It was a fairly typical morning for the eunuch Sporus. He awoke in a soft bed surrounded by plump cushions, a slight thumping to his forehead serving as a reminder of the previous night’s excesses. What a night it had been! The food had been divine and the wine had been, probably in retrospect. a bit too plentiful. The company though had been perfect, so perfect. Sporus flumped back on his cushions. How attentive his beloved had been, how caring, how randy – a smile formed on the eunuch’s lips.
Calvia Crispinilla, mistress of the wardrobe, planner of the Imperial parties and reluctant keeper of the eunuch had arrived with her usual gang of assistants; hairdressers, beauticians, masseurs, dressers everyone that was needed to make Sporus as he should be – fucking gorgeous.
Sporus, sat up in bed, stretching out his arms in an exaggerated yawn.
“Do not mess me about today,” said Calvia, pointing a curling tong at the eunuch.
“As if I would dare,” said Sporus, intending to do exactly that.
Looking at Calvia’s assistants, he asked, “Where’s my wig lady? And my wig? I can’t be seen without my hairpiece!” A hand went up to his head to his natural hair, a mass of black curls somewhat flattened by the cushions.
“You don’t need the wig today. You’re not Poppaea today.”
“Not Poppaea?! Shrieked the eunuch. “But I am always Poppaea. Always. My beloved expects it. He can’t see me like this, like, like… like a Sporus!”
He pulled the bed clothes up to his neck.
“He won’t,” said Calvia approaching the bed with her hench-beauticians. “You’re not seeing the emperor today.”
“What? What do you mean?”
A thousand thoughts flew at speed through the eunuch’s usually rather empty head. The emperor didn’t want to see him. But he loved his Poppaea. Hadn’t he demonstrated that, repeatedly, the previous evening? He couldn’t have gone off Poppaea, could he? Or had he, Sporus, done something to offend the emperor?
He raked through his memories of the night before, hampered by the blurring of alcohol. He couldn’t find anything. But then his beloved was a man of ever-changing passions, what if – and here a horrible awful devastating thought hit Sporus – what if this was this the end?
The end of being notable and notorious, famous and infamous. Of being cossetted. Of being draped in a hundred pretty dresses and bejewelled with tiaras and rings and necklaces and bracelets. Of being loved.
He couldn’t bear it if the emperor no longer wanted him! He really couldn’t. What would he do? He couldn’t go back to life before Nero, back to being ordinary, back to being only Sporus.
He just couldn’t!
“The emperor is spending the day with the empress,” explained Calvia.
“That bitch!” spat Sporus. “Who is making my beloved do that?”
For the thought that Nero would willingly spend time with his wife was anathema to Sporus. Sporus hadn’t spent much time in the company of Statilia Messalina, for the simple reason that she hated him and was liable to fly for him with whatever implement she had to hand at the time, but it was his observance that even with Calvia’s expert help the empress was a very plain woman and dull. She had to be dull. And boring. Everything that Sporus wasn’t.
Sporus sparkled. Sporus glittered. Sporus shined. Sporus dazzled. Sporus was a blinding light of radiant magnificence. It was a wonder anyone survived being in his presence without full on burns.
There was not a chance that Nero would abandon him for that miserable cow. Not. A. chance.
Rubbing at his cheek with a cloth with much the same gusto as the cleaning slaves had employed in mopping the palace floors post banquet, Calvia told him. “Epaphroditus’ instructions. You are to stay in your rooms.”
As if, thought Sporus with a smile, as if.
It took over an hour for Sporus to be properly Sporus. Calvia’s team of beauticians had buffed and polished and singed him to perfection. Dressed in a red ankle length tunic fringed with gold Sporus affected to be fatigued by the efforts on his behalf. He reclined himself on a couch and demanded he be left alone to rest properly.
“Eunuchs,” spat Calvia on her way out. “Nothing but trouble.”
Sporus gave her beautified smile in return, then once she was safely gone he leapt up and stuck his head out of the door. Which Guards did he have today? Was it the one with the lazy eye? Or the one with the acne? Or perhaps it was Nymphidius Sabinus himself? That thought amused Sporus enormously for he liked nothing more than winding up the Prefect.
It was so easy too, you just hitched up your dress to show a bit of thigh, blew him a sarky kiss, or winked at him and he would positively combust with rage. Obviously, it was all down to jealousy, either the Prefect was wild because Sporus, and not him, was beloved of the emperor. Or, and here Sporus smiled wickedly, the Prefect harboured a deep hidden desire to be eunuchised but dare not admit it and disguised this secret beneath an exterior of austere frigidity.
That was so delicious a thought Sporus decided he needed to start spreading it round the palace as an actual fact immediately. First stop his bestest friends in all the palace, Alex and Mina. The latter of which was an ardent gossip and would get the rumour speeding off most happily. Slipping out the door Sporus was faced with something unexpected. Outside his door were not the Praetorian Guards that were usually positioned there but something else.
This something else was a massive bulk of flesh encased in a white palace issued tunic, though it clearly hadn’t made it down to the laundry girls in a while since it was grubby in the extreme. The tunic had been accessorised with a wide leather belt which had been converted to a practical use, for attached to a loop was the coiled whip of his trade. He was a slave overseer and his name was Straton.
Eunuchs are not known for their stealth, their ability to sneak is hampered by the amount of jangling, tinkling jewellery they can’t resist wearing. Such was the case with Sporus, though the sharp intake of horrified breath didn’t help either.
Straton alerted to his presence, turned round. It was an ugly face, one marked with blemishes and scars, the most impressive of which ran in a thick red line across his throat. He gave a grin, showing off his blackened teeth.
“Hullo” he rasped, for the injury to his throat had affected his speech and he spoke in a hoarse whisper.
Because of his wound Straton didn’t say much. But he didn’t need to, he was six foot of menace and implied threat. As an overseer he had frequent recourse to make good that menace in punishment whippings that flayed the skin off the backs of misbehaving palace slaves. Rumours abounded of his sadism and very special tastes.
Sporus had long ago divided the palace into two camps:
- I) Those that wanted to sleep with him
Ii) Those that hated him, because they wanted to sleep with him but couldn’t.
Under this categorisation the eunuch had not a doubt Straton would fall into number one and would use whatever means necessary. Terrifying rumours abounded as to what Straton got up to in his spare hours. He gave a bleat.
“Ahh so you’ve met your new Guard then,” said Epaphroditus, approaching down the corridor with Philo beside him
“I think we might see an end to your little excursions, don’t you?”
Straton scratched at his belly. “Like eu-uchs. Fun.”
Sporus didn’t wait to hear what fun the overseer might think him capable of, he slipped back inside his chamber. The door shut with a bang.
“And that,” said Epaphroditus to Philo. “is how you sort a problem.”
Down the end of the corridor Sabinus pressed his back against the wall.
This was a problem he hadn’t anticipated.
Sporus decided to look on the bright side.
So his beloved was probably banging that bitch right now. She would be implanted, which was not so awful. After all it meant horrible, horrible pain as she pushed it out her hole and her bits would probably be all mashed-up nasty.
Plus it was a universal truth that after having children all women got grossly obese.
Who’d want to have sex with a huge lump of fat with nasty parts?
Certainly not his Nero. He wouldn’t need to anyway once there was a son to become emperor. He wouldn’t need to ever visit that cow again.
Which meant all the more sex for the Sporus/Poppaea/whatever. Fab-u-lous.
Throwing a juicy grape into his mouth and washing it down with a goblet of the finest wine the palace had to offer, Sporus suddenly remembered he had a companion.
There he was in the corner, perched on the edge of the least comfortable chair the chamber had to offer. He looked as awkwardly out of place as a eunuch mucking out a cow shed.
“Where’s your boss gone?”
“Epaphroditus had an important appointment,” replied Philo.
Sporus gave a tsk, “What’s her name?”
“An important appointment,” repeated Philo, leaving Sporus trying to work out if the scribe was obsessively loyal or just naive.
It could be easily either or both with Philo. Rumours abounded in the slave complex regarding the lack of rumours about Philo. Gossip was the most popular pastime in the complex and it was often a useful currency to curry favour. That Philo had seemingly got to where he was without at least one scurrilous story attached to his name was borderline suspicious.
Opinion remained divided on whether Philo’s meek exterior was a front for all manner of sexual depravity he was clever enough to conceal or whether he was exactly as he appeared, a shy scribe who was more dedicated to work than anything else.
Sporus, ever the contrarian favoured a third option, that Philo was harbouring a desperate unrequited love for his boss and spent every day in quiet anguish as Epaphroditus worked his way through the palace slave girls.
Sporus had settled on this theory solely because he couldn’t believe that anyone could be as innocent as Philo outwardly appeared.
“I do hope this job watching me hasn’t interfered in your plans for the evening.”
Sporus waited a decent interval for Philo to expand on whatever non plans he’d been forced to abandon to eunuch sit. When it was clear that this was Philo’s entire response Sporus decided to test his third way theory.
“So is it with Penelope Epaphroditus is doing the…?”
Here he stuck out his tongue and swirled it about in imitation of Epaphroditus’ well known talent in the bedroom.
Philo looked at him blankly. Sporus chose to interpret this as a constructed wall of indifference to mask a deep hurt and sorrow. As opposed to Philo not knowing what he was referring to.
“Do you want some wine?’
“No, thank you.”
“Probably a good idea. Wine just exacerbates the pain. Believe me.”
He gulped down another mouthful, this was going to be a very long evening indeed. There was only one way to survive his incarceration with the least interesting man in all the palace, get horrendously extraordinarily drunk!
Sporus was perfectly correct in assuming Epaphroditus had bunked off to meet a woman. Although it was Hera rather than Penelope. The secretary was feeling celebratory after a chat with Nero’s Chamberlain revealed the emperor and empress had successfully conjoined in a way Epaphroditus chose not to think about.
With any luck that would be the heir issue sorted. The pregnancy would at least give Epaphroditus time to work on smoothing out the emperor’s eccentricities to a more manageable Senator pleasing level.
Things were good not least because of the petty satisfaction gained from upsetting Nymphidius Sabinus. Revenge, in Epaphroditus’ view was a pointless waste of energy that could be spent elsewhere but he couldn’t deny it had felt good to watch the Prefect’s face as he’d ordered his precious Guards to stand down and replaced them with the distinctly unattractive specimen that was Straton.
Although Straton resembled a shaved bear stuffed in a tunic he hid beneath his unappealing exterior a plethora of talents. He was surprisingly nimble for such a large man and a fierce fighter. Neither of which skill would need to be called upon due to his chief attribute; every slave in the palace was terrified of him.
There was not a chance that damned eunuch would dare try anything on with Straton. You couldn’t play or tease Straton like one of Sabinus’ useless Guards. You couldn’t trick or deceive him. He had no time for any of that, you were lucky if you got to the end of the sentence without him losing interest and punching you in the face to shut you up. He was an implacable, unmovable cliff face of a man.
The only successful strategy to manage Straton was to stay out of his way. No doubt the eunuch was hankering down in his chamber cursing Epaphroditus’ name.
So be it, thought the secretary buckling up his sandals after a very pleasant time spent with Hera. Still, he’d better go reprieve Philo for the night. His assistant’s nervy anxiety would hardly be helped by too much exposure to Sporus.
Approaching the eunuch’s chamber he was surprised not to see Straton prowling outside, he’d expected the overseer to be enjoying a good menace of any passing slave. But he wasn’t. No matter, maybe he was serving his guarding function from inside the chamber. Only as Epaphroditus got nearer he noticed the door to Sporus’ chamber was slightly ajar. This did not feel right. In fact it felt very wrong, the secretary feeling a prickling sensation creeping across the back of his neck.
He pushed the door open and was faced by a scene of disarray, a couch had been overturned, a glass goblet looked to have hit a wall and smashed, leaving a red streak on a pleasant garden landscape scene. There was in the centre of the chamber a smashed mirror on the floor beside which was a fallen standing lamp. Of Straton, Sporus or Philo there was no sign.
What was that? Something caught Epaphroditus’ eye on the far wall of the chamber, he went to get a closer look stepping over the lamp. Scrawled across the wall above a very charming depiction of a heap load of dancing cherubs was a message.
It read; We have the eunuch. We want two hundred thousand sesterces to return it.
Do I want it returned? pondered Epaphroditus
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