Sampler: Aquila et Noctua by P.J. Mann
September 21, 2022
It’s a turbulent time in Rome when jealousy, honor, and rivalries bear monumental questions about life and death.
At the height of the Roman Empire, a young boy is taken from his home in Palestine to be a slave to a patrician Roman family.
But though the father of the house is obsessed with the boy, it is the son, Flavius, whose interest Saul returns.
As years pass and the boys grow into men, their love will be tested, Flavius’ arranged marriage bringing a selfish and jealous woman between them.
In a time when jealousy, honor, and rivalries were questions of life and death, how can a bare property like a slave protect himself?
Will Saul manage to reach freedom, or will he become another victim?
P.J. Mann’s Aquila et Noctua tells a story of love across boundaries in ancient Rome, a deeply human tale from a place thousands of years and leagues away.
Sampler: Aquila et Noctua:
The sun shone brightly in the sky on that late summer day. The successful campaign in the territories of Palestine brought new glory to the Empire and filled every corner of the city with celebrations.
The massive military action, planned by Emperor Hadrian, had brought about the final defeat of the rebellious Jews in the third Jewish revolt.
Jerusalem was renamed Aelia Capitolina in honor of the victorious emperor and as an ultimate humiliation to the rebels. The prisoners were sent all over the Empire to be sold as slaves while the Roman generals and commanders were decorated in the public square of the Forum.
It was a joyful period throughout all of Rome, and it should have been no exception for Marcus Tiberius Numida. However, something weighed heavily on his mind and alienated his soul from the revelry.
He wandered through the streets of Rome, not paying attention to where he was going, until he found himself in the slave market in the Forum.
Several specimens of males and females, crammed into cages, peered from between the bars, waiting to be yanked out and pushed to line up behind the merchant. Their eyes revealed fear and confusion.
Each merchant touted the good properties of each slave they were selling, wildly gesticulating to underline their words to attract customers, as crowds of curious people and potential buyers gathered around.
The sobs of the waiting slaves and the clang of their chains against the bars, combined with the din of the curious onlookers and the raucous voices of the merchants. The stench of bodily fluids melded with the scent of food that was sold in the square.
Most of the slaves wore dirty rags that barely covered their bodies; others were completely naked.
Marcus Tiberius looked around absentmindedly. He was not interested in buying a slave, but an eleven-year-old boy caught his attention. He stood in a composed, almost haughty way.
His eyes, swollen from tears, showed confusion, fear, and despair. Every time he turned his head to look at the main cage to look at his family, the merchant snarled and hit him to face the throng.
Despite his ragged clothes and the coat of grime on his body, he stood erect with a defiant flash in his brown eyes.
Whoever buys it will have to spend a lot of time washing it to see what hides underneath, he smiled.
The merchant seized the opportunity to seal the first deal of the day. “Can it be that Marcus Tiberius Numida is interested in a purchase?”
Marcus Tiberius turned his gaze toward him, a bit upset to be disturbed from his thoughts.
“It is hard to believe that this little thing could be of any interest to anyone, especially when its filthiness does not allow one to see what it looks like. What is it, a male or a female?” he asked in a sarcastic tone.
With a sudden move, the merchant ripped away the cloth covering the child’s body. “He is a male, as you can see.”
Marcus walked steadily toward the little boy. When he was close enough, he looked deep into his eyes and then started to examine him thoroughly.
He opened his mouth and looked at his teeth; they were perfect.
On close inspection of the slave’s body structure, he noted the strong, perfectly proportioned body, not ruined by the barbaric circumcision practiced by the Jews.
Marcus Tiberius smiled, satisfied, and took the boy’s little hands in his own; he felt them, beyond the dirt, unexpectedly soft and delicate. He looked down at the bare feet, swollen and bleeding.
It occurred to him that they had never walked without shoes before and probably would require time and care to recover fully.
“This one has probably never worked in its entire life. How could it be useful?” he asked.
The merchant smiled broadly, showing his teeth. “Oh, but this slave is a remarkable one. Despite its age, it is quite educated; it can write and read,” He placed his hands on his protruding belly.
“And how much are you asking for it?”
In silence, Marcus Tiberius scrutinized the boy from head to feet, then burst out laughing. “2500 Sestertii for this little thing? Today the sun must be too hot. Either that or you’ve gone crazy. Say 1000, and I’ll buy it,” he looked at the boy whose defiance seemed to turn into fear of something he could not forecast.
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