Bethan ached all over. Rufus had assisted her throughout the long ride, ensuring she had plenty to drink and eat from their meagre supplies. They’d rested the horse several times, which was necessary given the terrain.
Arriving in Luguvalium shortly before dusk, they attracted attention, which was hardly surprising. Her two companions were very different in bearing to the local population. They towered over most men, including the Roman soldiers who guarded the town walls. While the men muttered to each other, the women giggled and waved. It was so apparent that Felix and Rufus were special warriors. Bethan held up her chin and walked alongside the men as if she was as free as them. She wasn’t of course, and her sore bottom was a testament to that lie.
Felix secured a room at a tavern. “A decent bed for tonight. We’ve spent many a night under the stars since we left Rome, but this one won’t be as comfortable as Atticus’s guest quarters.” He paid the innkeeper and stabled the horses behind the building.
She helped them carry their bundles inside the tavern. There were two beds in the room with straw mattresses and blankets. She gathered up some loose straw on the floor and began to make a nest for herself by the wall. She’d never slept on a bed in her life.
Rufus and Felix removed their sword belts—the scabbards empty since they’d deposited their weapons with the gatehouse. The town had a garrison and swords were forbidden inside the walls. She watched transfixed as they stripped off the leather guards around their shins—greaves, they called them—and the padding protecting their wrists. Both men wore cloth tunics beneath the protective leather breastplates, which were strapped around their backs and shoulders, and the long straps of the battle skirts. They helped each other without speaking, as if they’d always done this ritual every time they undressed. She hoped they might remove their tunics and reveal their loincloths, but no, she wasn’t that fortunate. Her own modesty was maintained by her ankle-length tunic, the stola, which she drew tight to her waist with a thin belt.
The disrobing was a thrilling interlude in their journey and one she could happily watch over and over. She, a lowly maid from a small settlement, witnessing those grand specimens of masculinity bathe their toned bodies and prune their beards and moustaches using small clippers. They washed their faces in the water she’d brought in a bucket from the well.
“I need to bathe,” she said when they’d finished.
“Then do so,” said Felix kindly.
“But…” She had no privacy.
Felix cocked his head at his companion. “You are mine now, little slave. There is nothing of you that I shouldn’t see. Strip and bathe. A thorough washing. I don’t care for grubby slaves.”
She glared in disgust. “I’m not dirty.”
Rufus grinned. “No, indeed, you appear not to be. However, Felix is your master and if he wishes you to cleanse yourself, you shall do so. Now.”
Her lower lip trembled. “I don’t want—”
“It is not a question of what you want, girl,” said Felix with a raised eyebrow and a sharper tone. “Do you wish to feel my firm hand again?”
She shook her head. She’d no choice but to obey him. Bending over, she lifted the hem of her skirt and shimmed it over her shoulders and head. She was bare beneath. Turning to one side, so that her bush was hidden, she dipped the sponge in the bucket and scooped up the water. She dowsed it over her breasts.
The shame of it! Her nipples had turned into purple pebbles. And to make matters worse, she felt a different kind of wetness forming between her legs. While she dripped water over her belly, Felix lounged across his bed and watched her. He seemed bemused by her nervousness. As for Rufus, the younger man once again ogled her with wide eyes and unsuppressed enthusiasm.
“Turn and bend,” Felix said sternly.
She couldn’t resist that voice and although her knees wobbled and her skin was covered in goose bumps, she complied. She showed him her arse and the very cheeks he’d spanked the day before. Slowly, she lowered her head.
“Good girl. Now part those fine thighs of yours and wipe the sponge between them.”
Both men were now hidden behind a curtain of her hair. Were they laughing at her? Winking at each other?
“Do it,” Felix commanded.
Her hands shook as she squeezed out the sponge, then soaked it again in a fresh supply of water. She dabbed at her parting.
“Not good enough, Bethan. Use one hand to part your folds and the other to thoroughly cleanse yourself.” Felix continued to orchestrate her humiliation with his soft, but sternly delivered voice.
With the fingertips of her left hand, she separated her swollen folds. She couldn’t believe how puffed and warm they felt. The cold sponge brought a shiver down her spine as she pressed it against her slit and open pussy.
Rufus gasped with a sharp inhalation. “She’s beautiful,” he muttered.
She rubbed the sponge against her sex and to her amazement, a peculiar spike of energy erupted from the hard nub at the top of her folds. She dragged the sponge up and down, and the sensation grew stronger.
“Good girl. Keep going,” Felix said softly.
Her legs were close to giving out. “I… have… to stop,” she panted.
“No. Kneel if you must, but keep your ass up and your legs apart. Go on,” he encouraged. “A thorough cleansing will bring you great satisfaction. I wish to witness the bliss.”
She didn’t understand what he meant, but for some bizarre reason she trusted him. She slipped down onto her knees with little decorum.
“You must discover what the gods have in store for you without our help,” Felix said swiftly. “Now continue with the sponge, back and forth. That’s it. Good girl.”
On her knees in a bed of straw with her bottom raised high and her pussy open for them to see, she agitated the little organ that remained a mystery to her. It responded with such a delightful sensation, she ignored all of her shameful thoughts amassing in her mind. She was entertaining two gladiators once again, just like the previous day.
Her breasts swung as she rocked, and the water trickled down her thighs onto the straw. She seemed close to some kind of climax and she held her breath until it peaked. With an uncontrollable cry, she released the tension in her shoulders and legs and ceased agitating the now tender bud. The ripples of spasms she’d unleashed spun out into her belly and down into her curling toes. They hardened her nipples into painful stones and caused her heartbeats to thunder behind her breastbone. Her hand cramped around the sponge and she shook.
“Magnificent,” Rufus exclaimed.
“She is a beauty,” Felix said with simplicity. “Stand, Bethan, and face us.”
She drew her energised body upright.
“Hands to your sides. There is no reason to be shy.”
She dropped the sponge into the bucket and stood with her head bowed, eyes downcast. It was hard not to feel humiliated. She’d no idea what she’d experienced and if it was anything to do with the presence of the two men.
“I’m guessing that was your first orgasm.” Felix rose to his feet. “It won’t be your last.” He stood a few feet away from her. “Once we are at my villa, you will cleanse yourself like this three times a day with water blessed by the gods. Failure to do so will result in punishment. Do you understand?”
Three times a day! Would he watch each one? Would Rufus too?
Felix tipped up her chin and smiled. “This is hardly a terrible ordeal, is it, Bethan?”
Terrible wasn’t a word that came to mind. Quite the contrary, she’d many indecent words tumbling around her head. “No, Master. I shall do as you ask. With the sponge?” She looked at the bucket of cold water.
“At my villa, there shall be warm water in the bathhouse. You are to be brought to the altar of Ceres and presented to the fertility goddesses as a gift. I shall have you orgasm in many times to please them. And me.”
“Altar? Gift?” Her jaw hung lower. This wasn’t quite how she imagined bedding him. Snuggled alongside him in a cot was more what she had in mind.
“The goddesses are demanding. Which means I shall have to be too.” Felix stroked her flushed face with the back of his hands. In full view of his companion, he lowered his lips and kissed her mouth. She sighed as he continued to kiss her. Abruptly, he released her.
She raised her eyebrows quizzically.
“Not yet,” he whispered.
“When?” She couldn’t decide whom she desired more: Rufus with his bronze beard or Felix, the dark-eyed Briton. Both were equally stern and formidable, and also inviting with their manly ways, especially their physical manifestations, which she saw clearly through their clothing.
“Soon. Sweet girl, you must understand what it is the goddesses of fertility require. In Rome, I approached the best priest and he spoke of an empty land, lying neglected, needing plenty of seed. That emptiness is your vessel, which I shall fill, time and time again, until the land is fertile.”
Bethan’s mouth gaped as she listened. He wanted her for some ritual, a sacrifice of her body for the greatness of his goddesses.
“I must be filled?” she stuttered.
He nodded. “Aye. But also, and you must be brave, sweet slave of mine, when the rain washes away the land or the sun bakes it to a crisp, you will need to be punished.”
“Me! Why?” Now her lower lip was trembling.
Rufus stroked his hand down her arm to settle her. “Sh, don’t be afraid.”
“But if the land suffers, why must I?” she asked, boldly jutting her chin forward.
“You are all that is the land, to its dark depths and beyond, you are the bringer of salvation. Punishing you should not incur your suffering, only your lust for my seed and my pleasure. When I spank you, or have you come hard on my cock, this will please the goddesses and replenish the land. It is what the priest told me.”
“Come on your cock?” she repeated in awe—that would be the reward she sought. She wouldn’t be able to resist that cocktail of delicious sensations and the rush of energy it released.
“As you did just now, but with me buried balls deep in your cunny.”
He spoke about the vulgarity of sex with total confidence. She liked the sound of that steadfast approach—it was so much better than what her deceased husband said when he groped her.
“Do you understand?” he asked softly. He pressed his hip against her and she felt it—the steely rod of his member—upright and bold.
She wasn’t sure if she did understand the finer details, but it didn’t matter. She was enthralled by the thought of a gladiator claiming her. “I am to be your lover, Master.”
He grinned. “No, not lover. I don’t require your love, only your obedience and passion.”
“What of Master Rufus? Does he not want to honour the gods, too?” She heard Rufus smother a chuckle.
“Rufus can choose for himself if he wishes to honour the gods. Will you help me, Bethan?” He raked his fingers through her hair and tilted her head back. She tingled from scalp down to toes. If he asked, she would let him claim her right there.
“Yes, I shall. I want to help both of you.”
He eased away from her. “You shall, my sweet. Now, put your clothes back on and fetch us food.”
Rufus handed her the stola and smiled. His dark eyes were magnified by the candlelight and they twinkled with unrestrained delight. She’d pleased him just as much as any god. For how long did he plan to stay with Felix? Please, let it be as long as the stars shone in the sky!
“What kind of gladiators were you?” she asked, after serving them broth in two wooden bowls. She helped herself to a smaller portion and sat cross-legged on the floor while they perched on their beds.
“I started out as a Paegniarus,” said Rufus, mopping his chin with his sleeve.
“I fought wild animals with a whip. But they ran out of beasts. It’s expensive to keep killing them. So I was trained as an Eques. A horse-backed fighter with a lance, and also on the ground with a small sword.”
A horseman! That explained why he spoke to his mount as if she was his friend and not a dumb beast.
“And you, sir?” she asked Felix politely. This man was her master. She might hanker to know Rufus better, but Felix would decide her future.
“I was the emperor’s. A Fiscales, which means I was maintained using the wealth of the private treasury. I had the pick of the best weapons and training. I was also a Gallus, a prisoner of war, and not a criminal. I fought hand to hand with a sword and shield.” He spoke with great pride.
“And now you are free.”
“Yes,” he said. “Free. A Rudiarius. If I ever fight it is my choice.” He handed her the empty bowl. “We shall sleep. In the morning, I shall visit the slave market for supplies.”
Supplies! Her fellow slaves meant nothing to him. How could he be both callous and kind in equal measure?
Felix lay on the bed and tucked his hands behind his head, then closed his eyes. The small candle flickered. Outside it was dark, but there was some moonlight.
She had one blanket and a little straw. It wasn’t much, but she’d slept in worse places than a tavern, including the dark cell at the fort.
“Come here,” Rufus said quietly.
She hesitated. Felix didn’t move, but she couldn’t tell if he was asleep or not. Was she not his?
“You can lie next to me for warmth. I promise I won’t touch you.” Rufus patted the narrow space next to him. She hesitated. What if he could not contain himself and ravished her in the night? Would she fight him off or lie still like she’d done with her fumbling husband?
“If I say I won’t touch you, I mean it,” Rufus said firmly.
She tiptoed toward the bed and lay next to him. The mattress was soft and cosy, and sinking into it, she was forced to lie closer to him. He didn’t appear to mind. However, he kept his hands off her and covered them both with a blanket. Immediately she felt the trapped warmth of his body migrate across the narrow bed and into her cold bones. She held her breath and waited for some sign of contact, both fearing he might break his word, and wishing he would. The conflicting emotions kept her awake for a while until she realised Rufus was not going to do anything. He was a man of his word. He did snore a little, though, right in her ear.
The morning light woke Felix first. He kicked Rufus’s foot, which poked out from under the blanket.
“Girl,” he said, drawing the blanket off her shoulder. “You should go find us food.” No please, no gratitude. Exactly what she’d come to expect from a master.
She yawned and slipped on her sandals before hurrying to find the innkeeper. She brought back some kind of gruel. She expected the men to complain, but they didn’t. They wolfed it down as if it might be their last meal on earth, which she supposed was a fate they had once faced on a regular basis. She picked at hers uneasily. She wished they weren’t going to the slave market.
The market was on the outskirts of the town. Felix told her to sit on a small stool and out of the way while he went to inspect the slaves. She remembered herself what that felt like—degrading examinations of her teeth and hair. She’d been poked and prodded, questioned to ensure she could do the most basic of things, like cooking and sewing.
While she waited, she listened to the other traders discuss their recent sales. Two men, both Briganti, were immersed in conversation and unaware that she was close enough to hear them.
The lanky man with spiky black hair swung a whip in his hands. “I sold a few to the Romans. They’re greedy. I gave them my best lad for a high price.”
“Oh,” snorted the other with his thumbs tucked behind his belt. “Why best?”
“He’s nearly a man now, not a boy. Good teeth. But it’s his eyes that seem magical to the Romans.”
“Eyes? Painted, are they?”
“No. They are two different colours.”
Bethan’s heart skipped a beat. It couldn’t be possible! How many boys were out there with two coloured eyes? It had to be him. She’d been convinced he’d been killed during the raid on their village. She’d held his hand for as long as possible before they’d become separated in the confusion. His screams were the last thing she’d heard on that fateful day.
“One blue, one brown,” said the man with the whip. “The gods have some purpose for him.”
“So where’s he now?”
She leaned toward them.
“Bethan! Girl. We’re going,” Felix called out, drowning out the man’s response.
She crushed her hands into fists in frustration. The two slavers were walking away from her. She’d missed her opportunity. All she knew was that her brother, Ceadda, was with the Romans somewhere.
Felix pulled her to her feet. “Stop daydreaming, girl.”
She expected a slap across the cheek or something, but he merely frowned.
“Sorry,” she whispered as meekly as possible.
“Mm. Come. We’re leaving.” He strode ahead of her and she scampered behind him.
He’d bought three men, all of his age or older, and destined to work in the fields, and an older woman of her mother’s years. The four of them were crammed into a wagon Felix had acquired, which was based on the Roman coach style with a wooden roof, support struts, and curtains draped around it.
“It’s a long walk and I won’t have my slaves unnecessarily weakened,” he explained to Rufus. “They can take it in turns to walk alongside. Load our things onto the back and harness your horse to the wagon.”
Rufus obeyed his friend without question. He stroked the mane of his horse as he worked, and Bethan envied the creature for the soft words he spoke.
The woman was called Awen and said little. She was from the northern side of the wall. Her long nose and cheekbones gave her a sour expression. However, when Bethan offered her a blanket, she smiled.
As the horse plodded along the road, they took their mandatory turn at walking alongside the wagon every hour or so. Felix rode ahead while Rufus drove the wagon. The new slaves muttered to each other. They’d been slaves for many years, worn the collars of their masters, and seemed resigned to their fate. They quietly agreed that Felix had been fair in his haggling and that they would wait and see if he was a good master or not.
Bethan had other things on her mind. She had to find Ceadda as quickly as possible. If he was with the Romans then eventually, he might be sent abroad and she would never see him again. His life was all that mattered. If she stayed with Rufus and Felix, she might have some kind of decent life as a slave, but she’d have to live with the guilt of never helping Ceadda to escape.
They made camp by the roadside, using the wagon as shelter. Felix went into the nearby woods and hunted with a small bow and arrow. He brought back rabbits and squirrels to eat. Rufus skinned them and roasted them over a fire he’d made. Everyone huddled close to the flames and ate in silence.
Bethan wasn’t hungry. She had to leave, while she still could. If she ran into the woods, then along the ridge of hills, she would eventually come to the coast and the land of the Cornovii, who were friendlier than the Briganti, and they might help her find Ceadda. She glanced over to Rufus. The twinkle remained in his eyes and he hummed to himself. The sensation in her pussy returned as she imagined herself beneath him as he fucked her over and over.
No! She closed her eyes and ignored him. She mustn’t go there.
As for Felix, he rested a few feet away from the others. He chewed on some bones and licked his lips. When he caught her staring, she flinched. He was such an imposing man and so mysterious with it. She fancied him, too, she couldn’t deny it, but with Felix it was harder to understand why she was drawn to him. She should fear him, yet, she didn’t.
They lay down to sleep while Felix kept guard. Bethan couldn’t sleep. When Felix woke Rufus for his turn, she waited for Felix to fall asleep.
Rufus sat against the trunk of a tree and rested the back of his head against it. He yawned and closed his eyes.
Bethan continued to wait, breathing as quietly as possible.
The moon was hidden by the leaves of the tree, which rustled in the wind. Owls hooted and foxes barked. Rufus was very still.
She slipped out from under the blanket, picked up her shawl and tiptoed past the others. She walked away from the camp and farther into the wood. A few twigs snapped beneath her feet and she paused after each one and held her breath. Nobody was following her. She quickened her pace.
She disturbed a deer. It stampeded through the undergrowth making a racket. Now, she had to move faster. Picking up her skirts, she ran, dodging the trees and brambles.
Somebody was chasing her. She heard heavy footsteps and breathing.
She stumbled on a root and crashed onto the ground. He loomed over her, planting his boots on either side of her body, trapping her beneath him.
“Bethan!” Rufus exclaimed. “Why are you running away?” A beam of moonlight fell between two trees and lit up his face. He looked surprised more than angry.
She blinked. “I have to,” she said. What else could she say?
“We put our trust in you. We left you unfettered by chains. I… I trusted you. I convinced Felix to buy you. He thought you were a troublemaker, a thief.”
“I’ve not stolen anything,” she said quickly. “Your coins, nothing. I left with nothing.”
“But you are more than nothing, Bethan. You belong to Felix. You stole yourself away and you will have to be punished.” He moved to one side and bending over, grasped her wrist and drew her up.
“Please don’t. I won’t do it again,” she lied. How could she promise to stay when she needed to find Ceadda?
“I don’t believe you.” He held onto her wrist. “I want to believe you, Bethan. Why would you run away?”
“I’m a slave. I want to be free.” She wasn’t lying, but it wasn’t the real reason, and how much could she trust Rufus? Was he as kindly as he seemed?
He drew her closer to him. “You won’t be free until you have served the gods. Come with us and find out what you can achieve with their blessing. You will be honoured and treated with great respect. You might be a slave, but you are special. I know this. Even Felix is now convinced. We watched you come last night and it is a good omen.”
His warm breath bloomed over her face. She wasn’t afraid of him. She wanted his kisses and to feel his arms around her body. What he said excited her and filled her belly with butterflies.
He looped his hand around the back of her neck and angled her head higher. “Why did you run?” He had stunning eyes that caught the moonlight and the pupils reflected it like the mirror she’d seen in Atticus’s chamber.
“I’m ashamed,” she said. Hardly a lie given the way she responded to him.
Rufus laughed softly. “Oh, pretty one, there is no shame in what you can do with your beautiful body. It is why you are so important to us. To me.”
“Will you tell Felix?”
“Um. He is my friend and also an honoured companion. And your master. I’ll grant your wish this time, but that means I shall punish you here and now for running away. Take off your clothes.”
He dropped his arm, stepped back, and folded his arms across his chest. She froze to the spot. He stunned her with the calm demand, as if it was perfectly natural to punish a slave in the middle of the night.
“Strip, Bethan, and lay over this fallen tree so that I can spank your bottom hard.” He gestured toward the husk of an oak tree.
Why was life so complicated? Couldn’t she have married a young farmer and had lots of children? Instead, her father had married her to an older man with a soft cock. She’d tried so hard to make him like her, but he hadn’t been interested in doing much. When he died in his sleep she’d been relieved, but also hated herself for feeling no grief. The raid had happened a few days later and any opportunity to marry again was thwarted by the bandits who stole her away.
Now she had to stow her plan to rescue Ceadda. She couldn’t risk the ire of Felix. He would do more than spank her, she was sure of that. Her teeth chattered as she tossed aside the shawl and drew the stola over her head. The night air was brisk, but not freezing. The summer had nearly arrived and soon the long days would bring hours of daylight.
“I don’t want you to wake the others, so I’m going to gag you.” He unwrapped one of the linen ribbons around his wrist and fashioned it into a ball. “Open your mouth.”
He seemed to have such power over her. She’d thought only Felix could command her like this, and now she was discovering Rufus had the same magical effect. She complied as easily as if he’d asked her to pop a berry in her mouth to savour. The linen tasted of salt and leather, his musk, and she gripped it between her teeth. However, to her surprise, he didn’t bind it in place. He trusted her to keep it there herself.
He unhooked his cloak and draped it over the trunk. Taking her arm, he directed her to lie over the tree. The fur cloak cushioned the hard bark beneath her hips and belly.
“Legs apart,” he instructed her. He climbed over the tree and sat astride it with his long legs easily reaching the ground on either side. Now he was positioned right next to her raised bottom.
She flinched before the blow struck and jolted when it did. Rufus’s hand was no different to Felix’s: hard and flat. She kicked her legs up and shrieked into her gag. When the second smack landed on her other cheek, she instinctively reached behind with her hand and tried to swipe his away. She couldn’t help it. Her bottom was smarting badly after just two spanks.
“No, behave,” he warned, and took hold of her flailing arm and bent it back behind her until her hand nestled in the small of her back. There he held it while he spanked her bottom.
She cried. It wasn’t through pain, although he wasn’t holding back, but more due to frustration and confusion. Rufus made sure she understood her predicament with a few choice words.
“You are a slave. Owned. You have no rights. No freedom to choose what happens to you.” He emphasised his words with spanks that must stir the mice from their nests and the birds from their roosts. He swept his hand upward so that the palm collided with the crease of her thigh and maximised her discomfort. On and on he spanked, unabashed by her parted legs and exposed sex, which had betrayed her wantonness. The haze of pain had no impact on her desire for Rufus.
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