Any opinions would be nice.
“Apprentice of the Mask.”
by Jason Andrew
Dorius was a lucky bastard and appreciated it. He had heard stories of illegitimate offspring of Senators sold to slavery or drowned as babies. His mother had been a bathhouse girl run by his grandfather, and sadly died in childbirth. His grandfather, a terse, but kind old man, had raised Dorius for seven years before his father’s guards came for him.
Dorius was a son of Rome, no matter what his station, and rode in the chariot stoically. He was brought to his father’s compound surrounded by lush olive trees and an apple orchard. There were slaves in the fields, but they looked mostly content and decently fed. There were few guards, which was rare in these troubled times of the empire.
He was brought to the hearth of the manor before his father, his father’s wife, and their son. His father was Gaius Augustus, a powerful, but conservative senator of Rome. Legends say that the Augustus lineage could be traced back to Venus, goddess of Love. Seeing his handsome father and half brother for the first time, Dorius very well believed in the stories.
His father’s wife, Julia, was quite beautiful. For a grown woman, she was very short, but to Dorius she seemed like a beautiful giant. She smiled, and Dorius shivered. She wore her luscious black hair in silver ringlets that contrasted perfectly with her creamy olive skin. She knelt down to him and said sweetly, “Son of my husband, I welcome you in this house.”
That moment Dorius fell in love with Julia, his father’s wife. His half brother, elder by a year, was named Gaius Cato Augustus and quickly became his best friend. It was three months later that Dorius first heard of the Mask.
“We were going to play Centurians,” Cato protested. “We have one of father’s battles mapped out.”
The large Greek slave named Adrastos laughed. He was one of the cooks and sometimes gave the boys pieces of sugar bread. “There’ll be plenty of time for that young master, after the two of your have had your medicine.”
“I’m not sick, sir,” Dorius replied.
Adrastos face turned serious. “And that’s how we’re going to keep it. You’ll take this draught or the Master will hear about it.”
“Do I have to? That stuff takes awful,” Cato complained.
“Drink it all up or the Mask will hear of it,” Adrastos warned.
Cato nodded sullenly and gulped the strange, foul smelling green liquid. Dorius was quite surprised his brother didn’t protest, but seemed very compliant at the mention of the Mask and followed his example. It tasted like heated slime and it was very difficult to drink all of it, but he was determined not to disappoint his brother. When they both handed the metal cups back to Adrastos, he laughed once again and said, “There was that so bad?”
Dorius and Cato stuck out their green tongues and pretended to gag and then ran out of the kitchen with their wooden gladiuses. Dressed in a white tunic with a crimson boarder, they appeared to be twins, despite their age difference. Although Dorius was younger than Cato, he was slightly taller and stronger. Twice before, Cato had been too weak to leave bed and his mother called for the Apothecary. Each time, the stodgy old man limped to the bedroom clad in a old wool cloak that smelled of urine and Dorius was forced to wait outside. Dorius didn’t understand how his father’s wife could listen to such a strange man, but each time the old man hobbled out, Cato felt better.
This day, Cato felt in good form and boldly swung his wooden gladius into an attack posture. Dorius laughed and did the same. Wooden blade clashed against wooden blade. Each of them tried to remember the lessons their father had taught them. Their practice was so intense that they failed to notice their cousins stalking them. Almost simulataniously, Cato and Dorius were struck upon the head by a flying plum. Wet pulp entangled their hair and plumb juice dripping down the sides of their faces.