after him and scrubs him roughly before masturbating on his face and then dunking him.

Later, another physician arrives and tends Scipio’s burns with a paste and fresh bandages. Scipio’s hair has grown since leaving Britannia; golden stubs cover his scalp and are as curly as the druid’s long dark locks. Scipio ties them together that night with rope, forcing Aedan to sleep atop him.


The menthol salve on his captor’s burns smells pleasant and puts Aedan to sleep.

He wakes in the morning to find his captor aroused, and when he refuses to pleasure him orally, his arms and legs are tied to the bed. The Roman masturbates their members together, and Aedan looks into his eyes, refusing to feel humiliated, even as he orgasms.

Dressed only in a pull-over smock, Aedan is thrown unchained into a horse-drawn carriage that locks from the outside. All around him are jugs of wine, bins of grain, and reams of fine wool. Suddenly cold, he unfurls one of the reams and finds a long sharp clothing pin. Throughout the trip, Aedan peeks out the cracks in the carriage and sees Scipio on horseback, talking to his underlings.

Later, when the carriage opens, Aedan plunges the needle-like pin into the interloper’s neck. The old man’s screams bring Scipio, who breaks Aedan’s fingers while the others laugh.

Aedan wakes atop the carriage, his broken fingers reset, bandaged, and throbbing. A walled city sits on the horizon with an aqueduct running through it. As they go uphill, the aqueduct’s arched legs get smaller. Turning on the hill, they enter an inclined valley covered by a vast orchard. The carriage passes through high stone walls, and inside the inner grounds is a garden, a well, horses, dogs, and dozens of people working.

The carriage stops at a grand stone villa capped with lidded tiles. A majestic mountain looms large behind it, and as Aedan marvels at it, Scipio’s hot breath warms his ears: Commit that snowy peak to memory, Druid. It will be the last thing you see on this Earth, but not today.

Aedan tries to run, but two groundsmen grab hold of him at Scipio’s command. He struggles as two underlings drag him into the villa, where a young woman stands, horrified. She demands they drop ‘that boy this instant,’ but Scipio tells them ‘to secure the prisoner in the kitchen.’ He then kisses his sister hello and informs her that ‘that boy’ slit their father’s throat.

Without a beat, she tells him that their mother is on her deathbed.


After her mother’s funeral, Lucia Vita Servia ventures into the kitchen and finds the druid still chained to the tile floor of the butchery. It’s been two days. She dismisses the matrons and, left alone with him, is unnerved by his dark-eyed stare.  Vita whispers her thanks for slitting her father’s throat. Her father used her like a whore, and her mother did nothing to stop him. She’s glad he’s dead. The druid replies in Latin: ‘Your brother now does to me what your father did to you.’

Scipio barges in angrily and tells her not to waste time cursing the druid pig; he cannot speak Latin. Vita doesn’t reveal the druid’s grasp of Latin; instead, she scolds her brother for his brutal treatment of him. He points at his fading burn scars and tells her that this is what the Celtic bitch did to him.

That night sounds of a violent struggle come from the kitchen. Vita finds the matrons cowering in the hall as her brother anally rapes the druid in the kitchen. Triggered by the assault, Vita flees to the atrium fountain and crouches under the falling water.

Scipio later finds her and demands to know why she hides under the water as she did when a girl. She’s a woman now, and such childish things are beneath her. Vita steps out from the water and slaps her brother across the face.

At dinner the next night, Vita demands that Scipio murder the druid and be done with it, but he refuses: that filthy Owl will serve a hefty sentence before dying.

The next day she finds Scipio in their father’s office at the front of the house, packing their father’s things away. It’s his office now; as Tribune, he’ll represent Caesar’s interests in Comum. Vita glances at their father’s map room across the atrium and sees a bust of the man in the niche beside the door. She asks if Scipio will also take the shop; he claims he won’t touch a thing in that room—their father’s armor is in there now, and it’s a shrine.

Late that night, when the house is quiet, Vita enters the kitchen and finds the chained druid still naked on the butchery slab.

She orders the matrons to fetch hot water from the baths and some towels. The druid wakes as Vita advances with rags, soap, and oil and offers to clean him. When he fails to react, she says, ‘It doesn’t matter if you smell if you’re bleeding or covered in shit—they still take what they want.

The druid whispers that he can clean himself.

The following morning, her brother’s manservant, a Gallic slave named Welle, oversees scrubbing the walls and tiles in her deceased mother’s room. Scipio confronts her, demanding to know why she never tended to their bedridden mother; he cannot imagine what their mother could’ve done to make Vita so hateful. She assures him their mother did nothing, which is her crime.

When Scipio demands a further explanation, Vita turns it around and accuses him of abandoning her. He never came home after leaving for school, even before their father collected him from Mediolanum five years ago to fight the Gauls. She then gives him short shrift for taking Welle from running the household to being his servant.

Welle says nothing, being a prisoner captured during that war in Cisalpine Gaul.  His days are spent dressing Scipio, arranging his meals, wine, and visitors, and ensuring his office and rooms are clean.

That night Vita hears her brother raping the druid again and flees, this time to the patio under the pergola, where a rainstorm falls hard on the tiles; Welle appears with a woven shield and holds it over her head to keep her dry.

Welle explains that the druid doesn’t seem to mind Scipio’s violence; he taunts him and enjoys getting in his shots to get things going. Vita finds this hard to believe, but Welle tells her he believes his own eyes.  If the prisoner is, in fact, a willing captive, then they must prepare a room for him; Vita can no longer take him lying in the kitchen.


Aedan wakes at sunrise to find the woman, Vita, rattling his chain. She offers to take him to a proper bed where he can sleep, yet warns that Scipio is home and will catch him if he runs away. He nods, and she leads him by his chain out of the kitchen.

The house contains an exposed courtyard with many rooms surrounding it. Slaves work throughout, including the Roman women assigned to the kitchen, who seem happy to see him depart.  Aedan stops before a simple stone owl in a niche and whispers to his mother that he’s still alive and well.

Vita tells him that the owl is Minerva, the goddess watching over their house, but Aedan tells her that the owl is his mother, watching over him.

His new room is large yet bare but for the bed, a rug, and a curtain on the barred window. She secures his chain to a metal ring on the floor and then explains its presence: the room once housed a mountain lion her father found as a boy.

Aedan asks if the mountain lion is the one Scipio wears on the battlefield. She tells him that thing came from a lion their father sent from Africa. Scipio raised it from a cub, but the beast got older, and one day he got out and attacked a nearby farmer. The colonial magistrate ordered it put down, and their uncle ensured the fleece was preserved for Scipio.

Welle appears with sheets and a rabbit skin blanket.

Aedan grabs the fur, something he recognizes, and covers himself. He has no idea what the sheets are for until Vita orders Welle to make the bed. Another slave brings a chair and a toilet bowl, and when Welle explains what the bowl is for, Aedan stares without a word, unnerving the lanky man.

After Welle leaves, Aedan tells Vita they have piss buckets in Britannia. After she laughs at this, she shares his name with her.


Welle wakes in the middle of the night as Scipio goes from room to room, shouting about his prisoner escaping. As Scipio pulls on his sandals, Welle informs him that the druid sleeps in his sister’s old room. Vita appears in the courtyard and tells her brother that if he wishes to keep the druid alive, he must take care of him—the chill in the butchery would kill anyone faster than anything Scipio’s filthy mind could conjure.

Vita then steps into his path when he tries to walk around her and advises that he cannot ‘plow the druid’s ass every night’; it’ll kill him. Scipio advises her to get married and move out. Welle follows his master into the room, where the druid sleeps soundly. Scipio is clearly smitten with the gangly monkey, so Welle mentions that ‘your prisoner has begun to smell.’

 The druid wakes to find Scipio and Welle standing there. He pulls the fur tight around him and scowls. Scipio yanks it away and gives the druid a choice; ‘pleasure yourself before me, or I invade your ass.’ The man glares at him and then masturbates for Scipio, keeping his eyes fixed on his captor. Welle folds his arms and averts his head until the druid asks, in a rough Belgic-Gallic, that Welle please spit on his dick.

Scipio grins and expects him to do it. Welle scowls and snatches an oil cask from the floor. He tips a drop onto the druid’s penis and then steps back, unwilling to be tainted.

The following morning, Welle has the druid scrubbed head to toe with the house hounds. When he fights, Welle offers him some honey and tells him he can have more if he behaves. Enjoying his honey, the Druid calms, and his hair is deloused with a comb.

The next day, Scipio hosts his fellow Tribunes. After they review Scipio’s drawn plan for a new garrison fortification at Comum, Titus tells them Caesar has left Britannia.

Welle informs Vita that Scipio will be spending time in the walled town of Comum in the valley below and that Welle must tend to the prisoner in his absence. Vita looks horrified and wonders if Welle is up to the task of raping the poor thing; this doesn’t amuse Welle.

Later that night, Vita hears her brother rutting in the druid’s room but doesn’t hear the druid whimpering and screaming. Welle sits in the kitchen, and when she sees him, he informs her that he added something to Druid’s oil to numb his ass. Hearing her brother’s passionate groaning about how good the druid feels proves awkward, and Vita anxiously tells Welle that Scipio’s always preferred men. Welle knows this, having seen Scipio with Castor while a prisoner.

Vita confesses that when Welle showed up last year after Rome defeated his tribe, she thought him there for Scipio.

Welle curls his lip; given Master Scipio’s thick girth, there’s no way he could’ve accommodated. She asks if Welle took part in the battle—but Welle explains that his people were migrating through the territory when they were attacked; none were soldiers.

After Welle changes out the Druid’s sheets and pillow, he locates him in the larder with the hanging meats: the Druid’s eaten almost an entire brick of prosciutto. Welle snatches what remains from his grasp and, speaking Greek, chastises the man: one doesn’t eat cured meats like this—they must be sliced and enjoyed in moderation. The druid then swallows his fingers to bring up the eaten prosciutto, but Welle stops him, calling him a savage—once it’s inside his gullet, it can stay there. He then angrily tells the druid that if he plans to escape, he should do it sooner rather than later.

Welle steps outside to calm himself and finds Planus arrived on his horse. He politely greets the Roman and tries to make himself scarce, but the Roman dismounts and follows him. Planus makes conversation, but Welle isn’t receptive and then reminds the man that he’s a slave with tasks to complete for the day; indeed, Planus could find another man to spend time with—but Planus is persistent and stays the day with Vita praising Welle’s beauty.

That night, Vita asks Welle if men or women excite him; Welle confesses such things do nothing for him. He holds no desire to seek sex or love; he’d instead read about it or conjure up his fantasies and never share them with anyone.

Welle bathes Scipio after he returns that night. The man complains that after an infrastructure inspection of the growing colony of Novum Comum, he found that the former city architect designed a poorly placed sewer, threatening the lake. A complete redesign is in order, which means he’ll need to procure an apartment in the walled city on weekdays.

Afterward, as Scipio and the Druid fistfight their way to intercourse, Welle drinks some wine with Vita on the patio and strategically lets it slip that Scipio plans on living in Novum Comum during working days until a new cistern is designed for the colony.


Aedan plans his escape with the clever Vita in her father’s map library.

Fleeing to coastal Genua is risky since Marcus Castor Junius rebuilt the watch-network along the road. It’s a tedious job, so they must observe all the traffic and log anything or anyone new. If Scipio returns and Welle informs him of Aedan’s escape, the watch-network will help intercept him.

Aedan asks about the mountain, and Vita pulls out a map her father made before they slaughtered the tribes there. Castor controls the pass to Octodurus, overseeing the settlement’s rebuild, so it’s best to avoid walking along the pass directly. Aedan thought Rome fought for control of the mountain, but Vita informs him that Caesar attacked a defenseless migrant tribe called the Veragros and told the senate that it was a battle—she then tells him not to mention it around Welle. He asks what Vita does when she’s not planning escapes.

Vita explains her role as plantation mistress and how it keeps her busy until bath time. Their father never employed slaves outside the house, so local men and women work the apple and walnut orchards—those people get paid once a month, and she’s the one who hands out the coin. Welle used to oversee the household, but since becoming Scipio’s manservant, Vita now ensures the living areas are clean, the stores are full, and the apple wine is pressed and jarred for the house.

Welle does lend a hand, ensuring the traveling horses are fed and grazed and the house slaves get proper meals and baths. He even plans meals, which she’s thankful for because she’s better at eating than choosing what others should swallow. Aedan asks where she learned to do these things, and she hesitantly admits that her mother taught her. Afterward, he catches her talking to the bust of her mother in one of the courtyard niches.

At midday, Vita introduces him to the house baths, showing him the hot, medium, and cold pools and instructing him on using a strigil. The hot pool reminds him of washing in the hot springs as a boy.

Much to Welle’s chagrin, Vita lets Aedan dine with her in the dining room. Aedan marvels at the food and how they recline when they eat it. After much wine, he apologizes for abandoning her, but he must return home. Vita cheerily assures him she’s used to the loneliness and that it hasn’t been so bad with Welle around. When the man enters, however, Aedan goes silent since Welle hasn’t heard him speak Latin.


Scipio returns to the estate one morning and spends all day in the drafting room. He gets a massage from one of the slaves, who lets it slip that Vita dines with the druid during the week. Scipio doubts this since Aedan cannot speak Latin.

Still, while being bathed by Welle, he asks after Vita and his prisoner. Welle reveals that Vita walks with the druid in the garden and bathes with him after midday. She dines with him at night and treats him as a guest, not a prisoner. Scipio demands to know what they talk about since Aedan cannot speak Latin, and Welle explains that Vita talks constantly, but he’s never heard the druid speak.

Also, the pair consumed over a dozen wine jugs in three days.

While dining with his sister that night, she dodges his questions about how lonely she is without Scipio. He also notices that talking about their parents makes her drink to get drunk. His concern magnifies when she passes out from the wine. He takes her to her room and tucks her into her bed.

Scipio then barges in on the druid and baits him with cruel words. The man ignores him, knowing no Latin, yet when Scipio sits beside him, the wiry man raises his foot and shoves Scipio’s face. Angered and aroused, Scipio overpowers him, picking him up and tossing him onto the bed.

The druid punches hard enough that Scipio gets angry enough to hurt him. The druid then loses his composure and snarls at him in Latin, accusing Scipio of being a rapist, just like his father. He tells Scipio what Vitus did to Vita, and that’s why the woman gets lost in her cups every night. Enraged, Scipio nearly chokes him to death until Welle stops him. He charges out of the druid’s room and wakes the older slaves. He lines them up outside and asks if his father ever hurt his sister. The elder claims she saw nothing, but Welle claims that’s not what she told him when he arrived last year.

Master Vitus never believed the girl to be his child, so he had his way with her when she became a woman to punish the Mistress. Scipio is mortified. He wakes Vita and demands to know why she never told him about their father. He cries and embraces her; no man will ever hurt her again while he lives and breathes. Scipio melts down, knowing now why The Fates punished Vitus in Britannia. Vita tearfully follows him to their father’s map room and stops him from burning the man’s library.

Welle watches the chaotic drama unfold and finds Aedan standing in his doorway, arms folded. He asks the druid if he’s happy with the storm he’s created. The young man rolls his eyes and marches to the map room. He stands before Scipio, laughs at his tears, and slaps him across the face. Scipio chases him to his room and slams the door shut behind him.

Vita looks at Welle; both understand yet are disturbed.


After seeing her brother off, Vita finds a bruised Aedan packing a bag in the horse barn. They embrace, and Aedan thanks her for her kindness; she thanks him for being her first friend.

Aedan experiences elevation sickness around sundown. He crosses an owl nesting in a stump, and when it squawks at him, he demands to know why he shoulder return. She parts her wings and reveals a chick. He tells her that he has no children and never will.

At the villa, Vita invites Planus to dine with her and Welle. She then orders Welle to bathe the man before dinner. Since he cannot refuse, he begrudgingly prepares, but Welle asks her if the Druid made his escape before joining him. Vita apologizes, then goes to Planus and informs him that Welle will bathe her, not him.

Later she allows Welle to bathe with her, something he’s very comfortable doing since he’s not interested in women. She asks about his home, and he tells her that it was burned to the ground by his tribe on their retreat north.

Vita insists that Welle dines with her and Planus. During the meal, she asks how Welle got captured; he and his sister tried to assassinate the legate responsible for invading their town; that legate was Vitus Servius. The older man raped his sister and then gave Welle to his son. Before she can inquire if her brother raped him, Welle assures her that Scipio never touched him—he sent him home to be a house slave. This seems to relieve Planus.

Near midnight, Aedan stumbles upon Octodurus, and, sighting another owl, he sleeps in its barn for the night. He leaves before sunrise, donning a woman’s robe again when he sees Castor and his underlings walking through town. Outside the city, two Veragros men capture him, and though some words between them feel familiar, their language is too different for proper communication. They take him to their leader, an obtuse ruffian dressed in fine Roman clothes.

The man’s Gallic mother feels the skinny Celt is worthless, but her son says the Druid whore is worth a fortune; he belongs to Lucius Scipio Servius. Aedan blurts out in Latin that none of them will get any coin from Castor for him; the finely-robed man asks if Castor and Scipio are no longer ‘bed friends,’ and Aedan smiles.

Scipio arrives at the estate with Titus and a few soldiers as a caravan appears led by Marcus Albus Oppelius.

Albus claims he’s got something that belongs to Scipio, who doubts this until Albus produces the Druid in chains. Welle emerges, swearing he was just about to run to Comum to tell him the Druid escaped; Albus delights in finding his cousin Welle alive and offers Scipio a trade: the Druid whore for his cousin, Welle.

Scipio and Marcus each sit in a chair outside the villa’s gate. Behind Scipio are four former centurions, each with a personal guard; behind Albus stands three overweight Gallic ruffians and a young woman with a Nubian complexion. The girl pours Albus some wine and steps behind him like a good servant—but when Scipio asks where his wine is, the girl quickly produces a cup and fills it. Albus demands to know what she’s doing, and she explains that the Roman asked for wine, and her job is to get wine. He scolds her: her job is to fetch wine for him, not some effete Roman. His house has plenty of wine; he doesn’t need to drink Albus’ wine.

Scipio tastes the apple wine and knows it’s from his family’s press; Titus tastes it as well and is confident it’s from the Servius orchard. Albus assures them he bought it legally at the market in Comum—he, too, is a man of means and can afford such delights. Scipio informs him that he’s willing to look the other way regarding his possession of Scipio’s property (the Druid) if he can purchase the Nubian for half her worth, given her size.

Albus asks if Scipio’s brain also burned in Britannia; the Nubian isn’t for sale, and he acquired the Druid in the mountains outside Octodurus, where Castor could’ve found him. He’ll waive the finders when selling the Druid back. Scipio tells Titus to retrieve the squad in Comum and have them follow this half-breed swine back to Octodurus; once there, have them burn the man’s property to the ground.

Vita hears a commotion outside, but before she reaches the atrium, Welle rushes past her, and Scipio barges in after him with the struggling Druid under his arm. Scipio calls for the servants to tend to his visitors and their horses outside and orders the kitchen matrons to prepare a light meal for five. He then orders Vita to mind her new maidservant, a young dark-skinned woman who stands marveling at the villa.

Vita takes the girl’s hand and shows her to the room next to what was once the Druids. She then tells the girl to stay put until the screaming stops. Vita then proceeds to charge after Scipio as he takes the struggling Druid out to the slaughtering block. He ties the fighting man to the cement pad by his wrists and ankles and then grabs the metal-capped club used to kill the animals before slaughter.

Scipio takes aim at the Druid’s ankle, determined to cripple him, but Vita throws herself upon the Druid’s feet and tells Scipio he cannot hobble the man; it’s barbaric. Scipio reminds her that the Druid is serving a life sentence for murdering their father, and as a prisoner who tried to escape, punishment is in order. Vita isn’t surprised he tried to escape the way Scipio fucks his ass every night. She’s shocked the man can still go to the toilet after what her brother does to him.

Scipio threatens to whip her instead of hobbling him, and Vita challenges him to try.

Titus stands in awe of Vita, barely acknowledging Planus, who appears beside him. Scipio tosses the hammer and grabs her arm. He leads her to a post, ties her to it, and rips open the back of her robes. Horse switch in hand, Scipio is about to strike until the Druid stands between them. He tells Scipio in Latin that he’s no right to beat her after what his father did to her.

Instead of choking him, Scipio grabs his throat and orders him to the bath to get good and clean because he’ll be knocking on his back door later. The Druid does as he’s told in a huff. Scipio finds Welle standing near the concrete pad; he demands to know why Welle freed him, and Welle says that if he wishes to whip someone for the Druid’s escape, let it be him. Before he can punish Welle, he notices Planus wearing a tunic and wonders what he’s doing there—he then holds the switch out and threatens him: No one touches his sister without his permission.

Planus blurts out that he’s not there for Vita but for Welle.

In the villa’s study, Scipio demands to know what’s gotten into Welle. His manservant confesses that he doesn’t wish to return to Octodurus or his tribe. He enjoys pouring Scipio’s drinks, laying out his clothes, and shaving and bathing; it’s his calling. Welle has no desire to pick up another sword, get married, pay bills and taxes, or procure sustenance. Scipio asks Welle if he let himself get caught two years ago, but the Gallic says enslavement was never his intention, but he’s enjoyed life at the villa—and yes, he slept with Planus the night before, and that’s how the Druid got away.

Welle dislikes the Druid, as his presence turns the household upside down.

Scipio doesn’t believe Welle is solely responsible. He reminds him that the Druid is his master’s whore, and if Welle allows his master’s sister to enable that whore’s escape again, this will hasten Welle’s return to his tribe.

After bathing, the Druid appears in the kitchen and sees the slave Tabira eating at the slave table. Welle takes his silence at being shocked by her dark skin and asks if he’s ever seen a Nubian. The Druid retorts that he’s seen a Kushite before; Tabira smiles at being called a Kushite and thanks him.

Scipio enters, hearing this, and asks the Druid where he saw a Kushite in Britannia. The flippant man reminds Scipio that the merchant ship out of Burgdigala contained dozens of Kushite men—all well-endowed and very friendly.

Welle quickly warns Tabira not to be alarmed at what’s about to happen next—but the woman jumps and cowers behind him when Scipio wraps an arm around the Druid’s neck and yanks him from the table. Scipio drags Aedan kicking and screaming from the kitchen; he leers that it’s high time for his punishment with a gag reflex test. Vita appears, fresh from her bath, and screams to Scipio that his guests await under the pergola outside. The lofty Roman drops the Druid, who kicks at him before scurrying off to his room.

Welle assures Vita that their meal will commence within the hour.

While everyone dines, Tabira marvels at the size of her room and cuddles her furry blankets. Welle barges in without knocking and demands to know why she’s in his room. Tabira tells him that Lady Vita said this was her room. She follows the angry Gallic to the dining room but hangs back when she sees Albus reclining with other Roman men.

Albus calls Welle by name and asks him if he’s packed his things for the trip home, but Lord Scipio informs Albus that Welle is an employee of the villa, not a slave.

Albus looks hurt and confused, while Vita is shocked.

Vita thought Welle was going home; her brother says he’s employed, and she needs to add him to ‘the rolls.’ Vita then confesses she gave the new girl Welle’s room, and Scipio decrees that Tabira will share a room with the Druid. He then assures Titus and Planus that the girl is safe since the Druid has no interest in women. Laughter erupts around the table when Titus asks Planus if he should move into Scipio’s house.

 Welle excuses himself and walks Tabira to her ‘new room’ with the Druid.

The room is the same size as Welle’s, and while her bed looks large, it lacks a soft blanket. Alone with the gangly Druid, she tries to make conversation, but he only stares at her with dark, hypnotic eyes. Welle returns with the furry blanket and tells her to keep it; this makes her smile, and she thanks him.

After the Gallic man’s departure, the Druid introduces himself to her as Aedan. She asks what that means, and he tells her it means ‘small fire.’ He asks what Tabira means, and she tells him she doesn’t know, only that her mother gave her the name; Tabira hasn’t seen her mother since she was 10.

Tabira asks after Aedan’s age, and he tells her he’s 22; this excites her since she’s 21. Aedan asks her if she’s hungry since she hasn’t eaten since her morning arrival. She says she’s famished, but the kitchen matrons told her no more food until morning. Aedan takes her to the kitchen and sits her at the table. A matron whispers to the other to get Welle as the Druid marches through the inner court. He brazenly enters the dining hall, climbs onto the couch beside Vita, and grabs a bowl, filling it with fruit and bread. The guests are shocked, and Albus is wide-eyed.

Scipio stands, enraged, as the Druid says he’s hungry.

When the gangly man walks off, Vita warns Scipio he best not get violent in front of their guests. Titus jokes that he and Planus have seen Scipio do all sorts of harm to ‘that guest.’ Vita glares at him, and he quiets. Scipio raises a glass to Vita—the Druid reappears, takes another bowl, and dips it into the wine vat in the corner; he says he’s thirty too. Vita begs Scipio to remain calm until their guests depart.

Tabira perks up when Aedan returns with wine, bread, and fruit. She looks solemnly over at Aedan and laments his inevitable punishment—he tells her his life is a punishment, and no one instance is worse than the constant.

Spring in bloom, Tabira braids Lady Vita’s hair, and the woman is so overcome that she offers to take the girl down to the colony for the day.

The city, called Novum Comum, is behind thick walls over 25 feet high. She rides in the carriage with Lady Vita, who’s busy looking over scrolls of paperwork, while Tabira gawks at the double-arched gateway of Porta Pretoria. Their carriage stops at a narrow building bearing the Servius name, and while exiting the carriage, Vita hands over her scrolls to a man there and walks with Tabira toward the town center.

They come upon a style house with many enslaved black women working on Roman women’s hair. Vita asks if she wants to meet other Kushites. Tabira explains that not all black women are from Kush; ‘You’re on a land with Gauls to the north and Germans farther north. You’re all the same color but not the same people.’

Vita apologizes for assuming Africa is one big nation, and the business owner overhears and asks rudely if Vita just apologized to a slave. Vita turns cold: ‘Yes, bitch I did. And your attitude better best change if you wish to see my coin.’ Tabira sits down with a braider while Lady Vita pays for it and then tells her to return to the carriage when finished.

Tabira leaves the stylist feeling happy with her new braids; she waits for Lady Vita at the carriage but enters the building when she spots Albus and his men walking past. Inside, she hears Vita groaning with pleasure and spies her with a man under her robes. Titus emerges with his face wet. He professes his affection for her, but she bids him farewell when he mentions marriage.

Lady Vita loves Tabira’s new braids, and while they shop for fabric, Vita asks if Tabira would like to have a man for the day. Tabira declines, confessing that she gets pregnant too easily. Tabira bore two children before her former owner, Lord Albus. She thinks Albus cannot plant children, and Lady Vita believes that sometimes seedless men like that are good to have around.

Back at the villa, Tabira finds Welle in the kitchen, and after complimenting her braids, he tasks her with getting ‘that damned Druid into the house.’ He lies naked under the sun on a large boulder near the chicken coup. Welle tells her to fetch him down; no one wants to look at ‘his stringy body or that club between his legs.’ Tabira jokes that the skinny ones always have elephant trunks between their hips.

Welle laughs at this, and Tabira begins to feel at home.

Outside, she approaches Aedan and says he’ll burn if he’s not more careful. Roused, he points to some sun-burned slaves; ‘I can’t burn like that, though I wish I could.’ He compliments her braids, saying Lady Vita is generous. Tabira sees his black eye and bruises on his back and wishes Lord Scipio was more like his sister. The Druid shocks her when he says: ‘Now, where’s the fun in that?’

Late summer at the villa allows Aedan’s body to rest, with Scipio staying in Novum Comum for an entire month overseeing construction on the new garrison. Aedan tours the orchard with Vita, with Albus in tow, as he’s brought dozens of the slaves to work the harvest. Those employed year-round will tend the orchards when Albus and his slaves leave after the harvest. The Gallic-Roman doesn’t hide his attraction to Vita, who ignores him while showing Aedan their large honey-bee house, the many crush presses, and the plot of land where they’ll bury thousands of fermenting jars lined with beeswax and honey. They exit the dark yeast shed and enter the sunlight, where Aedan marvels at the miles of apple trees.

Beyond the rows of trees is a long stone wall, a barrier around the walnut trees that won’t be harvested until late fall. Vita explains that come winter, linen tarps get draped on the wall caps to protect the trees from frost. The vast walls also contain water canals on top and canals inside the stone that lead to the ground. The aqueduct looms on the mountain and snakes down to the unseen city, but connected to it is the Servius tributary, which contains a step-stone waterfall that fills a trough leading onto their property. Albus wonders why they don’t use the lake. Aedan stares at him and says it’s cheaper and easier to tap into waters running downhill than it would be to lug water uphill from a lake.

Colder weather finds the slaves covering the atrium opening with bladder tarps while another slave scrubs the dry pool tiles. Elsewhere in the house, Tabira finishes braiding Lady Vita’s hair and enters the courtyard, where braziers have replaced the smaller fountains. Tabira removes her sandals to cross the grass strip with her bare feet. She giddily bunches the grass with her toes but then moves along when the older slave tending to it frowns at her. Approaching her room, she hears Lord Scipio grunting from the open door. She passes by it and sees Aedan on his stomach with his lower body held up by Lord Scipio. His nose is bloodied, but he’s on furs, eating nuts from a bowl while Lord Scipio rams into him. Aedan crosses his eyes and sticks out his tongue at her when she passes, and she cannot help but giggle on her way to the kitchen.

Welle warms himself by the oven as he plans the menu and warns her that Albus dines with them tonight. She supposes Albus will be around more since Lord Scipio procures slaves from the man for his building in town. Welle asks how she knows about the garrison, and she tells him that Lady Vita visits Titus from there, who lives in the city. Welle asks her why Lady Vita would do such a thing, and Tabira informs him that Lady Vita likes to have her ‘split’ kissed, and the commander does it best.

Welle pretends he didn’t hear any of that and asks Tabira to toss some paper on the fire. It’s a love letter from Planus, and Tabira asks why he’d burn it. Welle informs her that sex isn’t something he wishes to partake in, and engaging in romance bores him.

Sigillaria, the gift-giving day of the festival of Saturnalia, arrives.

Scipio, Vita, Welle, and Albus recline in the dining room with their warm spiced wine while the kitchen matrons and the house slaves stand in the kitchen eating their portions. Tabira joins Aedan, who sits cross-legged on the floor eating.

Two servers come in to retrieve more food and scarf their share on the way out. A third server appears and asks after the cake. Aedan marvels at the cake and wonders why he never saw it today; Tabira tells him Welle hid it because Aedan has poor impulse control.

In the dining room, Scipio gifts Vita a doll, like the one she had as a girl before he left. The gift overcomes her, and she kisses her brother. Though she didn’t tell him their father destroyed hers, one of the slaves did, and this doll is a replica of her cherished one.

In the kitchen, Albus’ two lackeys bring in a heavily furred person whose face mask Aedan recognizes as tribal Bibroci. They carry the fur-wrapped person into the dining room, where Albus announces that his gift for Scipio has arrived.

The men remove the furs and reveal a petite man with his naked body painted in Celtic warpaint.

He removes his mask to reveal a handsome yet pretty face that Aedan realizes is the boy hiding among the Bibroci women in the camp back in Britannia. The man smiles at Scipio and approaches him seductively. Scipio gropes the man’s backside and smiles as Albus assures him that this Celt won’t fight back.

Welle notices Aedan and sits up; everyone follows his uncomfortable gaze until they all see Aedan by the brazier. He takes a swig of wine and spits it into the brazier, causing the flames to expand a few seconds before he turns his back on them and returns to the kitchen. Scipio orders the Celt to his room after they kiss and returns to the table with blue paint on his lips. Vita wonders if he might release the Druid now that he has a replacement; Scipio scoffs at this. The prisoner will stay as he is, and his new toy will reside at his apartments in Novum Comum.

Later that night, passionate sex is heard from Scipio’s room while Albus and Welle speak quietly at the dinner table—Vita has fallen asleep from the wine. Albus cannot understand why Welle would choose to remain a servant. Welle tells him the siblings aren’t like other Romans; they’re good people. Albus reminds him that Scipio is a monster and mentions the Druid; Welle agrees that the Druid is a weakness, but there’s history that Albus doesn’t understand. He wonders why Albus would procure a new Celt for Scipio, and Albus tells him it was Castor’s idea. Welle is shocked and immediately suspicious.

Tabira lies awake in her bed as Aedan lies in his bed, masturbating. She watches him, and when he notices, he asks her if she wants ‘to fuck.’ She just got done bleeding, so it should be safe. She joins him on his bed but apologizes; she cannot strike him like Lord Scipio. Aedan says it’s forgivable so long as she pulls his hair. Tabira wants him to kiss her split—she’s never had that done before. Aedan agrees, saying even ass is edible with a bit of honey.

In the dining room, Vita rouses from her stupor and asks if Welle heard Tabira cry out. Welle heard nothing, but Albus said yes, he heard her. Vita hopes Tabira isn’t in there with ‘her brother and that thing you brought.’ Albus takes offense at his gift being called a thing, telling her the Celt was ‘a rather pricey’ gift from Castor.

Vita asks where Castor could’ve gotten him, and Albus grins and says a brothel in Mediolanum. Welle demands to know if he’s an actual Briton, and Albus knows only that the man offered ‘the Britannia experience’ and looks the part.

Before dawn, the Celt wanders the house looking for Aedan. He finds the Druid in the kitchen, and Aedan walks to him and whispers that he knows he told the Romans about the poisoned water. Aedan reminds him that the gods will see to his demise for destroying his people. Aedan ventures outside without giving the Celt a chance to speak, and the Celt grabs a knife from the wall and follows him.

Scipio wakes to find the Celt missing and no one in the house.

Outside, he comes upon Welle, Vita, Albus, Tabira, and the slaves huddled over the Celt, dead in the snow and grossly swollen about the face and hands, with a dagger beside him. Scipio asks the groundskeeper what happened; he sees the Celt following the Druid with a knife. Vita tells him the same; she got dressed after the matrons said the Celt and Aaden spoke briefly, and then the Celt grabbed a knife and stalked after him.

Scipio has seen this sort of death before—it’s from a bee sting. He and the groundskeeper enter the apiary and find the hive room door still locked. A few bees buzz about, explaining how the Celt got stung. The groundskeeper growls, ‘That damned insatiable Druid;’ Welle sighs, ‘Not again.’ The groundkeeper says no locked door stops ‘that one’ as he crawls through the awning vent.

The door opens to reveal an oblivious Aedan snacking on a honeycomb amidst hibernating bees whose hives are covered in furs for the winter. Welle drags the Druid out of the apiary and scolds him for eating the honey left for the wintering bees; the Druid sees the dead man and smirks. Welle demands Aedan lose that smile—a fellow Celt has died. Aedan tells him that the whore stopped being a Celt when the Gods marked him for death.

Vita visits Scipio at his apartments in the city and tells him they need to give Tabira her own room; he refuses and assures her the girl is safe. Vita knows Aedan would never hurt her, but Welle’s heard them having sex. Scipio remains uncharacteristically calm, which disturbs Vita more than his angry outbursts.

Later that night, Scipio bursts into the Druid and the Kushite’s room and finds him reading a scroll while she sits on his backside, braiding his hair. She immediately gets up to leave, but Scipio tells her she can stay and join them. The Druid curls his lip, and she assures Scipio that such an invitation is unnecessary before rushing out and closing the door behind her. Scipio demands to know who taught him to read Latin, and the Druid tells him the scroll is Greek, and it’s about a Roman lord who fucks a poisonous hole and dies horribly for it. Scipio asks if there are pictures, to wit the flexible Druid’s foot pushes his face roughly away. He demands a kiss without having to strike him for it, and the Druid spits in his face and tells him that will never happen. He slaps the Druid and, forcing him to his knees, orders the man to suck him—and it he feels teeth, then the Druid gets his ass fisted without the benefit of oil or wine. The Druid begrudgingly obliges, glaring at Scipio when his large penis slaps him in the face upon being freed.

Aedan rises early to find the house slaves refilling the pool in the atrium and removing the bladder tarp. Walking to the kitchen, he gives the stone owl his customary morning greeting in its niche—touching his head to it and expressing his love.

Scipio appears with Welle on his heels and demands to know what Aedan’s doing. Vita arrives with Tabira as Aedan tells Scipio that the owl is his mother. Scipio smugly informs him that the owl is Minerva and that Aedan’s mother is dead—he still has the bloodied rag he wiped his sword clean with to prove it. Vita gasps at her brother’s cruelty but laughs when Aedan strikes her brother’s face with a closed hand. Welle reminds the Roman that his escorts will arrive to take him down to the colony.

Albus enjoys an apple in the courtyard when Aedan sprints past, grabbing an ashy stick and using it to draw a think charcoal line across the funerary bust of Vitus in its niche. Scipio catches Aedan in the atrium, where the slaves flee in terror as Aedan splashes through the newly filled pool until caught. Scipio plunges his head under the water and holds it there. Aedan struggles against the Roman as his head is held under the water, and he hears Vita screaming and sees Welle’s feet.

Julius Caesar enters without knocking, with three legates from the 13th Legion and Castor behind him: they see Scipio drowning someone while Vita, now a grown woman, clings to his back, screaming. A narrow Gallic man begs Scipio to stop, inserting himself between the man and his victim, while a robed merchant watches as he sits on the pool’s rim, eating an apple.

A Nubian girl notices the new arrivals and jumps up, smiling. The merchant tosses his apple and bows, declaring the arrival of Caesar. Scipio stares wide-eyed, the sopping-wet Druid that killed his father tucked securely under his arm. Vita slides off her brother, and Welle straightens his robes. Aedan’s hand comes up and lands a cheap punch to Scipio’s head. Scipio drops him and approaches Caesar with arms open, delighted to see him. He introduces Albus, and the stunned merchant takes his hand. Then his freeman, Welle, bows politely before yanking the star-struck Nubian girl after the dripping Druid, who’s sprinted off to the kitchens.

In the kitchen, Welle orders the slaves to fire up the outdoor spits and prepare six chickens—as the Druid passes him, he changes that to 7 chickens. The crabs in the salt-water barrels must be taken out, boiled alive, and then broken, so their meat can be pulled for croquettes.

He reminds the matrons to cook the shredded crab in onion, garlic, and butter, not oil—butter. Being Roman, the matrons aren’t happy with that, but they silently obey. Welle oversees the hens plucked and orders another slave to crush pepper, lovage, and caraway. He and the matrons stuff the naked whole birds’ chest cavities with stones and weigh them down in a vat of wine-soaked broth. He then orders the matron to dust them with laserwart before roasting on the spits.

The Druid demands to know what he can do, and Welle sends him to the stores to take down three jars of brined endive and orders him to mix some mustard seed sauce with honey—but Aedan must keep his fingers out of the honey. When Aedan scowls at this, Welle tells him never mind and to make himself scarce for the rest of the night.

Aedan follows Tabira and Vita to the baths, determined to meet this Caesar.

After sunset, everyone dines in the triclinium.

Caesar reclines with Vita between him and Albus on one lectus, Castor and two legates on theirs, and the Gallic freeman, Welle, at one end of a lectus with Scipio at the other. Caesar compliments Welle for the meal, some of the best chicken he’s had in years. Suddenly, the Druid appears wearing a dark wool toga and a thin silver band on his head. His hair is braided, and his feet are sandaled. He bows and introduces himself as Aedan, son of Chief Fintan and Ciniod the First. Caesar appreciates his respect and kindness, and Aedan reminds him that he is the king who conquered his land and must be respected. Caesar raises his wine, thanks him for his courtesy, and watches as the Druid plops down between Scipio and Welle, uninvited, and begins eating.

Castor demands to know what the Druid thinks he’s doing, and Aedan declares that since Scipio uses him like a wife, he will dine beside him like one. Scipio’s nostrils flare, and he grips his wine cup, white-knuckled. Welle defuses the situation with talk of Scipio’s new cistern design for the city.

Scipio enthusiastically discusses the new drainage system, and since he tends to speak with his hands moving, Aedan expertly takes the wine cup before he spills it. This aggravates Castor enough to inquire about how Albus’s Sigillaria gift was received. Aedan answers for him in Celtic, saying that the whore Castor coached to kill him got stung by a bee before finishing his job.

Caesar overhears and asks Castor how fluent he is in Celtic.

Scipio tells him that Castor was their primary translator—but Scipio adds that he knows enough Celtic now to understand even the most basic of sentences. He and Castor exchange knowing glances as Aedan continues to eat, and Castor looks away, angry, when Scipio takes his cup of wine back from Aedan.

Later, Caesar expresses his pleasure that Scipio’s shed his murderous nature since arriving home and finding a purpose other than war—so it’s with a heavy heart that he asks Scipio to ride with him and the 13th to Rome.

Vita nervously asks if Caesar can take a legion into Rome since he’s Governor of Gaul. Albus asks why he can’t, and Vita answers that any Governor taking his army past the Rubio River violates the constitution.

Vita’s knowledge impresses him—but he’s shocked when the Druid huffs that Pompey violated the constitution by taking control of Rome with troops after Crassus died. Scipio declares, ‘That’s right,’ and thinks Pompey’s demand that Caesar gives up his governorship is ludicrous. Scipio says that he and Albus will march with him to Rome.

Albus wonders why he’s going, and Scipio informs him that Welle cannot go because he’s not a soldier. Albus reminds Scipio that he cannot go because he’s a businessman and hasn’t picked up a sword in years. Scipio reminds Albus that if he wishes to continue profiting from the growth of Novum Comum, he’ll be suited and ready for the march by morning. Caesar laughs, telling Scipio they’ll visit Sulpicus Rufus first, where friends Sallust, Hirtius, Oppius, and Lucius Balbus await him. Scipio is pleased, having not seen Balbus since he was a boy.

After dinner, Welle, Vita, and a tipsy Caesar sit under the outdoor pergola, watching Albus and his men depart. Suddenly, the Druid sprints through the outer court and jumps the wall with a half-naked Scipio on his heels.

Vita explains that her brother chases him through the walnut grove. Welle chimes that Lord Scipio typically catches his prisoner near the water wheel. It’s clear to Caesar that the pair haven’t ceased ‘the carnal skirmishes’ that began in Britannia. Welle looks shocked, and Vita marvels: it’s been going on that long?

Caesar unexpectedly talks of her mother and how honorable it was for Vitus to raise Vita, knowing she wasn’t his daughter. Vita is stunned but doesn’t show it, not even when he gives her a paternal kiss on the head and says she looks very much like his sister.


%d bloggers like this:
close-alt close collapse comment ellipsis expand gallery heart lock menu next pinned previous reply search share star