Aoibhe nervously exhaled as she was led into the inner bath chamber. The silent exchange she had shared with the engineer had left her unnerved. She had not realized that she was being watched when she glanced over the drawings. The limestone was problematic, of course, but the designs he had laid out did not attempt to solve them. His design was aesthetically pleasant, with its classic roman design and use of curved buttresses, but if it did not address the limestone foundation the whole system would need to be rebuilt in time.
When she entered the bath room she was hit by a cloud of steam that made her simple robe stick to her skin. She looked around the room and saw explicit sexual reliefs all over the walls. Her jaw dropped as the magnitude of sexual imagery quickened her heartbeat. The sound of splashing water interrupted her thoughts and she looked down to see a very naked engineer in the tiled pool.
“Do you like the reliefs?” he asked her as he lounged in the steamy water. Water dripped from his hair and nose as he looked her over. She looked down at him in the pool and shut her mouth. Slaves were never asked questions like this, and she really did not know how to respond to this man in front of her.
Unlike her master, he was lean. He was not overly-built like the field or quarry slaves, but he had a naturally athletic form. His hair was longer than was normal for men of his class and it hung in wet ringlets around his head.
“I would like you to answer me,” he said with an authoritative edge. She took a moment to sooth her frayed nerves and then answered him as calmly as she could.
“The scenes have the intended effect but I think they lack creativity.” Obviously, he had not expected this answer and it made his mouth turn upward slightly; his eyebrows rose suggestively.
“What is your name, slave?”
She turned her eyes to the floor submissively. “Aoibhe, sir.”
“Aoibhe,” he exhaled her name as his eyes looked her over hungrily. “Gaelic, right?” She gave a single affirmative nod without looking up from the floor. “Disrobe and join me; I would like you to wash my back.”
Aoibhe moved her eyes from the floor to meet his. Resolve hardened her heart and without taking her eyes off of his, she slid out of her robe and walked into the tub. Her mouth was set in a tight line as she waded over to the side of the tub and retrieved the sponge used for cleaning. His breath quickened as she approached and his expression became dark. He moved closer to her and in his proximity she sensed him breathing in her scent. He then asked her “Have you been had?”
She had been hardening her heart since entering the bathing chamber, making ready for what was surely going to be required of her. She was working on pushing the anger and fears deep inside her to protect her core self from this moment. However, the question had provoked something dangerous in her. “I was not born a slave—I was taken a slave. Such things are a part of the…breaking process.” Venom dripped from her words; an icy stare accompanied them.
He raised an eyebrow at her insubordinate tone. “Obviously they did not break you very well,” he said, turning his back to her so that she could begin washing it. No one had ever let her get away with a tone like that without consequences. It made her pause. She had expected retribution for the tone she had used; instead he had raised an eyebrow and turned his back to her.
“Master Brutus has remarked that I am quite spirited,” she responded vulnerably as she began to rub the sponge over his sinewy back.
He took a moment to formulate a response. “They say that the best horses are the most spirited, but they also say that you never truly break such a horse—instead you win their loyalty. Has no one won your loyalty?”
She felt that he asked dangerous questions; it scared and aroused her. “I am no horse,” she said simply.
A throaty laugh erupted from him and he quickly turned on her. “No, you are no horse… but you are a slave.” He grabbed her forcefully and held her to him. She had not expected it, and her moment of vulnerability disappeared as she went limp. Like she had done many times, she retreated into herself. In her head she was a child in her mother’s arms as they sang the lullaby “Taladh Dhomhnaill Ghuirm” together. On the outside her eyes looked back at Adamo, as a cadaver might.
Adamo wrinkled his nose in disgust and released his grip on her. She fell into the water, surprised the he had dropped her so quickly. She resurfaced swiftly, gurgling the tub’s warm water as the life returned to her eyes. With authority in his voice he said, “Aoibhe, do not do that again. It does not please me.”
Fire burned in her heart. There was a time when she would have welcomed a man to test her in this way. Killing him slowly would have brought her much joy, but as soon as the thought of killing the man in front of her crossed her mind she immediately balked at it. In that moment, she decided that they had broken her better than she had anticipated. A desperate thought gripped her mind: if she did not escape soon she would die, though not in the physical sense.
He looked pleased at her defiance and smirked at her. He seemed to take pleasure in her anger. She wanted to lash out at him, but she knew this game well and responded in the manner she was taught. “What would please you, dominus?”
He moved his hands and traced a burning line down her neck. Her heart thumped in her ears as he lightly brushed his fingers up to the bun on top of her head and untied the thong that held up her hair, letting it fall down around her face in soft curls. A satisfied dimpled grin spread across his face as he moved his lips closer to hers.
“It would please me to know why a slave girl was looking at my building plans with such interest,” he said softly, yet every word was filled with danger and sensuality.
She was finding it hard to think. With a quiver she responded quickly, “I was only admiring the beauty.”
His fingers moved softly over the skin of her chin, yet again there was danger in the movements. When he spoke she could feel his breath on her lips. “I don’t believe you.” Her bottom lip quivered, but not from fear. She did not understand her reaction. The danger in his fingertips only served to heighten the anticipation of the moment. She also realized that he was behaving in a manner very different from any other master she served.
He was actively seducing her, in a very successful manner, but he didn’t need to. She was a slave and was required to submit to him if she didn’t want to be beaten within an inch of her life and transferred to more difficult duties. She backed away from him in an attempt to regain control of her facilities which he had successfully muddled. “Why are you doing this?” she said, voicing her train of thought.
As she had moved away he had moved to refill the gap between them; after she had voiced her question he stopped, turning the question over in his mind. “I don’t know. Perhaps I am trying to win your loyalty. When I saw you earlier I realized that my work is stressful and I need someone to keep me from drowning in it. Not someone who will just follow orders and lay still for me, but someone who will respond to my needs. You are only a slave, but I feel that perhaps there is something in you that will satisfy my needs.”
She had been looking to the side of the pool at nothing in particular as he said this, absorbing the implications. Her eyes tracked from the side of the pool to one of his arms floating at his side. She followed the line of his arm to his chest drinking in the masculinity of the man in front of her, then slowly to his eyes. In that moment a plan of action formed in her mind.
“Someone to respond to your needs.… Do your needs include a solution to your water seepage problem?” she said carefully.
“My seepage problem? You were looking at my plans. How did you see that? More importantly, you know how to fix it? How could you possibly know how to fix it?” His cool seductive demeanor had crumbled into a dangerous rant focused squarely on her. He advanced on her and she automatically retreated; backing into the wall of the bathing pool. As the tiled side cut off her escape, he firmly placed hands to either side of her head, trapping her in place.
She swallowed hard and quickly continued, hoping that her plan had not been a folly. “I can fix it. I wasn’t always a slave, remember?” She carefully laid her hands on his chest and looked into his eyes with all of the confidence she could muster, willing him to believe her. He appraised her for a moment before saying, “Alright, I’ll grant you that perhaps you were not always a slave. But what would a woman know about aqueduct construction?” The words fell from his mouth with unintended contempt.
Unable to stop herself, she yelled back into his face; “What does a man know about creation? I was a princess and a leader of my people. My people understand that women know how to create. We know from the moment the light enters our eyes.”
He scoffed and rolled his eyes at her, unimpressed. She did not let it stop her from continuing. “And… while we never had large buildings like you, we did require water for our fields. There was much of this stone you call limestone there. My people know how to use it and… how to seal it.”
This got his attention. His body still pinned her to the wall and a violent tension still held the muscles of his chest firm under her fingers, but his eyes looked at her as if he had never really seen her before this moment. “Okay, I’m listening. How do you seal limestone?”
She smiled, knowing that she had him. “Will you buy me from Brutus?”
He returned her smile and exhaled, deftly moving his body into an embrace with her. Without understanding how he had managed it, her hands now encircled his neck and his hands had slid down her body encircling her waist, his face only inches from hers, “If I do, will that have earned me your loyalty?”
Each knew the answer to other’s question, but still Aoibhe felt the need to answer him. He was arrogant and rude, but as the words escaped her lips she knew that they were true. “You’ve always had it.” In that moment she let go of all of her restraint and she crashed into his lips, his arms pulling her into him with a kiss that made the air of the bathroom crackle with unseen lighting.
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