Chapter 6

Aug. 10th, 2009 07:15 am
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Wedding feasts celebrated the holy sanctity of marriage, one of the cornerstones of Edessan life, but more importantly, they were an opportunity for the husband to display his or her wealth. And from the spread -- delicacies on finest silver, dishes seasoned with spices worth their weight in gold -- Eugenia's assertion about Iereus's wealth had been conservative.

Loukas sat to Iereus's right, though hereafter the honor would return to Metrodora. Eugenia sat at the foot of the head table with her first wife and Eleutherios, who was flaunting his new promotion to elarchon. Loukas thanked whatever gods were watching over him that Eleutherios was well out of earshot and had to content himself with the occasional victorious look thrown Loukas's way.

Slaves carried out platters of venison, roasted peacock with its tail on full display, stuffed dormice, honeyed pears and apricots, jellies and ices to clean the palate between courses. Though his appetite was quickly sated, Loukas continued to push food around his plate; the guests seemed happy to carry the conversation, though Iereus himself said little and kept his answers short. Sometimes Metrodora answered for him. Loukas nodded agreement to whatever was said and slowly pulped his fried eggplant. The wine was another extravagance, as thick and dark as blood. Loukas thinned his first cup with water, but the more he drank the smoother it tasted, and it warmed his limbs and eased the knot in his stomach. He drained his second cup and it was quickly refilled.

Loukas's head swam by the time Archon Iereus stood and thanked his guests for coming. Each archon present toasted the happy couple in lengthy and formal style. Loukas swallowed hard, finishing the last of his cup as Iereus bid his guests continue to drink and enjoy themselves. Loukas took Iereus's offered hand, lurching to his feet, as they retired. He followed Iereus, his feet moving without direction from Loukas. Slaves had lit lamps in Loukas's room and the scent of jasmine was thick in the air -- whether from the plants outside his window or perfume, Loukas didn't know.

It was the first time he'd ever been alone with his husband.

Iereus moved to the mantle, bracing his forearms against it and starting into the cold grate. Unsure exactly what was expect of him, Loukas perched on the edge of the bed, clutching the coverlet clutched.

“Husband?” Loukas said finally, and Iereus looked up.

“Can you not read at all?”

The question surprised Loukas and he licked his lips before replying. “Not enough to be useful.” Loukas forced his fingers to relax, smoothing out the creases in the bedclothes. “I'm not simple, if that's what my mother told you. I just get ... the letters confused.” Loukas cut himself off; he didn't care if Iereus thought him stupid.

Iereus nodded thoughtfully, returning to his contemplation.

Loukas shifted uncomfortably. “It doesn't bother you?”

“Hm? No, I don't need a wife who reads.”

“Just one with the right connections.”

Iereus looked up, and Loukas thought he'd overstepped himself, but Iereus just nodded. “Indeed.” He turned away from the fireplace and pulled his tunic over his head, draping it neatly over the back of a chair. He still wore a loincloth, but Loukas looked away self-consciously. “Come here.”

Loukas took a few steps, rubbing his slick palms down his thighs. The nausea that had plagued him all day washed over him anew, and Loukas found himself scrambling for the chamber pot. He made it just in time to empty the contents of his stomach, the wine more acidic coming up than going down. He spit to clear the bile from his mouth.

He settled back on his haunches; Iereus held out a cup -- water, this time -- and Loukas swished a mouthful and spit again. He sipped the rest carefully, but his stomach had settled. Iereus was slipping back into his tunic.

“I'm sorry,” Loukas rasped.

“Feel better?”

“A little.”

“Lydian wine is rather strong, if you're not used to it.”

Loukas nodded weakly and pushed himself up onto the bed, sliding the chamber pot under it, still within easy reach. Iereus circled to the other side of the bed and lay on his back, his arms folded across his stomach, and closed his eyes. The bed was wide enough that Loukas would have had to stretch to touch him. Loukas held still in the quiet and then cleared his throat.

Iereus didn't open his eyes, but said, “The contract requires consummation -- specifically, that the bride and groom share a bed. The particulars are nobody's concern.” He rolled onto his side, his back to Loukas. “And you smell of vomit.”

---

When Loukas woke, the sun was high over the eastern horizon and he was alone. Slaves came when he called with a tray of sweet-smelling coffee; Loukas downed a cup gratefully, the thick sludge of grounds settling at the bottom of the cup. He squinted against the light as the slave pulled back the thick drapes. Pain throbbed behind his eyes, but at least the coffee washed the rest of the vomit taste from his mouth. He handed the cup back and rolled over onto his stomach, pulling the pillow with him. The slave timidly lifted a corner.

Loukas didn't reply so much as snarl.

“Begging your pardon, Arist,” the slave said, maintaing his grip on the pillow. “But I'm to get you dressed and ready.”

“Why?” Loukas said from underneath the pillow.

“Not my place to ask, Arist. I'm sorry.” Loukas didn't move, other than to stretch his toes beneath the covers. “The archon will be expecting you shortly.”

“Fine.” Loukas kicked off the blankets and pushed himself up, the room spinning a little before it settled into place. “Fine.” He yielded to the slave's attentions without grace, snapping when the slave ran a wide-toothed comb through his tanged hair. “It's attached, you know -- have a care!”

The slave shrank away and apologized again, which only irritated Loukas further. Finally he quit fussing over Loukas, drawing a veil of light green silk over his head. It seemed much heavier than it should have. Loukas pushed the slave's hands away and tried to drape the material better to his liking, but every style proved unsatisfactory. He spared a glance for his refection in the polished bronze mirror. A proper wife of Edessa looked back back; Loukas shuddered.

Iereus and Metrodora were already at breakfast, and almost done by the look of the half-empty trays of pastries and bowls of yogurt. He slipped into a place across from Metrodora, keeping his gaze on his plate.

“Did you sleep well, Loukas?” Metrodora asked, her voice gentle, but he caught the look she exchanged with Iereus.

Loukas reached for a pastry as a slave set a cup of chilled pomegranate juice at his elbow. “Very well, Metrodora, my thanks.”

“Do you always sleep so late? I envy you the ability -- I wake with the sun whether I want to or not.”

Loukas nibbled on the edge of the pastry; more of it flaked onto the plate than made it to his mouth. He set it back down, reaching for the juice instead. “I fear I may have over-imbibed during the evening's festivities. I hope you will accept my apologies.” He bristled at her concern, it felt more like chastisement -- he hadn't slept nearly as late as he would have liked, anyway.

“I do hope you're feeling well enough to venture out today,” Iereus said, plucking a grape from a bunch on his plate.

Loukas smiled wanly. “I think so, provided the activities are not too strenuous.”

“I planned to go down to the Slaver's Market....” Iereus trailed off in polite inquiry.

“I'm more than equal to the task,” Loukas replied.

“Excellent.” Iereus held out his coffee cup, and a slave refilled it; he took a sip of the dark brew, savoring. “Then we'll leave as soon as you've finished breakfast.”

---

It was not yet noon when they left, but the heat was brutal and Loukas broke into a sweat almost immediately, the fabric of his veil clinging to his damp neck. He pulled it down over his face, partly to keep the sun out of his eyes and partly to block out the view of the curious passers-by.

Iereus set a brisk pace as he lead them down the hills of the garden district. The Slaver's Market was close to the docks so the wares could go straight from the ship's hold to the auction block. Loukas heard the shouts of the slavers extolling their goods' virtues and auctioneers haggling over the price long before they arrived. The weeping of slaves yet to accept their fate or separated from their parents became distinct as they reached the square. Loukas winced -- the noise would only exacerbate his headache.

Thankfully Iereus didn't head for the uproar of the auction blocks, instead knocking on the door of one of the great buildings lining the road to the docks. A garish, yellow awning adorned this one.

The door creaked open, and the face of a very fat man peered out, his eyes lined in sweat-streaked kohl.

“I have an appointment,” Iereus said.

“Yes, yes, yes!” The door swung wide, though it was still a tight fit past the merchant's girth. “Archon Iereus, such an honor. Do come in, I'm sure I can find something among my humble stock to meet your needs.”

Thick carpets covered the floor and tapestries hid the cheap wooden walls. Braziers gave off the smoke of myrrh and just a touch of opium, Loukas thought. Anything to make the customer more pliable. Loukas tried to breath shallowly.

“Please, take a seat and be at your ease.” The merchant gestured to several low couches along the wall. The plumy color of his tunic had darkened to black at the armpits where sweat had soaked through. “Would you care for refreshments? I can off her sweetmeats and some spice nuts of which I'm particularly fond. Maybe some wine?”

“Thank you, no,” Iereus said, settling himself onto one of the couches, still looking stiff and uncomfortable.

Loukas sat on another, the gold thread of the brocade upholstery digging into unprotected skin. He shifted but found no relief.

“Then perhaps I shall just bring out the merchandise, shall I?” At Iereus's nod, he clapped his hands. The tapestry at the far end of the room was pushed back, and slaves entered to stand in a row before them, each with the shaved head and black tunic of a eunuch.

Realization hit Loukas, and he felt foolish for not guessing the purpose of the trip sooner. He'd been too distracted by his hangover to guess. Any wife whose husband could afford it had a eunuch to wait on them and guard their virtue. Loukas supposed he should be grateful Iereus was letting him have a hand in picking his own jailer.

He regarded the men before him with perverse interest. His mother's wives all had eunuchs, of course, but Loukas had never thought about them any more than he had the furniture or drapes. Loukas recognized the traits that marked the men as altered; most had the thick builds and elongated arms typical of their kind, their shaved heads glistening with oil and perfume, a thick roll of fat at the base of their skulls. One at the end of the rose was slenderer, dwarfed in comparison to his brothers. With a start, Loukas realized that he was looking back, his gaze direct and unapologetic. Their eyes locked, but then the eunuch dropped his gaze to the floor, appropriately submissive.

“This is Sapphire,” the merchant was saying, gesturing to the first eunuch, a cow-eyed creature who showed no sign he even knew he was being spoken about. “And truly he is a gem -- he plays the lyre and has a beautiful voice, sweeter than a nightingale. And here's Dragonfly, a most skilled hair-dresser. Your young wife will always be on the cutting edge of fashion with Dragonfly attending him.” And so it went, each eunuch's gifts and virtues extolled until finally the merchant worked his way through the line, coming to the last.

“Ah, and Poppy. Do note the slighter build. It comes from being cut later than you typically see. Some say it's a flaw, but I rather like the look. And such a handsome face, which I'm sure an aesthete such as yourself can appreciate -- such graceful limbs, such high cheekbones.” The merchant took the eunuch's wrist to better show off his lighter frame and long fingers. The eunuch shifted, the tendons in his neck jumping, but he submitted to the inspection docilely. “Imagine this beauty waiting at your side; you'd be the envy of every wife in Edessa. Not, of course, that he could possibly outshine your wife's own beauty.”

“No, couldn't have that,” Iereus said. “Do you have anything else?”

A cross look flashed behind the merchant's eyes, though his painted smile never wavered. “I'm afraid this is the best stock I've got at the moment. This isn't really the best season for eunuchs, the schools sell the new acquisitions in the autumn. Perhaps, Archon, if you were prepared to wait until then...?”

“No, that I can't do.” Iereus turned to Loukas. “Do you like any of them?”

Loukas considered the row of human flesh before him, each staring clamly into space.

“Perhaps, Arist, you would like a closer inspection? Or to see them in action? My descriptions do not do them justice.”

Loukas shook his head and pointed to the last one. “I like that one. Poppy.”

“Ah, you have excellent taste!”

“Are you sure, Loukas?” Iereus asked. “The others are more skilled.”

Loukas shrugged. “I like that one, but if my husband thinks another more suitable, I acquiesce to his judgment.”

Iereus's mouth pressed into a thin line, but he bought Poppy, haggling hard with the merchant first. They settled on three hundred gold pieces -- more than Rayna had cost. Eunuchs were the most expensive slaves, fetching even higher prices than a good charioteer; the gelding process was difficult and drove up the price. The merchant drew up the contract and the deed of ownership, which he and Iereus signed at the bottom.

“You drive a hard bargain, Archon Iereus.” The merchant slapped his pudgy fingers together. “I'm sad to see him go -- e's something of a favorite of mine, indeed, he is. I know you'll be pleased with the investment. As they say, a good eunuch is worth his weight in gold.”

“That's about what I paid for him,” Iereus replied, nodding to Loukas. They exited, the new eunuch falling into place behind Loukas. He reminded Loukas of a stray animal following him home. Loukas kept glancing over his shoulder, the eunuch close at his elbow, expression unreadable.

---

The eunuch remained at his side day and night, following Loukas around the house like a shadow -- if shadows kept fetching Loukas what he wanted before he could think to ask.

“What else do you do besides skulk about the place?” Loukas demanded, as Poppy set a silver tray of tea on his desk.

“I can do whatever my master requires of me,” Poppy replied evenly.

Loukas studied him, trying to gage the sincerity of the statement. Even if the eunuch had to obey him, the orders would surely be reported to Iereus later.

Loukas curled a lip. “I should have picked the eunuch who sang.”

Poppy began to pack Loukas's things in a great trunk. The House would leave for the summer estate in the morning.


On to chapter 7
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Date: 2009-10-26 05:19 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
i'm wondering is Loukas will ever fall in love with Iereus someday?.
Iereus seem a gentleman.*_*

Ayune01

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Aemilia

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