Summer of the
Wolf is a work of fanfiction. It is based on the novel The Eagle
of the Ninth, written by Rosemary Sutcliff and first published in
1954, and as such is written for love, not for profit. Please be warned
that the story contains scenes of a sexual nature.
In every man's life, there comes a time to see Rome.
In Marcus', it was the year of the anemones.
Spring came early that year and warm, setting the partridge calling among the heather and bringing the swallow home from the sea. The apples blossomed early and full, and in the woods the anemones carpeted last year's fallen beech leaves in starred white beauty. The harvest had been good, and the sowing swift, and there was a new babe lying bright-eyed by the fire for Silvia to cackle at betweentimes.
Spring was a time for new beginnings, and at the heart of it came a letter from Castra Vetera.
"Father," Flavian wrote, in the untidy Latin that had been the despair of his Great-Great Uncle. A short letter, of the doings of men and weapons and hunting - "Tell Esca I have seen a leopard."- but one that stirred Marcus from the fireside to the open peristylium and back in the short strides of preoccupied thought.
For Vetera was on the western edges of the Rhineland, Germania Inferior, where the legions kept peace among the scattered tribes of the interior: and from Vetera to Trier was not that hard a road, and from there through Belgae is not that long a march at all. It was a legionnaire's road, and Marcus himself had marched that way once, on the dusty sandalprints and between the tall poplars. Followed it further, to Britannia and to Camulodunum, and thence to Aquae Sulis. And finally, finally, to the whitewashed farmstead sheltered in the crook of the Downland, with its rich horse-runs and water meadows.
Not so far, to go back. To see a son three years older and very probably three inches taller than when he carried his sword to the legions: to see what time and Antonius Pius had made of the Eastern frontiers of the Empire, and to see once again the white cliffs of Portus Dubris and the forests of Gaul.
From the eaves above the garden, a dove called in the dusk, and another answered, so when Marcus closed his eyes for a moment he was not a man in Britannia but a boy, listening to the sound of other doves, somewhere and sometime else.
It had been a very long time indeed since he had left his father's farm, and he had not looked back at the leaving of it. But he could once again smell the sun-warmed resin of the pine trees and the scent of a ripe fig held in his hands. And when he opened his eyes, for one moment he expected to see not his own green peristyle garden, but the dusty courtyard and the mud-brick well.
It was a shock to hear the clack of tablets as Esca folded the letter and laid it down. He said nothing.
"It is in my mind that it is not far to Trier," Marcus said, and did not notice how his hands gripped the doorframe. "To Trier, and maybe beyond. To Italy."
He could hear the rustle of cloth as Esca stood. "There comes a day in every man's life when it is time to go home," he said. "And - ai! - our little fox will be a wolf by now, and it is in my mind I should like to see that red fur of his before the winter sets in."
"Esca," Marcus said, on an indrawn breath.
"Think you I would let you go alone?"
Outside their own bedchamber they seldom touched. But tonight Esca reached out and clasped Marcus' braced wrist with his own hand, as long ago Marcus had clasped his, and the warmth of it turned Marcus round, humbled. He had nothing to say. He bowed his head, and felt Esca's clasp tighten.
And so indeed to Aquae, and to the new citadel at Londinium, and from there to Dubris and by round-bellied trader to Bretae where Marcus looked back, somberly, on the parade grounds of his youth. And thence to Trier, and to Vetera itself, and the fort, where Marcus introduced himself formally to the camp commander and Esca whistled unconcerned under the portico.
The new-wiped slate with the commander's seal was still damp when Marcus ducked out from the office and found a mare of his own breeding standing stock-still and sweating on the paving, and two figures embraced where there had been one.
Flavian was three inches taller. And three inches broader, with his hair cut short as a wren's tail feathers and a the gall of a chin-strap across the still smooth skin of his neck. He smelt of horse and steel, and his conversation was of names and hunts Marcus did not know. Although his quicksilver smile was still Cottia's, like enough to catch at Marcus' heart for a moment, and the way he looked at Esca - "a single thrust to behind the shoulder blade, just like you showed me" - was all Flavian, and dear.
"He has grown up," Marcus said, in the quiet of a rug-tumbled bedstead in the surgeon's quarters.
"So do all younglings," Esca answered. He turned his head.
Even in the shallow darkness of a spring night, Marcus could see the gray hair at Esca's temples and the sun-kissed creases by his eyes, carved in humour.
"He will come back."
From Vetera then to Narbonne, and slowly down to the Via Domitia to the Via Aurelia, and by-and-by to the village Marcus remembered as a huddle of small villas and was now halfway to being a respectable town. And here they turned off the road and up the rough track that wound through the foothills of the Apennines, dusty now in the heat of early summer, and at last over the rim of the valley and down into the hollow beyond. Marcus' father's farm and his father's before him, a legionnaire's payoff from a time when the legions still granted Italian land to their time-served veterans.
It was smaller than Marcus remembered. Smaller, and there was no flight of doves rising from the pine trees in greeting. The figs had gone, and in their place stood espaliered vines and olives: the cramped rooms of the house itself looked almost timid against the ranks of heavy-leafed green.
It was not home.
Marcus' step-brother's wife gave them nervous welcome with watered wine and fresh bread, but the draught was bitter and the tiles on the roof were crooked, and the two farm-slaves worn with work. There were three boys, he remembered, and a girl, but none of them there and the woman was thankful to see them go.
It was afterwards that he thought, and said, "It is not my farm."
Just as if it was the tale-end of a conversation and not the beginning of it, Esca said, "No." He had worn, today, the tunic of a Roman citizen and not the quartered plaid that had served him all the way through Gaul and lesser Rome.
"I would not-"
"It is your land," Esca said slowly. He did not look round, and although his hands did not move on the reins the mare started and flung her head up.
His father's, and his father's father before him. Marcus tightened his own hand on the bridle and urged his pony on.
They took rooms that night in a pension on the outskirts of Genua: small, but quiet and clean and with its own bathing room. An unspoken agreement left Esca with the stabling and Marcus with supplies: by the time he came back, the ponies were fed and the bed roughly made. He assumed Esca to be bathing and took his own clean tunic to the bath house, but the small pool was empty.
The bread had been harsh and the wine sour. Esca would come back, if only for the sake of his stomach. Would even now be husking last year's walnuts and laying out the honeycomb - he had a weakness for sweet things, Marcus' Briton.
But he was not.
When Marcus ducked into the room, still freshly damp and with his hair dripping, Esca was kneeling perfectly still on the floor by the bed.
He was naked.
For a Roman, nakedness was social. Baths were communal, latrines shared, and although Marcus would not have dreamed of dropping his tunic before his mother after his seventh year he had done so often and without thought before his fellow recruits and the men of his command. Even the bath house at the farm on the Downs was seldom used alone.
For a Briton, it was a thing of ceremony. The first time Marcus had seen Esca naked it had been before the Beltane fires, stripped bare in the sight of his own Gods. To Marcus' touch also. It was the first night they had become ... what they were.
Now Esca knelt with his head bowed and had not looked up at Marcus' footstep.
The man did not move.
It had been fourteen years, since that night. Esca's body was no longer that of a young man. His thighs were heavier, his chest broader, his skin was looser to his flesh and folded around the line of his hips and the point where his neck met his shoulders. He was tanned, save where for modesty's sake he wore a kilted plaid in the fields. Like British apples, Esca aged well. The gray of his hair lent him gravitas, but the laughter lines at his eyes belied it, and the strength of his shoulders was undiminished.
Before any God, it was the man he loved, kneeling as if he were any bed-slave displayed for his master's pleasure. Indeed, as Marcus walked forward, the towel dropped disregarded from his hands, Esca dipped his neck. He had cut his hair, and the clipped ear that was the last mark of his long-ago slavery showed clear. Round his neck he wore a leather thong, doubled and doubled again, like the collar of a Celtic house-thrall.
It was not something Marcus had ever found, or expected to find, appealing. But as he walked forward he could feel the blood hesitate in his body, his skin startle, as if the air itself grew heavy. When he put out a hand to touch Esca's shoulder, he was not surprised to see the skin under his fingers shudder like a mare stung by a mayfly.
"What is it?" Marcus asked.
But in answer all Esca did was lean into that hand as a dog would lean trusted into his master.
had been weeks since there had been time or inclination for more than
a quick familiar fumble in the blankets of a strange bed. Esca's breath
was already short, and between his spread thighs his manhood had risen,
half-hard and thick with blood. And as it had always done, the sight
- Esca, wanting - dried Marcus' own mouth and set his own blood thrumming
to the core of him.
Esca's skin was as familiar to him as his own. But not his submission. Esca played at love like an otter, tumbling heedless in whatever space he and Marcus could take - their own bed, a particular spot by the stream, outside the firelight at the summer fires. Never, never had he stayed his hands or allowed himself to be pushed into place as if he was in truth slave. Now, although it touched him - Marcus knew well the jump of muscle under his fingertips and the huff of breath caught in his throat - Esca only moved to respond, to offer up his throat, his belly, the lifting rise of his cock to Marcus' touch.
It was a strange kind of lovemaking, a taking and not a giving, and when Esca did move of his own accord - wanting badly now, for Marcus could see the curl of his fingers and the flush of his skin - it was to roll and spread his legs like a perfumed boy.
The invitation was unmistakable, even to Marcus.
They seldom did this. Esca had no mind either way, and Marcus had too many memories of barrack-room power play to be truly comfortable with the game. But as his hands - dark against white skin, but narrow and fine, a Roman's hands - curved over the familiar arch of Esca's buttocks and his thumbs slid to the dark whorl at the heart of that known and loved body Marcus realised that Esca had planned this. His thumbs slid over salve, and Esca's body relaxed to his touch.
This once, it felt right, to be wanted so. Not ... no, not ownership, not with Esca. Affirmation. Marcus let his hands do the talking for him and lent his forehead against Esca's shoulders. They breathed in unison, a shared striving.
it came, penetration was almost an afterthought, merely the deepening
of intimacy, a long slow slide into the rhythm of a shared heartbeat
that felt as if forever was a moment away.
Marcus caught that hand, and its pair, in his own. His thighs were between Esca's, his the power and leverage: he forced Esca to his knees and thrust home deeper and harder than he had thought possible. And again, almost brutal, all take now, a sweaty, gasping possession: Esca may have keened, his back strained and his breath sobbing. Marcus was grimly silent. Because if Esca wanted to be owned for a moment - a night - then he had better remember who his master was.
Fulfillment was held away only by determination, and it was a battle Marcus won. Under him Esca convulsed, crying out, coming with his hands still clasped in Marcus', and as languor weighted his body Marcus took the last three-four-five strokes that ended the thing. He almost blacked out with the force of it, slumping on Esca's back and able only to pant and watch the light bloom behind his eyelids.
"Know yourself owned?" he said, later, shoulder to shoulder with his Briton in the darkness.
"Aye. I feel it," Esca said dryly.
In the morning Marcus hesitated as they turned out of the courtyard. His business was done, but the road ran both ways.
A quirk of the eyebrows only, a leisurely query. Esca's hands were quiet in the reins, this morning, and the tension gone from his shoulders.
"It is in my mind that ... it is not far, to Rome."
It was a tentative thought, but Esca's grin was answer enough.
Later, Marcus says, "Is it your son, then, from whom you learn the words?" He says it in British, a moment of intimacy among strangers.
Shrugging, Esca answers, "He said, were I his, he'd lay the whip to my back." Quick flash of white teeth in lamplight. "I am not his."
Marcus unpins his cloak and passes it across, folded cushion-deep. "So."
This time the grin is not quick but slow and wicked. "Ah. And will you then, my heart, stand captive of my spear?"