Aya grew as a filthy scavenger, trailing the Bedouin caravans that crossed the Nafud wastes and the Rub' al Khali. Bought from the arena as a young man, his new life as Sethos, the adopted son of a wealthy Roman merchant, is stained by the stigma of his past.
Jaida and her sisters were raised in luxurious slavery, destined to be the virgin oracles of Isis at provincial temples throughout the empire. When the fall of a dice brings the girls' future into question, it is Seth who must define freedom and slavery, life or liberty - for himself and for them.
Petra, Arabia Provincia, 120AD
A high camp wail of protest and the sound of wooden soled sandals clacking over the atrium tiles brought a smile to Seth’s lips, and he dragged a khameez down over his damp skin. Only one man called him by his childhood name.
“Call them off, Sethos. Really, my darling. I’m away two months and already your staff don’t know me. Why weren’t they warned to be ready for me? Where is my welcome? Where are my drinks? Where are my lap dogs?”
Only one man would surge unbidden into his house and demand the household be at his beck and call. The babble of distraught servants rolled around his echoing footfalls, tracing an unerring journey toward the marble baths.
The promus, Zayed, rushed into the bath hall, waving his hands in extravagant gestures of horror, complaining violently about the lack of respect shown by this interloper.
“They do know you, Drusus.” Seth smiled. “That’s why they are so intent on keeping you out. I couldn’t warn them because I didn’t know you were coming,” he reached to embrace his caller, “and if you want dewy eyed youths to laze against you, my man, bring your own.”
Decimus Asinius Drusus was not a tall man, but there was an aura of power about him: the sort of light and scented air that surrounds only the obscenely wealthy, and it loaned him a stature nature hadn’t provided. His greying hair was immaculately coiled and coifed, hennaed into brilliant red and orange. His thick moustache remained a fine glossy black and its corners draped luxuriantly over full lips.
He took Seth’s face in his strong brown hands, and kissed each cheek fondly. “My, look at you. I swear you grow more beautiful every time I see you, but that’s my tragedy, I suppose, and not yours.”
Turning sharply enough to cause a minor whirlwind of rich fabric, he faced the now silent household staff, clapped his hands and made shooing gestures at them, demanding, “Drinks! Didn’t you hear me? Cold drinks and something sweet.”
Zayed stood his ground, his dark eyes shrieking silent abuse from under lowered lids, his hands clasped dutifully at his back. Tamir had refused to enter the room in the midst of the furor, and waited by the door like a sad eyed hound who’d long lost the will to fight.
“Refreshments,” Seth mouthed, nodding to acknowledge the insult to his promus. He smiled as Zayed remade his face, leaving only the tightness in his lips to suggest his displeasure. Turning his full attention back to Drusus, he asked, “How was your journey mi Pater? Let me guess. Hot. Dry. Uncomfortable. Successful?”
“All of that, and more. Successful so far, at least. But things are changing dearest boy. The world is growing bigger and we are too far away.”
“Too far from what? You’ve built your own paradise right here in the Arabian Desert. You made Petra bloom.” From time to time his benefactor was taken with a dream of new horizons or smitten with a certain town or city he had visited, but these whims were short lived and Seth knew to simply calm and reassure the older man. It was rare for him to return from a trade mission without a longing for greener pastures.
Drusus flagged a dismissive hand and twirled a finger through his curls. “I can’t take all the credit for that,” he purred, and Seth smiled fondly. “It is tranquil here, I know. But I’m getting too old for all this travel.” He was silent a moment, then rushed on with a shameless plea for flattery. “Am I getting too old for this?”
“Never too old. Where is it you think you want to be?”