Notes: Mot is the Carthaginian city of the dead.
Barca breathed his last on the rubbish heap they had thrown him on. The stars twinkled at him as his infamous strength finally broke and the last of his Carthaginian blood drained onto the Roman soil. . .
He noticed first that he wasn't on a trash pile. No smells, neither the pungent fragrance of the city or the earthy scent of the country, reached his nose. He opened his eyes to a dim cavern where he could hear a din of muted conversation over the trickle of water. He sat up off of the ground, pushing himself up on his palms. Barca stilled in mid-crouch, unnerved by what he didn't feel, the sensation of touch was gone from him. He stood, steeling his jaw, with full knowledge of the place he was. Torches lined a path that led toward the voices. This wasn't what he expected from the city of Mot and he feared he had ended up in the Roman afterlife.
Caught in his thoughts, he didn't see the shade that walked up to him.
You must wait for him. The spirit a brown-eyed woman with a long stare and luminous pale skin, said as she emerged from the gloom. Her gaze was terrible to behold in the torchlight.
Barca instinctively reached for his missing sword as he spun to face her. Explain yourself, wench.
Your love will be here soon. Sadness radiated from her face which flickered in varying degrees of transparency. Her voice dropped to a whisper as if she was walking far away yet her feet were still as death itself.
Pietros. If he could feel, he knew a chill would have gone down his spine. There were those who would take advantage of a beautiful youth alone in the ludus. More treachery by Ashur?
She nodded and turned away.
Why do you warn me? Barca's voice rumbled in his chest as he tried to cover his disquiet. He was a man of the body, raw and bloody, without need of philosophy. He had seen too much in his life to believe in much. Death seemed too close, first on the battlefield and then in the arena, to dwell on what came after. He couldn't touch; he couldn't hit; Barca knew he was out of his element.
Pietros gave water and food at his own risk to my man. Her body faded. A debt is repaid.
Don't leave. Barca cursed his own weakness, but he needed to know more.
I have my own waiting to do. The woman disappeared.
Barca was truly alone then. He sat down in the glow of a torch with only memories, of a life recently over, for company. He should have known a cowardly Roman would kill him in the end. The thought, bitter and dark, brought a smile that was more like a grimace to his face and there was nothing to stop the deep and hysterical chuckle that echoed in the cavern.
He didn't need to eat or sleep or piss or stretch or even clear a spot in the gravel. Neither heat or cold disturbed him. The torch burned steady and endlessly above him. Barca sat and remembered the life of the son of Hamilcar, also called the Beast of Carthage. His life hadn't flashed before his eyes when he was murdered, but it was all he could think of now. That and his regrets. If only he had seen the shores of Carthage again or stepped onto a ship or taken Pietros away from the house of Batiatus. Barca didn't know how long he waited, others appeared and wandered down the lit path, and there was no day or night. He ignored the other spirits. Barca could have been sitting for days when he heard the awed whisper of the one he had waited for. He had never heard his name said that way.
He was up and on his feet before another word was said. Barca reached out. His eyes devoured the sight of Pietros even as it broke his heart to see his beloved in lifeless Roman Hades. Barca stopped his fingers before they brushed against Pietros' smooth cheek. He couldn't bear the thought of touching but not touching him.
I knew you couldn't have abandoned me. Pietros smiled, tears at the corners of his eyes before he said, I had feared. . . But, that doesn't matter. Not anymore.
Never cry for me. Barca said, more fervent than he intended. We are together now. He said as if that was everything.
Pietros took Barca's hand and his touch was warm and pure. You waited.
It could have brought tears to Barca's eyes if he were a crying man. I would have sat there long after you grew old. I wish you had. He brushed a tear from the apple of Pietros' cheek. Was it Ashur? His voice grew low and deadly as he fought to remain calm.
Pietros shook his head. Ashur and Gnaeus pushed me to find the rope, but I came here because of my own hand.
Barca closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against Pietros'. A single tear escaped his barriers and pretenses. His lover's words punctured his thick hide deeper than Ashur's knife had.
Come my warrior, Pietros said before kissing the tear rolling down Barca's cheek. The path harkens to us. He took Barca's roughened hand and led him towards the torches. The sound of the water grew louder in its gurgling.
Barca raised Pietros' hand to his lips and looked deep into his eyes as he made a vow. Never again will we be parted.
Pietros kissed Barca, smiling, before he nodded. We are free now.