"All roads lead to Rome," they say and even though ours certainly led to Rome - the milestones on the side of the road left no doubt about the shrinking distance to the capital - the way still seemed unbearably long. The entire trip on the Nile, which had lasted several weeks, appeared to have passed faster than the four days we had already been on this road.
Perhaps it was because of the company? The three brothers were nice, but no comparison to Manu. No wonder, becauseI had experienced something completely different with him... Or perhaps it was simply because a trip like this did not offer many options for distraction, which left me brooding most of the time.
Only now and then was there any variety. For example, when I took a seat in the back with Thalis or Gregory, who were also bored. Then we rolled the dice or they recounted an anecdote from their life in Greece. Gregory regularly claimed that I had influenced the dice if I won. And if he lost, it was because of the cart, which supposedly jerked just at the wrong moment. Or it was my fault, having enchanted the dice with an evil eye.
In general, Romans lived to roll the dice, Thalis had assured me. The brothers themselves were morecautious andnever played for money. Something which distinguished them from their father, who had had a passion, not only for alcohol,but also for gambling.
I asked why we drove so slowly, constantly being overtaken by other vehicles. Alexios said we had to spare the horses because we couldn't afford to change them. Still, I had neither reason nor right to complain. I could have been dead. Or I could have had to clean the latrines in the dock barracks in forced labor. Although I was not sure which fate would have been worse.
In the meantime, thanks to Elisa's large database, I had also found out that the 954th year after the foundation of Rome, the yearin which I found myself,corresponded to the year 201 A.D., according to modern calculation. Elisa also informed me that the ruling emperor at that time was Septimius Severus. Not that this information would be of any use to me.
Finally, on the evening of the fourth day after we departed from Puteoli, we reached our destination. Even before the city gates came into view, another phenomenon was evidence of their proximity. The number of graves, family vaults, and mausoleums increased along the way. The closer we came to the city, the more magnificent they became.
"Why do I feel like we’re driving through a cemetery?" I asked.
Alexios, who held the reins, turned his head towards me. "Because we are. Inside the city, funerals are forbidden because of hygiene. And those who have money and influence will, of course, be buried where most people can see how rich and powerful their family is."
That made sense I suppose. Even at this late hour with the sun almost on the horizon there was a lot of activity here. Soon the road widened andended on a huge square where dozens of carts seemed to be waiting for something.
"What's going on here?" I asked.
"It's good that we’ve arrived in the evening, otherwise we would have had to wait here too. During the day, the city center is closed to carriages.“
Very strange. We also had cities with such restrictions in my time,but here they were closing all day, making for heavy traffic at night. The people of Rome could hardly sleep in peace. I hopedour accommodation wouldn’t be located on a main road.
"It may take a while to get through here," Gregory grumbled.
He was right. Every car in the parking lot was on the move and a well-sized queue was already forming in front of the city gate. Apparently, the curfew hadjust ended.
Thalis shrugged. "We've been on the road for four days. We'll be able to hold out for another one or two hours."
I had to agree with him there. Mainly because there was so much to see one could hardly get bored. I watched the other vehicles with their cargoes, all the people and the city gate. I even knew the place, I'd been here before. Two thousand years later, of course, during a city tour of Rome. Together with a friend from college I had visited the ancient Italian metropolis for two weeks. We admired the classic sites, like the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel, which at this time were not yet built, as well as some sights off the beaten tourist tracks.
The gate in front of which we now lined up, the Porta Capena, had unfortunately long crumbled to dust in my time.
"Have you ever been to Rome before?" I asked the others.
"Well, I haven’t yet," Thalis said, "neither has Gregory. But Alexios has visited our uncle a few times. I would have liked to go too, but someone had to earn the money, you know.” He threw a reproachful glance in Alexios’ direction.
"I don’t think you can complain, brother. After all, I often came home with more in the sack than I took. Our uncle could be very generous.”
"He just pitied us, the way we had to slave away in the sticks, Alex."
Gregory, who had taken a seat in the back, stretched his head forward. "Yes, from today on though, everything will change. We'll follow in uncle Peris' footsteps and become successful doctors!"
Alexios took a view more down-to-earth. "It won't be that fast, brother. We will have to work hard to prove ourselves. The idea of getting rich in Rome has been tried and failed by many before us.
Half an hour later we finally passed the archways, being sucked into a jumble of carts, people, houses, and shops. Although we were on a main road, the bustle leaving no doubt about it, the path was barely twenty feet wide. The actual usable area was even smaller, as shops had set up their displays by the roadside where shopkeepers offered their goods for sale.
The houses, however, made the biggest impression on me. They stood close together at the side of the road, only interrupted by an occasional side path, which barely had room for a single cart. It was their height that took my breath away. You had to stretch your neck to see the top of the concrete wall. Hardly any apartment building was lower than six stories. Houses that were not directly on the street, but further inside the block, towered above the ones in front. I was surprised that the Romans could build such skyscrapers. However, as we all know, necessity is the mother of invention and space seemed to be in short supply in this city. No wonder the solutionwas found in taller buildings, just as in my own time in modern cities.
Thalis and Gregory were also astonished. "We don't have anything like this at home."
Alexios nodded gravely. "Yes, friends, this is Rome. You will learn to hate it!"
Smiling grimly, as if in possession of a deeper truth, or simply greater experience with regard to this city, he directed our tired horses along the road.
"You might as well tell us something," Thalis asked him, "or does holding the reins require all your concentration?”
Apparently, this was not the case, because Alexios now took on the role of a guide.
"Now, the buildings you see here, for example. They're almost all apartment buildings. They're inhabited by the poor, the ordinary people, whilst the rich reside on the hills. Probably because the air is better up there, or the view, or perhaps it just makes them feel like they're above the rest. If you look ahead now. The bridge we're about to cross, it's the... um, a bridge."
His speech stalled. The small gap in his knowledge had thrown him off his game. I took the opportunity to ask a question myself.
"Who are those figures hanging about under the bridge?"
"They are beggars. The poorest of the poor. They sleep under bridges."
I shuddered to think I could end up there as well. Behind the bridge, Alexios indicated that it wasn't far now and turned right. What a pity, because in front of us the Circus Maximus came into view, one of the few roman buildings that almost everybody knew by name. There were mainly chariot races being held there. Despite the lower speed, the accident and death rate of the charioteers was significantly above Formula One average.
I had little time for thoughts about wild chases, though. The next monument was already in sight. Unlike the Circus Maximus, which would crumble into ruin over the next two thousand years, this building was one of the best-preserved. It was the Colosseum, which could seat over seventy thousand spectators. This masterpiece of Roman architecture was also a prime example of addiction to pleasure, decadence, and cruelty. Over one hundred thousand people are said to have died here during the course of the Roman Empire. In gladiator fights, fights with wild animals, and executions.
Even if I intended to integrate myself into the local life - I could not imagine witnessing such cruelties, especially not for amusement or as a leisure activity. I liked our modern dayfootball games much more. The worst that could happen there was occasional trouble from hooligans.
We passed the Colosseum and turned right again. After a while, when we changed direction yet again, this time to the left, I knew I had lost any sense of orientation. Although I didn't think I would have to resort to it, Elisa had no doubt recorded the way and could lead me out again. Even though I had lost the visor lenses and she couldn't ‘see’ anymore, she still had other ways of perception. Since the power level had recovered slightly, her environmental sensors were working again.
The street we had last turned into was a narrow, steeply rising alley. I hoped that no vehicle would come towards us, as we already filled the entire space. It was much darker in this alley than on the road before. Not because the sky was cloudy. No, the sun was still shining. But as much as I laid my head back, hardly any rays of the sun pierced the tangle of balconies. Every apartment seemed to have one. And the houses were so close together that you could reach out from your balcony and shake the hand of your neighbor,opposite.
The horses puffed, working hard to pull the cart up the slope. As abruptly as the ascent had begun though, the road soon became level again. We reached a small fork. One path led downhill to the left, another uphill to the right, with houses straight ahead.
Alexios tightened the reins and the wagon came to a halt at the crossroads. "This is it. We're here!”
Everyone looked around curiously. The row of houses we were looking at was directly below a steep slope, which was not built on because of its incline. Directly in front of us was a four-story, rather new looking house. At first glance, it looked similar to all the other apartment buildings we had passed so far. With the difference that it was not quite as high and two small columns decorated the entrance. The other houses in the row followed this trend. Right next to the entrance I noticed two carved signs.
The top one said: "Merchant Gaius Silius Frugi"
And the lower one said: "Pericles from Patrae, Doctor. Treatments, baths, and cures.“
There was no doubt, this was the house where the uncle of my traveling companions had lived and practiced.
"It makes a decent impression," Thalis said.
Gregory shrugged his shoulders. "For Rome, at least. We had it nicer at home. And much more garden."
"Sure, Gregory. Why don’t you try planting a large garden within the city walls."
The brothers had dismounted and were walking towards the entrance. I followed them. Alexios opened the door. It was unlocked and gave passage to a narrow staircase. To the right was another door, next to which a sign again pointed out Doctor Pericles.
"Our uncle rented the two lower floors. Here on the ground floor is the practice itself, on the first floor the private apartment. The two remaining floors belong to the merchant Frugi."
"An appropriate name for a merchant," Thalis joked.
He was right because ‘Frugi’ was Latin for cheapskate.
Alexios shook the door. "Locked. Come on, let's try upstairs. They gotta be somewhere.“
I wasn’t sure who he was referring to, but I would certainly find out soon. Arriving on the first floor, Alexios knocked on the apartment door. For a while nothing happened at all, then footsteps could be heard and a small slit opened.
"Alexios!", a voice echoed from inside. It was the voice of an audibly delighted woman. The slit was immediately closed again and I could hear a latch being pushed back from inside. Finally, the door opened and a middle-aged woman, perhaps around forty, appeared.
Alexios stepped forward and embraced her. "Helena, my condolences."
"Thank you, Alex. It's been three months since my husband died and I wrote you that letter. I was afraid you wouldn't come anymore. But then I remembered how long such a voyage takes and that you would surely still arrive. And now you are here!"
One by one she hugged Gregory and Thalis.
"You've gotten pretty big! How old are you now?"
Just your typical caring aunt. Although she reminded me a little more of my grandmother. Or Manu's mother-in-law Naha. Though her chatty trait was all right with me. So I learned that Gregory was twenty-two, Thalis twenty-three and Alexios twenty-five years old. I guessed I could have just asked them earlier if I had had the desire to know.
After the lovely welcoming, Helena's attention finally shifted to me.
"Who have you brought with you? A slave from home? I wrote specifically that it was not necessary."
"No no, dear step-aunt, we didn't. This is Phillip. We picked him up on the way. At sea, as a matter of fact."
"Hello," I said which was all that came to mind. I was sure she wouldn't hesitate to ask if she wanted to know more.
"Really!? That sounds very exciting. You must tell me the story right away. But first come in and sit down! I'm sure the journey was tiring.”
Alexios declined. "We would love to do that, Helena. But downstairs our cart is parked on the intersection, blocking just about every direction. We have to unload it first and drop it off."
It was clear what that meant. Carrying crates again. Upstairs.
Half an hour later all thecargo was unloaded. The crates had been transported either to the apartment or the practice. Nothing had been unpacked yet, of course. Nobody wanted to do that anymore today.
"The wagon still has to be returned," Alexios said.
Thalis winced. "To Puteoli?!"
"Are you crazy?!" Alexios shook his head. "Not to Puteoli, of course. That would be really stupid."
Thalis eyeballed Alexios, only to break into loud laughter. I joined in because it was obvious that Thalis had played a joke on his brother.
Alexios snorted. "If you're having such a good time, you might as well take the cart back. The rental office is right behind Porta Capena, where all the cars were waiting earlier."
Thalis shrugged his shoulders and was about to get on the cart when he stopped and frowned.
"Hmm, I'd do it anytime, Alex. But for the life of me, I can't remember the way."
No worries, I could help him out. "No problem, Thalis. I've memorized everything."
Alexios gave me an appreciative look that I didn't really deserve. "Then it's all settled. But please hurry, the streets get dangerous after dark."
While he and Gregory climbed the staircase, I swung myself onto the bench next to Thalis.
"Alright,” Thalis said. “I think we go down here, right?"
I nodded in agreement. Thalis clicked his tongue and the horses started moving. Elisa, however, had an objection.
"I advise against passing through this street at this time. There is a vehicle approaching."
I reacted immediately. "Stop, Thalis! Wait a second. I think I heard a cart ahead of us. And we can’t pass each other in the alley."
Thalis stopped again and listened. In fact, the soft rattling of hoofs could now be heard, swelling from second to second.
"True. You're right, Phillip."
A short time later the path was clear again and we rolled down the hill.
"Tell me, Phillip, are you from a big city like Rome?"
I thought for a moment. I was born and grew up in Lübeck, which, with a population of almost two hundred thousand, was considerably smaller than ancient Rome. After all, over a million people lived here.
"No, I guess not. We have about one-fifth that many people in my town."
"Hmm. I don't know if it was the right decision. I mean, moving here to Rome."
I gave him a sidelong glance. "How can you say that, Thalis? You’ve only just arrived here."
"Sure. But everything here is somehow more extreme than in Patrae. Everything is... more. More people, more dirt, more noise."
"And more money!" I added jokingly.
Thalis laughed. "Yes, hopefully. But I'm not so sure. Did you see all those poor people and the beggars on the side of the road? The workmen who do a good job and yet can barely make ends meet? Rome is above all an expensive city, especially when it comes to rents, that much I know from Alex. For the rent my uncle paid in a year, you could buy a whole villa in the country, including land. And what do we get here? An average apartment building we don’t even own, which is not directly in the cesspool, meaning in the valley.“
I nodded thoughtfully. That's the way it usually was in metropolitan areas. Especially when everyone was pushing into the city, attracted by superficial pomp and stories of splendor. In search of an ancient version of the American Dream. From dishwasher or harvester to millionaire, it didn't matter. Rome had money, lots of money. Only, it wasn't lying in the streets, just waiting to be picked up by the newcomer, but resting quietly and safely in the iron-fitted chests of the mighty. At the point where the poor fool realized his mistake, it was too late to turn around. The savings had been spent and he became dependent on some patron. The latter would know how to avoid any change in this profitable situation.
Thalis poked me in the side and put on a playful grin. "Don't you have an opinion, or are you just grumpy by nature?”
Ah, crap. I forgot to answer, having pondered these profound thoughts. I didn’t want to tell him something that dark, though. Rather something cheery.
"Sure, I've seen it all before in other cities. Rome isn't even the worst place. You and your brothers, however, have a good job, especially in a city like this which attracts not only the poor but also the rich and powerful who can afford to consult a doctor. Your uncle made his living here after all, and there are three of you, so you could make three times as much."
"Hmm, true again. We have no choice anyway but to take it as it comes."
Ain't that the truth.
"Take the next right."
The first satnav of Ancient Rome had spoken. I relayed the instructions immediately. After a while, the Colosseum came into view again and we had to keep left.
"Say, Phillip, what will you do now?" Thalis asked hesitantly. "You already said that you don't know anybody here. I personally wouldn’t want to be all on my own in this city.”
That was a good question that caught me off guard. It had crossed my mind at one time or another, but I did not want to think about the future, because I saw no future for myself. Now though I had to say something. So, what was I gonna do? On my own, I wouldn't stand much of a chance. Except maybe as a thief. Yes, with Elisa as an accomplice, who could practically see through walls and always knew if the master of the house was gone and the gold jewelry was there. I quietly laughed at the thought. No, there had to be another way.
Thalis still looked at me with expectation, neglecting the traffic more than was good. I guess the obvious thing would be to stay with the three brothers. Perhaps they could use my help?
"I'd like to stay with you, Thalis. Ifperhaps you need a helping hand in your new practice? I'm not asking for money, I'm just looking for a roof over my head and a meal.“
Thalis sported a big grin. " 'A roof over your head and a meal,' you almost sound like one of those beggars under the bridge."
I only smiled out of politeness. Under other circumstances this would have been funny, but since my survival was at stake, I didn't feel like laughing.
Thalis liked to joke, but on the other hand, he was also a sensitive judge of character. "Don't worry about it, Phillip. You can stay with us, I'm sure. There's always something to do. In particular now as we're about to make a fresh start. After all, all employees were laid off after our uncle died.“
He said this in a serious tone, so I had no reason to doubt his words. A feeling of relief came over me. If this worked, I wouldn't be as alone as I had feared.
We now came to the intersection where the path to the right led to the Circus Maximus. "Here we must turn left again."
"It doesn’t make much sense actually," Thalis began in a good mood, "that you give the directions and I drive. It's not like you have to look at a map or calculate an angle. So you might as well drive yourself."
Saying this, he handed me the reins and whip. Still a little perplexed, I took them without knowing exactly what to do with them. But as luck had it, there wouldn't be much left to steer. The city gate was already in sight.
"What exactly did you do, Phillip?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, what was your profession?"
During the long hours of our bumpy journey, I had had enough time to come up with a plausible background story. Just in case anyone asked, like now. Shortly after waking up on the ship, I was already confronted with the question of what I wanted to do in Rome. Since I spontaneously opted for trading, the choice of profession was pretty clear. A tradesman of something. After some deliberation, I chose spices. That suited my far away home country, of which I had no idea where it should be, by the way.
"I was a spice trader."
"Spices. Aha. What kind of spices?"
Phew, he wanted to know exactly. I wasn't against small talk, but did it have to be all questions? Anyway, what were the spices I could have shipped to Rome? I passed the question on to Elisa. Let her search her database for spices.
"Examples are Pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and saffron."
Faithfully I repeated the list out loud.
"No, really just spices."
This seemed to satisfy his curiosity for the time being. There would have been no time for further questions anyway because we arrived at the parking lot.
Loud laughter echoed in the hallway when Thalis and I climbed up the stairs. The source of amusement was a small gathering, consisting of the three brothers, their step-aunt, and a man I had never met before. They noticed us entering the apartment and the chatting stopped.
"Ah, there you are," Alexios shouted with relief. "And it's about time. It's almost dark outside."
"They must have got lost," mocked Gregory, "or maybe taken a trip to the whorehouse?" He made explicit movements with his hip.
"You mean the place they won't let you in because they think you're still a kid when they see your little dick?", Thalis replied glibly.
Everybody laughed. I found it a bit strange to talk like that in the presence of a lady, but you know what they say – when in Rome do as the Romans do. The man, still unknown to me, approached us. He was rather small, but not wispy. His black hair was short and already bald at the back of his head. He introduced himself.
"Gaius Silius Frugi, merchant. I live upstairs.”
I shook his outstretched hand and introduced myself as well.
"Phillip, spice trader."
"Spice trader?" repeated the merchant, clearly interested, as he went on to shake Thalis' hand. "How exciting! We should talk tomorrow. Maybe we can do some business."
That wasn’t about to happen. I shook my head regretfully. "I’m sorry, merchant Frugi, but I'm out of business. My ship sank with all my goods. I was the only one to survive,barely escaping with my life."
"We pulled him out of the water," Gregory commented.
"No, really!?", Helena asked. "You have to tell me the whole story! Everything about your journey. For months now I've been waiting for you with no one to talk to except Frugi, who comes down for a sip of wine every so often.”
She glanced sidewaysat the merchant, a look that could mean much or nothing. I wonder if Frugi had given the widow more comfort during his visits than a glass of wine?
Helena made an inviting gesture. "First though, please take a seat. Have a bite to eatand tell us everything."
I took the opportunity to look around the room. Judging by its dimensions, this was the largest room inthe apartment. The long side had two windows, which would give a lot of light during the day. Now it was dark and the shutters were closed. Several oil lamps illuminated the room which was sparsely furnished. The wall opposite the windows was decorated with a large map. Patrae, the hometown of Pericles and his nephews, was highlighted on it. On the narrow side, next to the entrance, there were some shelves and chests. The biggest space, however, was taken up by the dining area, which was typical for ancient Rome and Greece. Three couches were grouped around a table on which the evening meal was served. One ate lying down, supported on the left elbow. Not very comfortable, if you asked me.
Following the request of the charming hostess, we took a seat. It was time. My stomach had already growled on the way back to the house. Frugi was invited as well, being a friend of the family.
I estimated that the couches could hold three people each. So up to nine people could dine at the table. Luckily there were only six of us, so it didn't get too cramped. Merchant Frugi, who sat next to me, seemed like a friendly guy, but I didn't want to cuddle with him. My thoughts wandered, making me consider with which of the three brothers I would like to cuddle most? Was it cute Thalis, with his frizzy hair and deep, dark eyes? Or rather the gruff but pretty Gregory, with his mischievous grin? Or Alexios, the leader, who captivated with his sexy serenity? Before I could make a choice, my train of thought was interrupted. The lady of the house and a girl unknown to me came in, carrying a few bowls. After everything was served, Helena joined us. The girl, probably a servant, retired to the kitchen.
The hostess had prepared a sumptuous meal. The starter was a salad with caramelized mushrooms. This was followed by roast pork as the main course and some kind of cake to finish. The food was eaten with spoon and fingers.
Frugi breathed a sigh of relief when the first course was brought out. "At last something for the palate again! I feared you'd spend the rest of your life eating porridge.”
Helena was a little embarrassed by the merchant’s comment. I guessed it was understandable that she lived frugally – no pun intended – after her husband's death. She probably had no income. I wonder what she would have done had the brothers not turned up.
Her reply was friendly but determined. "Frugi, you know very well how hard the past few months have been for me. I am very happy to see my husband's nephews here.”
Alexios nodded. "We are very happy to see you too, Helena. And to see that you are doing well, considering the circumstances. Tell us, Helena, how did it happen... Pericles, your husband... our uncle?”
Helena swallowed a bite, her gaze wandering to the closed window.
"Uh, I mean... I didn't mean to offend you," Alexios added.
"No no, my dear. You have every right to ask." Helena cleared her throat. "Peris is... was a sought-after doctor. He received patients here at his practice, but he also made a lot of house calls. It was not far from here, in an apartment building on Via Commodus. He visited a patient there who lives on the fifth floor. Unfortunately... he stumbled and fell out of the window.“
Gregory and Thalis showed concerned faces. Alexios frowned at first but then put on a sad face.
"Yes, such misfortunes happen more often than you would like," Frugi chimed in. "One can never be too careful," he added, glancing at Alexios.
At that moment the servant entered with the main course, which interrupted the unpleasant conversation. The dinner continued in silence. The merchant made a few more attempts to put the conversation back on a more cheerful track but to no avail.
After the cake was eaten Frugi pulled out a bottle. "The best wine from my storage. To celebrate the occasion!"
After a few glasses of the quite enjoyable drink, the mood rose and the conversation livened up again. A second bottle was also not long in coming. I actually didn't want to drink anything. If it wasn’t for the peer pressure… At least I learned that Frugi traded with almost everything “as long as you can eat, drink or otherwise consume it”. He was a wholesaler who bought up products from distant regions of the empire, distributing them in Rome to shops and other bulk buyers.
"With an appropriate margin, of course," Frugi winked. "Sometimes I even supply the Imperial Palace, but I don't really like to. They're usually stingy and you can't protest. What about you? Where do you get around as a spice dealer? I buy spices too, but not in the producing country. Mostly in Puteoli, the stuff that arrives by ship.“
I had already thought about this part of my background story. "Mostly I was traveling from Arabia. I bought spices there and then shipped them to Alexandria and Miletus. However, the biggest market is here in Rome, so I wanted to sell here this time. But as you know, it didn't quite work out."
Frugi laughed. "Ha, not quite worked out. That's one way to put it when your ship sinks along with its cargo. But what's keeping you here? Why don't you take the next ship heading east?"
Well, that was a logical question. One I wasn't prepared for. Though by now inventing such details was almost second nature. "I have no wife and children, and all my wealth was invested in the ship's cargo. There is nothing to go back to. Better a poor man here with the opportunities of Rome than somewhere in the sticks."
The merchant nodded. "Foolish of you, boy! That thing with the ship. You never put all your denari on one dice. But Rome, a wise choice. Resourceful minds can get far here. So take it from an experienced trader. Here in Rome, status and family count for little. Prestige and votes are bought - the money is what counts!” He chuckled. “You know, back when I started transporting goods from Northern Italy to Rome with two carts..."
The next hour or so passed by with Frugi telling me detailed anecdotes from the early days of his career, whose wit, moral, or other punch lines I usually did not get. Maybe that was also because the effect of the wine made it increasingly difficult for me to follow the flow of words. I reached for my glass and regretfully found that it was empty – only to be annoyed at myself. I did not want to drink anything else.
Frugi was of a different opinion. "Ah, the glasses are empty, but the evening still young. Don't despair though, I brought this bottle of very fine liqueur!"
Seeking help, I looked around at the others, but only Helena was to be seen, still giggling after Frugi's last remark.
"Where did they all go?" I asked.
"They've already gone to bed," Helena giggled at me.
I stood up, staggering a little. Who knew whether it was from the wine or the long time spentlying down.
"Well, I better go to bed, too. It's gonna be a long day tomorrow."
Before Frugi could try to persuade me, I left him and the still giggling Helena behind. I exited the apartment’s main room through the only other corridor that did not lead to the kitchen. According to the plop echoing behind me, Frugi had just uncorked the ‘very fine liqueur’ for Helena and him.
I found the three brothers in a room at the back of the apartment, already lying in bed. The room had probably been prepared for their arrival long ago. Apart from three beds in an L-shaped arrangement, there was a small table in the middle of the room and a cupboard on the opposite side. I stood in the doorway for a while, as my alcohol-soaked synapses tried to find a solution to the problem that there were only three beds but four people.
Thalis was the first to notice me. "Ah, there you are. I was afraid Frugi had lulled you to sleep in the dining room."
"Yes, he almost did," I replied laughing. "Um, is there another bed for me somewhere, or should I just lie on the floor?"
I was so tired from carrying the boxes, the abundant food, and the amount of wine that I could fall asleep anywhere.
Thalis waved me off. "I didn't see another bed. But you can lie down with me, there's plenty of room.
Alexios seemed to be asleep already, but Gregory looked up. "What nonsense, this is much too tight for two. Sleep on the floor."
"Why don't you sleep on the floor, so Phillip can sleep in your bed?" Thalis countered. "Come Phillip, put out the lamp."
I set myself in motion, taking off my clothes. I only kept my pants on, out of decency. A measure that my bed neighbor did not share, as a fleeting glance under the simple sheet revealed. I was too tired to develop this arousing thought further so I put out the lamp and let myself sink into the soft bed.
I once heard that the last thought before falling asleep often determines what you dream about. I hadn't been able to understand this before, but that night it was true.
Thali's soft hands glided gently over my torso. Up and down. The fingers of his left hand slowly circled my hard nipples while his right hand started to wander toward my navel.
I moaned slightly. His hand went deeper and deeper. It encompassed my hard erection, which was still enclosed by my pants. I writhed under a shower of pleasure as his hand stroked my dick.
Then his hand moved on, massaging my testicles. Finally, his fingers ran beyond my testicles and caressed my butt.
Meanwhile, the left hand had also moved lower, reaching my pants. In a moment of tension, the hand paused. Then it slipped under the waistband and completely took hold of my shaft. I groaned with pleasure again.
His hand began to work my cock in a tender but assertive rhythm. Up and down. I whimpered with excitement. The other hand moved up from my butt again and started to massage my testicles gently.
It took but a few movements and my body could not stand it anymore. I came, moaning. My cock poured its semen into my pants and Thalis’ hand.
Finally, his hands retreated slowly, caressing my body from bottom to top.