The Doctor wasn't happy. In the past few months he had visited numerous planets in countless solar systems in so many different galaxies that he had seriously lost count by now. However, not one of the carefully selected places and times that he traveled to was suitable to be inhabited by two battling Timelords from which one was a dangerous homicidal madman. There was for example this tiny speck of a planet in the far-away galaxy of Odin that according to the on board 565th edition of the atlas of the universe should be devoid of intelligent life. However, once arrived, the Doctor quickly found that there was a race of aliens of higher intelligence already living on the planet. Only, they were so small that it was hard to find them between the blades of grass. A scenario playing in the Doctor's head in which the Master took out a lawn-mower for a drive over the peaceful meadows was enough to convince the Timelord that this place wasn't for them. And on another planet in the Isia star system, he found a race so far developed in culture and intelligence that they could be considered one of the wisest beings in the universe. They had not known war, death, or disease for eons, and they were too bright to be ambitious. Their society was therefore one of peace and harmony. It seemed at first the ideal place to live with the Master, for these higher beings could not be corrupted by the renegade Timelord charms, however, they did have a weakness. Although they were wise, they still coveted one thing: More wisdom. They received the Timelord as an honored guest, but they also picked his mind for every fact, every memory, and every emotion that they no didn't possess themselves. For the Doctor, it didn't seem wise to expose the Master to such scrutiny. The inhabitants were keen not only to catalogue the knowledge obtained from the different alien species that they encountered, but they also had the less pleasant habit of collecting the more anomalous specimen amongst them for further study and, as they see it, to rid the universe of the unharmonious elements. Being frank, the Doctor wasn't sure that these beings were not going to dissect the Master's brain to get it pickled and labeled as a marvelous example of a disturbed mind. Visiting this planet with the other Timelord was therefore out of the question.
And so there were incalculable other planets, all of them strange but wonderful and exciting, but none of them could be spared of the annihilation, enslavement or corruption of its inhabitants that, in the Doctor's mind, the Master could initiate with one snap of his fingers.
The Doctor sighed, leaning over the console of the Tardis navigation system, he considered the possibility of just giving up for today. He would let the Tardis make up a new list of planets that were possible candidates, and start afresh in the early morning.
Or he could jump to one more planet that was not on the list for today, and visit the captain at the Torchwood institute late in the evening to find out how the Master's been doing.
The Doctor knew that he shouldn't, and his mind warned him that he had promised himself that he wouldn't interfere with the human Master's life, but his fingers seemed to have a will of their own, and had already started to type in the familiar coordinates for the sun's solar system into the navigation program.
It wouldn't hurt if he just asked if he was still doing all right, he convinced himself, and pulled over to lever to send the Tardis back into the time vortex.
A soft warm breeze entered the room. Marcellus closed his eyes for a moment, and relished in the scents that he could pick up from the outside air. There was the a smoke rising from the kitchen below, mingled with the dark smell of shimmering coals, and the sweet, delicate scent of the cypresses growing in the hidden gardens across the street. Somewhere in the olive trees, cicadas scratched their strange serrenade. Marcellus slowly stretched his pleasantly aching muscles, the smell of sex and the senator's sweat still lingered on his body.
The good senator had indeed kept his words and came to ask for Marcellus's services frequently. The second time he visited, he even properly introduced himself to the young man. The senator's name was Cealus Hortalus, and he was one of the best-loved and most respected men in Rome. He had served Emperor Claudius for more than 24 years. Cealus did not speak often about his work, but if he did, he was bound to tell Marcellus something that reflected the respect that the senator had for the good emperor, for all the mistakes that the old emperor Claudius made, and the flaws that he had, he was a saint compared to the emperor Caligula who Cealus had experienced before him. According to Cealus, Caligula was a real piece of work, and every time when Marcellus was telling the senator about his new dreams and recalled about how evil and mad his alter-ego was, Cealus would shake his head and surpass him with a story about the late emperor. It was his way to comfort Marcellus by teaching him that evil could lurk in every man, even in the great emperors of Rome.
"I've never seen him in person. I know his face only from his portraits on coins and pictures. However, if it wasn't for that man things would have turned out differently for me. For example, I wouldn't need this to walk." Cealus lifted up his cane, held it in front of Marcellus eyes, and let it slide back onto the floor through his fingers.
Marcellus had always wondered but would have never dared to ask how the senator got his bad leg. But that night, the senator seemed eager to talk.
"He gave you this limp?"
"You might say that. You see, my father was the great senator Drusus Hortalus the elder. Everyone in Rome knew him as an honorable, decent, and brave man, who kept his word and stood by his morals. That Doctor of your would have loved him. He survived emperor Tiberius before he finally came into service of Caligula. Emperor Caligula hated the senate. He thought that they were all against him because they wanted to get rid of the emperors and restore the Republic that Rome once was. It didn't help that the young emperor was as mad as the kicking backside of a drunken mule and as vicious as a starved wolf in winter. So he thought out elaborate plans to get rid of the more annoying elements of the government. He made the noblest men among them look like fools by forcing their wives to work as prostitutes, and brought them close to desperation as he ordered the oldest sons of the senators to join the Roman army. He sent them all to Germania to fight in the front line, which meant they were doomed to perish in the muddy fields of Northern Europe. My oldest brother Drusus the younger never came home. It wasn't even possible for my father to obtain his remains. We burned an clay image of him on the funeral pyre."
Cealus paused for a moment, his pale hands leaning on his cane. There was a haunted look in his eyes as if his dead brother's ghost was still with him.
"From that day on, my father lost all respect for the emperor. He still went to the hearings in the senate, but only because he wanted to continue to serve the people of Rome. On one unfortunate day, my father and a number of other senators were to present a petition, asking for an equal distribution of grain amongst the poor in the different quarters of the city. The emperor, bored and in a spiteful mood, ordered the senators to follow him out into the streets. He than ordered his servant to bring him his favorite horse Incitatus, and mounted the animal to stroll around the forum at a running pace. When the senators objected that they weren't yet finished with the petition, he simply replied that they should run next to Incitatus and just continue to read the damn thing. My father informed him that this request was demeaning and that no noble senator would lower himself to that. Do you know how the emperor replied?"
Marcellus shook his head. "He wouldn't be affected. A man like him cannot be called upon his morals or empathy."
"Correct. He said that if he only allowed his two Egyptian breed dogs to run next to his horse, than it must be an honor for the senators or Rome to do the same." Cealus smiled sadly. "While the rest of the senators, fearing for penalties, complied to the emperor's orders, my father would not yield. He let Caligula know that he would not object to walk next to the emperor's dogs nor his steed that were creatures of fine and noble breed, it was walking next to the emperor that degraded him."
"Your father was very brave to stand his ground." Marcellus said with admiration.
"My old man." Cealus grinned. "One of the finest orators of Rome. His tongue could be sharp like a knife if he wanted to. But of course, in the end my father had to pay the price." He looked down on the floor, his head resting on his cane. "The emperor didn't react immediately, his face did not betray his anger but remained calm and deceptive as a thin layer of ice in the Northern winters, but my father knew that he and his family were now in great danger. He rushed home and asked my mother to get the servants to gather all the valuables and pack lightly, for we had to flee the city before nightfall. Still we were too late, just as the entire household was at the point to leave our home, the soldiers arrived. They read out an order signed by the emperor himself. My father, the noble senator who had served Rome so well and had lost a son in its army, was accused of treason. All that belonged to our family was to be confiscated to fatten the emperor's treasury, and the dishonored senator and his remaining son was to be executed in public in the arena. There was no trail to be held, for there was no more justice except for the type that suited the madness of vicious Caligula. My father and I were dragged to prison where we were received by the guard prefect Naevius Marco. He saw to it that the more specific orders of the emperor were to be carried out till in the finest, sickest detail."
Cealus paused for a moment and sighed deeply. These were the memories of his past that he would rather have forgotten.
"What did they do to your father sir?" Marcellus asked, hesitantly.
"The prison guards smashed my father's legs with a mace. They didn't stop till the broken bones were cutting wounds into the flesh. Even then my father pleaded to his tormentors to spare me. But the emperor's orders could not be denied."
The senator rubbed over his right leg as the recollection of that night brought out a phantom pain that spread like a snake's toxin over his bad limb.
"They smashed the mace down on my leg twice before someone ordered them to stop. It was Caligula's uncle Claudius. My mother had pleaded with him to save us, for he was the only one left in the empire who could temper the madness and cruelty of his nephew. He is the same Claudius who is now the Emperor of Rome. He rescued me from my father's fate."
Cealus looked up at Marcellus, who was sitting silently on the narrow bed, listening to the recollections of senator's past with compassion and a growing sense of resentment towards the late emperor.
"The following day, my mother and I were forced to watch my father being dragged out into arena. They set the hungry African beasts on him. The emperor himself, whose petty vindictiveness was the cause of all this evil, was absent from the execution, for he found the warm weather too uncomfortable and the rest of the program too boring to watch. Prefect Macro was sent to arena to observe, and he gleefully informed us that the only thing that the emperor ordered him to report was if old Drusus Hortalus still preferred to run next to noble beasts, or would he by now have changed his mind."
The senator fell silent. From outside, the first morning birds started to sing in anticipation of dawn.
"I'm sorry." Marcellus whispered. "You must hate him for all that he had done to you and your family. He destroyed your lives."
The senator shook his head slowly. "When I was young and the Caligula still alive, I indeed wanted revenge. I hated him with such a passion that it consumed my every thought. I believed that all I wanted was for that cruel tyrant to die a violent and miserable death. But when he was indeed murdered four years later, I didn't feel any joy or satisfaction. There was no solace in his demise. The Gods had granted me my precious wish, and after it was fulfilled I found out that there was nothing left in my heart but a huge black hole where my hatred had once burned."
Cealus looked up and gazed into Marcellus's eyes, his face suddenly looked so much older, the lines on his forehead betraying the pain and sorrow of his younger life.
"I no longer hate him, and he's forgiven."
"How could you just forgive him, sir." Marcellus objected. "He was a monster."
"My dear boy, Caligula is dead. Bones and flesh returned to dust. He won't notice a thing of my resentment. But I am still very much alive."
The senator walked over to the window. A thin streak of light started to appear at the dark blue horizon, a new day had arrived.
"I had allowed my anger consume me. I didn't have truly lived a single day ever since my father died. I decided that I would no longer let that happen to me. So therefore, I have only forgiven him to safe myself."
The senator turned around, facing the young slave.
"No one can live with all that hate and not go mad, dear Marcellus. Forgiveness is not given to the ones who deserve it, but because it's needed. I needed Caligula to be forgiven for my life to go on. And as for your Doctor, he knew that the Master needed to be forgiven to allow him to get a second chance in life."
Cealus read the anxious reaction on Marcellus's face. He limped over to the bed and sat down next to him.
"Don't look so sad my dear boy. I haven't told you this story to evoke pity for a senator from a slave. I just wanted you to understand why I think that the Doctor's decision was the only right one to make."
Marcellus had difficulty to compose himself. Indeed, he had felt a growing sense of injustice that had grasped his heart in response to what had happened to the senator's family, and kindled in him an empathizing need for revenge. However, in case of the Doctor being merciful to the Master, there was another more intense emotion that was evoked in him. What he felt was a strange sense of resentment towards to Doctor, as if this act of kindness was the last straw in the mount of insolence and humiliation that he had to endure. It even passed his mind for a moment that he would rather die than to be granted a chance to atonement by someone so sickening righteous as he was.
"Marcellus?" The senator placed his hand on the slave's shoulder. "Is there something wrong?"
A gentle pounding that sounded like drums rang in his ears. Marcellus shook his head and it was gone.
"No sir. I'm all right. It's just…I don't think they should be forgiven. These two people are rotten to the core. If I were you sir, I would pray to Pluto every day that he may torment that man for the rest of eternity by feeding him to the dogs of hell, or drown him in the river Styx. And if I was the Doctor…"
Marcellus swallowed some of his anger, realizing that the senator was looking disturbed. The pounding in his head became worse, swelling up like a large wave over darkened waters.
"If I was him, I wouldn't bother." He shook again his head irritably to get rid of the drums and the Doctor, but they wouldn't leave him alone, and filled his mind with a torrent of confusing ideas. "He's fighting a lost cause. It's childishly naïve of him to think that I would even yield an inch into the direction that he wants me to go to. I mean, who does he think that he is, hm?" Marcellus eyes were suddenly blazing with defiance. "He wiped out a nice number of aliens himself. I'm not the only one who murders. He's not better than I am. And What am I? I am just a lowly slave. They treat me like a bloody whore. I…" Marcellus pressed his hands onto his ears and shut his eyes. The drumming was so loud and so frightening, he wanted it to stop, he wanted himself to stop rambling, but he couldn't, for a frighteningly irrational thought formed in his mind that slowly transformed fear into hatred.
"I get it now." He muttered. 'I'm being punished. The Doctor did this to me, that double-faced hypocritical bastard!" He yelled from the top of his lungs, pressing his chin down on his chest. Rocking softly, he blinked, and tears rolled down his face.
"But that's good, that's a good thing." Mumbling and nodding, he looked up at the senator, wearing a fragile smile on his face. "I deserved it. Just like mad Caligula deserved to be hacked into pieces."
"Marcellus, oh my poor boy." The senator spoke, and he gently took the slave in his arms and lay down his head on his shoulder. "What has this foolish old man done to you now. Calm down. Don't think like this."
Marcellus's face was hidden in the fabric of the senator's toga, and as his body shuddered, Cealus thought that the boy was crying again. It was only when he heard the slave's laughter that he realized that he wasn't.
"Marcellus?" The senator observed the slave's irrational behavior with growing concern. "Oh by Jupiter, please don't tell me that you have lost your wits."
"But don't you see sir! I was right!"
"Right about what?"
"The Doctor. He is not better than me! He couldn't forgive. Not even him." He sighed out of relief. The sound of the drums retreated, and his madness slowly disappeared with it. Only a few traces clung on to him a little longer, and these echoes of the Master spoke one last time to the senator.
"I still win." Marcellus said, grinning through his tears.
After he was brought back to his cell-like chamber the following morning, Marcellus used a shard from broken pottery that he had found on the floor to scratch two words on the wall behind the stone bed. He repeated them again and again, till the entire surface was covered with his feverish writings.
It was a cold day in late autumn when the senator came to visit him for the very last time. They had once more spent the night together in the cozy little room that Marcellus had started to consider as the only safe place in the entire world. The senator had not acted differently towards him, being kind and understanding as always. But as dawn broke and the sun rose over the horizon, Cealus didn't wait till Micranus came to ask him to leave.
"Is something wrong sir?" Marcellus watched how the senator dressed up in a hurry.
"I hope not, my dear friend. But I need to rush to the senate for an early meeting. It's rather important." Cealus voice trailed off as he stared worriedly into the distance.
"It there something with the emperor?"
The senator nodded. "Emperor Claudius's wife Agrippina wants him to adopt her son and make him joint heir with his own son Brittanicus. For some reason, the emperor seems to listen to that witch of a woman and asked a dear friend of mine to change his will." Cealus shook his head, neatly draping his toga over his shoulder and folding the white fabric in such a way that the red stripes on his tunic were visible.
"I've seen her son Nero. He's still only a boy and seems to be a kind and clever enough lad. But that woman, she is a she-wolf in sheep's clothing. If the senate allows her to manipulate Nero into becoming Claudius's successor she will swallow up Rome. We must speak against this before it gets out of hand." He grabbed his cane and came over to Marcellus.
"Before I forget."
The senator gave Marcellus a golden coin. It was the last one he would ever receive from him.
"How many do you already have Marcellus? I lost count of it."
"13 pieces sir." Marcellus closed his hand around the coin. The metal felt cold against his skin.
"Another 12 pieces and you will be free then."
"And I would owe it all to you sir. Thank you." He said, sincerely.
"You thank me every time when I give you a coin. Save it for the day that you truly become a freeman." He stood up and made his way to the stairs. "On that day, my dear friend, I expect that you to treat me as your equal and buy me a fine meal to express your gratitude."
"I certainly will sir." Marcellus replied, smiling. "I will buy you a great diner with meat, fruit and wine, Even if I had to borrow the money from you first."
Cealus looked over his shoulder and smiled back at him before he left.
"Spoken like a real Roman citizen already! See you next time Marcellus. Remember those dreams for me."
Soon after the senator was gone, Micranus came up to the room to fetch him. Marcellus had hidden the coin under his tongue, making good use of the fact that the servant did not expect him to speak but to simply comply his orders by nodding his head and carrying out the task. He was brought back to the small prison-like chamber, where the pail with water for washing was already refilled for his next round of clients. Micranus then placed himself in front of the entrance with his trunk like arms crossed over his chest.
"The senator didn't give you anything again? No special gifts?" He asked. He always asked, and he always made sure that the slave wasn't hiding anything from him. It didn't help that Marcellus did not own any clothes to hide it in.
Marcellus shook his head and kept looking down submissively.
"Show me your hands."
He did what was asked of him.
Micranus inspected them, curling down the corners of his lips in disappointment.
Marcellus quietly stumbled over to the pail. He started washing his face, dunking his head and hands deep into the water. He spat out the coin and let it drop into his hands before reemerging to the surface.
He had just swallowed his first breath of air when the Moor came up to him and without warning, grabbed his cheeks and pushed his mouth open. He forced two fingers pass his lips and felt under his tongue. There was nothing there of course. The Moor let go of his face, grabbed him then by the shoulder and pressed him down on the stone bed. Marcellus's bony buttocks were now fully exposed. Micranus pushed his fingers inside the slave's anus, and felt for any hidden treasures. Once again, he was disappointed.
"Worthless!" He grabbed the slave by his hair and rammed his head against the side of the bunk bed. Blackness spread in front of the Marcellus's eyes, he collapsed on the floor, his hands shielding his head in anticipation of more blows to come. But Micranus managed to hold in his anger this time, and only kicked him once in the side under his ribs while cursing under his breath before he left him alone.
When he was sure that the Moor was gone, he crawled over to the pail, his head still dizzy from the blow. He hid the coin underneath it, just as he had done with the other pieces that senator Cealus had given him before. It was safe to keep it there till at least the following morning, when one of the girls would come to empty and refill the bucket under the nearby public fountain. He had to wait till the late hours of the night, when Simon, Micranus and the others had gone to sleep, to hide it properly.
The day passed by in the same monotonous series of events that made up his gloomy life. He served four clients. At the end of the evening he could remember none of their faces, but could recall the specific sadistic traits in each of their personalities, and felt each bruise and cut that they had inflicted on his skin. He endured them all without so much as a cry or a whimper, his mind wandered off as he dreamed of a life in outside these dark walls. When his clients allowed him to, he would turn his head and fix his eyes on the pail under which he imagined, he could see the golden coin, shining in the dark like a star in the night.
The evening was finally coming to an end, and outside he could hear Simon order Micranus to barricade the entrances with the large wooden panels and ask the last guests to leave before they close down the lupenare. The two remaining guests who paid for the night were already upstairs with the girls that they had selected. Marcellus sat on the floor with his back against the cool stones, he dipped the small piece of stale bread that he was given for today in the pail of water and stuffed it into his mouth. It wasn't enough to still his hunger.
He slept underneath the sheepskin after the oil-lamps were put out to save fuel, and his dreams remained blissful, with little to no sign of the Doctor. When he woke again, the lupenare was dark and quiet as a cave. The only sounds to be heard came from outside, the drunken chatter of two men in the backstreet and the barking of an dog alarming its master.
He climbed out of the stone bed, and searched for the pail with his hands. When he found it he slipped his fingers under the wooden bucket, and took the coin from its hiding place. Like a blind-man, he found his way to the entrance by following the damp walls by touch.
The large room outside was as dark as the chambers, with only two narrow strips of light running underneath the wooden panels fixed in front of the street entrances. Micranus slept on a straw mattress in front of the one that came out in the main street, which was the farthest away from the latrine. Marcellus carefully made his way to the other side of the room, and listened with a rapidly beating heart to every sound that came to him through the darkness, the soft snoring of the servant, a slave girl who stirred in her dreams in the cabin that he passed by. He reached the latrine, which was basically a hole in the floor that went three meters into the ground and was connected to the city's sewage systems. Marcellus crouched down in front of it, the strong smell of stale urine murdered the senses in his nose, and he quickly swallowed a deep breath of air to stop the reflexes that worked up from his stomach. He stuck his hand into the latrine, and removed one of the bricks at the back of the long shaft. There was a tiny crack in the cement in which he had hidden the rest of his treasure, and carefully, he added the last coin to the small pile, before covering it up again with the loose brink.
Cealus was right. Nobody in his right mind would bother looking in there. The stench alone was a punishment for the noses of slaves and freemen alike.
Marcellus made his way back to his chamber, his heart's pace already quieting down. The prospects of a life outside the city, of wandering over the lands, of seeing the stars, filling him with hope and a sense of bittersweet consolation.
He had not noticed that someone had been standing outside in the back-alley, and had observed all of his actions with growing interest by peeking through the gap that ran underneath the barricaded entrance.