Slavery is endured better by the uneducated than by the educated. These Romans have a lot to learn about how to treat their slaves. I recall my grandfather reading to me about the slaves of Abyssinia. Then he told me his traveling stories about slaves from the Assyrian empire. He told me about a future Genghis Khan who never kept slaves. It was a future one because his ancestor was lost in time. That original Genghis Khan killed and ate his defeated before they could rise up and kill him or his descendants.
Now, that Genghis Khan was not a good warrior, or so said my grandfather. For hating a man so, my grandfather sure did like to talk about the original Genghis Khan. One story I’ll never forget about the “great Khan” my grandfather used to say. He only told it to me after I had become a doctor, and had healed the requisite number of patients before being allowed my own practice.
After one great battle, Genghis Khan had had his fill of blood lust, then women lust from the virgins. Then he bought in the family of the General. Seeing as he traveled a lot maundering and slaughtering, Khan liked families, in his own way. He lead the General to believe the great feast was a gift for him and his family, a reconciliation. So the General had been allowed to bath and be refreshed, as was his family. At the reception, the General stood, bowed to Genghis Khan, and offered his daughter as a bride, a bridge of enemies made friends. Khan had looked at the daughter. Measured the father. Decided the girl would be a bride because he wanted her father’s blood in his family line.
Khan thanked the General, offered him wine to drink. When everyone had finished their drink, the Khan spoke. Dread was a mild word for such moments. Even Khan’s soldiers dreaded such moments for they never knew which way his lusts would blow, which way his heart would be silenced into sleep.
“For this gift of a bride,” the Great Khan decreed, “your family will be spared. Spared their lives, so they may give me children – all of them. You too shall be spared – from slavery.”
“Go,” he waved his hand at the General’s family while his men surrounded the General. Suddenly, he jumped from the group and grabbed the bride to be. “You are mine now. Make me sons!”
“GO,” he roared to the General’s wife and three sons, “GO or I shall take you all now!” With their proud eyes they said good-bye to their father, their sister, and their conqueror.
The Khan took the daughter with great gusto as the drug within the father’s wine made his body slumber, but his eyes awake. All around, voices shouted and merged with the General’s daughter’s screams. The great Khan licked at her screams with his blood. Soon she stopped, locked her eyes upon her dying father’s.
Khan slapped her face. “Take him now,” Khan said, still impaling the girl upon his large member, slapping her naked buttocks into desire, heating her body while her mind remained numb.
“Bring them in now!” he demanded. The conquered women came, naked, and as the Khan continued his ravishing, so did his dinner guests. But unlike other times, Khan did not throw the General’s virgin to the others. He kept her to himself, impaled, walking about the room, and dribbling lamb’s oil meat onto the breasts of other women he took into his mouth and bit their nipples off.
Khan had expected the girl-now-woman whose sweat mixed with him to go crazy. But she hadn’t. Yet. All he had to do was let her go down the long wooden table and up the other side, so by the time she got back to his sword, she would swoon into his arms and demand his protection. No. He would make certain this one lived to father his children. But she must never rise above him.
“Secure the General to the table!” The god demanded. Like a dancing bear, too dangerous to free, too drunk on wine to dance, the Khan had the General stripped of all his armor but his breast plate then tied to a marble obelisk. Khan jumped onto the table and forced through the strewn remnants of the glorified feast.
Not that my grandfather told me all this. Family talk completed the tale, and knowing what I do of murderers….
Then the Khan sliced the jugular, and together with the daughter, the two drank. I lie. He didn’t slice the jugular, but carefully, like a surgeon, slicked open vein after vein, allowing the blood to spurt, inviting his men-guests to drink.
These are not good memories. They are stories, that as I lay here now, I realize are the heritage of my family. Not stories. Truths. So I had learned to cut without killing, to cleanse blood without feasting upon it, to become a slave without allowing my soul to be sliced up before my children.
Although I was not born a slave, I teach my children, born into slavery, that we are all slaves to human nature. To survive, one must be smarter than his master. And so it was that the Roman slaves they paired me with, I did not give my seed. I told them erroneously that Greeks could only father Greeks. They laughed, and pointed at the half-breeds filling Rome. I laughed too, insisting only educated Greeks could father educated Greeks. So they gave me boys, having heard Greeks were more fond of boys than woman. I smiled sadly, feigned interest, and listened to others’ sad stories. I was sold to the Academy. Actually, not sold, since slave ownership extended for the lifetime of both blood families. I was traded out, with a commission, to the academy.
Once I had ceased to interest them as a stud – Romans are so uneducated! They think that just the taking of a man’s seed would reproduce the man! Vandals! They are just vandals of knowledge. As sick and doddering as the Khan.
Slowly, the healing of my body trained past Roman, Greek, slave, master or god. Slowly my own blood boiled less and the kindness of my lineage worked its way through my brain. When I could afford one, I bought myself a Greek wife. But she was no good, because I was young and stupid, so I sold her. My colleagues at the Academy soon realized I was in great need, and if not satisfied, my work would slowly disintegrate.
They sought my owner, conferred, and to my surprise – I had been trained into being a good slave doctor – I was given the gift of my life. A Greek virgin, so new, she could not speak a word of Latin. Her mind was also intact, something odd for a Greek virgin – all women were virgins until they were so ruined their bodies leaked diseases and it was obvious they had been used and finished.
She stood before me, still sheathed in clean Greek clothes. I walked about her in silence, feeling her thoughts come to me. She was frightened. She had heard tales that a beast had been my forefather, and that he had paid for my life among these Roman peasants.
“How is it you come to me?” I asked quietly, beckoning her to sit across from me to play a board game.
I had not measured her well. Her haughtiness evoked a woman of sweetly tempered indulgence. She saw my eyes, and the Greek words silenced her. Ah yes, she had been trained well, I noted. She followed the old rules of etiquette – never speak until you have measured the opponent.
And so we played without speaking. I too followed the old etiquette and did not touch her. Day after day, week after week. Her heat increased, her juices ran. She wanted incense, but I wanted her smell. From her smell, I could measure her emotions – their intensities and their fluctuating favor and disfavor. She played well. My master came to visit the hunt. The whole Academy was surprised we had not yet mated, nor shared intimacies of any kind. Not even a word. Soon everyone was betting on whether I would sell her to a Roman, a Greek, a slave, or a freeman.
She was an ungrateful little bitch, until she realized the game we played brought her the only dignity she would ever know as a slave. They had told her I preferred boys. As another game ended in a draw, I presented her with the crushed oils from the white Lotus, brought all the way from Egypt.
A thousand and one words were useless. All day and night I was surrounded with the words of anger, sorrow, death, revenge, murder and birth. All day blood passed over my hands, into my brain, and cured. But I would not touch her. Slowly, the rhythm of our bodies danced to the same tune. Slowly I seduced her, but my heat quickened and I needed safety to continue this battle.
I lowered my eyes, addressing the Academy. Soon my master brought me home to tend another slave, a Greek woman, too close to death to care that it was Greek hands that massaged her sorrow. She was much older than I, born a slave, but could still speak the language, but with its harsher forms. She offered herself to me when she saw my need.
In my residence, my future bride brought forth a new board game. Since she knew the rules and I didn’t, and she withheld the rules until I had broken them, she won every game. She had run out of the lotus oil. I forbid her any other. Still, she did not know I knew her better from her smell than from the words we now bantered, always in Greek so the Romans would not know our exchanges. Oh, the heady smell of a jealous woman’s womb! Jealous, frustrated, ripe, ready, willing – and untouched!
Greek words gushed, and gushed, month after month! No one, not even my Greek woman close to death, who had mircacously sidestepped that finality with such a healthy retreat – no, no one could understand the games we played. All around us, lust and sex were as normal as air and fruit, grapes and wine, slavery and freedom, whores and Roman divine Vestal virgins.
My Greek lover had enslaved me. As an older woman, she had lingered over my desire and mental anguish with the joy of her own first love. She lowered and raised, rode and swayed, learned in the skills of pleasure that brought divinity to both our lips. Now I feared should I touch my bride, I would become her slave.
“Teach her,” my lover told me. “Teach her. Make her your assistant. Never tell her all the medicinal secrets. Thus you will make yourself a God. Then she can never enslave you.”
When I married my bride, I would never know if the death of my lover truly was suicide or murder as I had attended her. Her eyes said suicide, for her great work had passed, she could rest in peace. But my eyes covered her body which I had known and loved. She put a finger to my lips. “Suicide. Let it be suicide. Anything less would lessen your future. A slave must learn that death can have many purposes, other than freeing one’s spirit.”
My wife had proven her womanliness and killed my love. No, neither of us would be slaves to each other. Nor would our Greek upbringing allow us to treat each others as the Romans expected. In disregard for rumor and predictions – both from the entrails of birds, cats and dogs, even an ox, so driven was my master to know my marriage bed – we loved, in secret, as equals.
We killed our sons and taught our daughters. We forged freedom into every ounce of their blood. We immunized them against murder and death, soldiering and whoring. We taught them the herbs, the techniques I finally allowed my wife to learn, and the maps. We studied maps disguised as board games. We invented games of survival, speaking Latin, then Greek. We disguised every word of freedom as I had courted their mother than one full year in silence. We had promised they were to live free, and I, through the blood we would pass onto the earth before out demise, I too would live.
Nothing was done secret of course. A slave had no secrets, nor did the children of slaves. But a clever mind could rule and ruin right under the eyes of any master. The master’s son tried to breed with our daughters, seeing how we had educated them so well. Seems Master and Masters’ sons never learn, no matter how long they live. The Master had finally instructed his uneducated son never to breed them to a Roman, only another Greek.
So we sent out daughters to be breed, and fed; the sweet wine and soothing massages from foot to head and let the herbs keep them free of motherhood. After years of these assaults on their sweetness, I put before my Masters’ son, and now Master, a medical paper attesting to the fact that both my daughters were incapable of having children, and thus I requested, according to law, that they be refrain from mating. But the damn Roman leaped with joy and said this paper allowed them to become Vestal Virgins! Not only would their value increase, but with their education, they could eventually become priestesses!
I could no longer bear the brunt of slavery. I wished to die honorably, but my dear wife spoke of the original Genghis Khan. “We have his blood,” she began. I almost gagged, wishing to dig into my own blood and rip his sickness from me. “We have his blood,” she whispered again, as we played another new board game. “We have lulled them into our slavery, as they have done to us. They would not expect a revolt now, would they?”s
I wanted to piss into their wounds, stuff their genitals with hot peppers from the East, kill each boy child and burn each woman child. I wanted to eat my Master, his blood line, earthquake his Senate’s marble home into Pompeii ruins!
She read my mind. “We have two master plans,” she said, raising the red and black pieces from the board. “We go with them, or we go without them.”
I yearned to wipe the board clean, to choose to go with them. It was impossible.
Some stories are longer than others because some lives are fuller than others.
“It is suicide to my heart,” I told her.
“Better than murder to their futures.”
Slavery breeds hardness. Even a father’s tears can solidify in seconds when sorted from selfishness and sorrow.
“And now,” she raised her voice in Latin, “I find you shall only taste my favors once you give me the white lotus blossom -and – the strange wine from Gaul.”
I was aghast. How dare this woman do this to a son of Khan! I could not move. The bile and vomit traversed my esophagus as a tempest thwarts the holy who seek the island groves of the old religion.
She called for a slave to clean me. Our eyes locked in holy hell. Never in my life had I acknowledged that parenthood that went back, far into the receding hell of another banquet hall.
Our playing room was very Roman-Greek. A small, marble table and the two cushioned chairs. A brazier nearby burned oil, while a small rim about it allowed frankincense to quiet our passions. And the open freedom of space. Spaciousness. The wine of freedom from Gaul she had demanded for one daughter; and the lotus oil for the other, in Egypt, once conquered by our own Greek Alexander.
“I had wanted your king and queen,” I said, after the slave had added more frankincense and amber oils to the brazier, and the air had been refreshed.
“If you moved them together, even disguised as husband and wife, man and woman, slave and master, sister and sister – everyone would be undeceived. No. Should you wish to win this game, dearly beloved husband, you must sacrifice.”
How much can a slave born free sacrifice! I yelled into her mind. My whitened fingers clenched the lion head armchairs and threatened to bleed blood, or I would soon ring her jugular vein and drink its juices.
She swiped her hand across the board. The pieces fell, the cut marble tall ones broke. We heard flutters from slaves and spies all about us. We might as well have been in the middle of the market on a festival day, despite the fake privacy in which we played.
She stood, her wardrobe of Greek-Roman blend more entrancing than any seven-veiled dancer could be. “You disgust me. You vomit before your wife. You cheat at this game. You call me the daughter of a slave when you know well I am not, nor have ever been, touched by slavery!”
I could see the servants now in my mind, “Oh no, not again! Would she return to the mute days of her engagement!” Slowly, they crept away as my beloved wife played the cue, then raced from the room to supposedly seek refuge with her understanding daughters, away from the wrath of an idiot man.
As usual, I drank more wine, threw the goblet into the fire, and followed her, my right as her husband to demand her surrender. By the time we had finished making our loud love so public, amid whispered plans of dreams from our own escapes thwarted, we drew sustenance from each other’s free mind. Exhausted, the whole household slept as we drew the curtains and invited our daughters into our secret lair – the home of conspiring human animals, plotting freedom.
One to Gaul, one to Egypt. The one to Egypt needed a husband. I knew of a trader who would introduce her as a scribe. The trader was not trustworthy, I knew. He would sell her to an Arab. We all cried. Only children can be loved, I knew then. Only children, in the safety of parental love, are ever free. We could no longer protect them. They would be slaves to their fate. The fate of women was not kind, but with the blood that coursed through their lives, and all our late night tales, they would survive. How much pain would they endure? How much pleasure would they drink of life’s sweetness? Would we know? Dare we ever seek them about again?
“We will give you freedom,” my wife and I told our daughters. “You must outwit many people, events, problems, and even lusts – your own and others – to keep that freedom as your mother and I have, within our hearts, to give to you.
“To you,” we told the oldest, “we will sell to a doctor who goes to Gaul. He has already begun his travels. He is a good man. Mate with him, but do not give him children. Save yourself for the General. The doctor will be jealous of your abilities, for he is a but an uneducated Roman. The General will value you. Give only him children.
“You,” we said to our youngest, “You must kill soldiers, rather than heal them. You will slay the trader as soon as possible, then find a young man – or become a young man – and hide yourself on the ship, then on the caravan. Once in Alexandria, become a scribe. Only men are allowed this opportunity. So you must live as a man. Find another scribe, mate, and then move to another city again. Do not let any man know you have been trained in the arts of dancing and healing. Be only a scribe’s wife. When all is well with your life, send us lotus blossom incense. By that we shall know of your freedom.
“And you,” returning to the oldest, “we shall trace the path of the General, and by that know of your freedom.”
“How is it, Father and Mother, as Greek healers of the body and mind, you instruct us to kill?” the youngest asked.
How many deaths must a parent endure while attending to a child’s survival? Which death is more painful – death of innocence, death by famine, death by torture, the daily death of slavery, death for the attainment of freedom?
My wife touched my hand. She knew the depth of my sorrow. The children would not understand until their fate brought them to face such a Medusa.
“A healer is only good if a healer lives. As slaves, we have no choice in whom we heal, so we have chosen to heal each other, your mother and father. We have chosen to instruct you, our children, in the ways of freedom since we have been caged as slaves. Have we murdered our masters? Have we killed those weak in body and mind who have come to us? No. Have we poisoned any Roman? No. We give you the cleansed blood of a murderous ancestor to help you survive. You must kill the ignorant who wish to destroy you. That is the way of the world. It is not the way of our philosophers, – who also kept slaves – nor will it always be the way of the Romans.”
“Will not you both be murdered when we are found gone?” Asked the elder, tears still streaming.
“Your sale to the army, under that specific General, will give much wealth and prestige to the Master,” he said to the eldest.
“As for the younger’s disappearance, we will claim the General took you both, since the younger begged not to be separated. The General will be flattered with such manly display of his powers, to take two Greek women with him into battle, that he will not contradict our story. You must use your wits and survive. Should your discovery be made before you have established your freedom, our deaths will be merciless. We will be suspected, but no Roman would think a Greek slave capable of surviving outside Rome, especially two women who have already been deflowered and found useless for breeding. We shall play the Greek tragedy of aggrieved parents. You, your children, and your children’s children – shall taste the triumph of freedom!
“Go now, dearly beloved, and send us wine from Gaul, and lotus oil from Egypt, as soon as you can!”
“And I,” my wife said at dawn, “shall become a mummy, buried alive within this sorrow.”
“And I,” I cried into her ear, “shall become a mute, who shall await your morning song to finish and awaken me.”
And thus we lay in one bed, as we all died that moment.
Mute we were, to each other, to our Master, to our own needs and desires. Life was extinguished. Enraged, the Master tried to sell us, but no one would buy us. Behind his back the Senators had bought us both as a pair then sent us to a place of illness, a hospital they called it. We were banished from our Roman home. To the gracious palace of a villa more impressive than any a Greek slave could inhabit in Rome. In this remote area, the rich brought us their ill and their sorrows. Together, we healed.
Historians, writers, philosophers, even killers not yet born like Genghis Khan who shape history and made them names immortal, carved on Egyptian temples – even they are nothing when they don’t live the life of devotion my wife and I have had the gracious freedom to enjoy.
The children? Whose children? The sick that are bought to us, no matter what their age, have once been children, and often have children. To this day, I believe heaven is only for children, made for them by their parents.
The daughter who went to Gaul never ceases to send us wine. She sent us a son, who, unbeknownst even to himself, recounted the story of her life, her General’s life and death, her new marriage and her impending death – all these the son in his innocence, related to two old Greek slaves, encountered within a splendid remote Roman villa. In his greediness, he plotted to kill us. We laughed ourselves to death over that one, the wife and I, and the grandchild we had to drug and tell him of his own history!
The one who went to Egypt? Lotus oil arrives sporadically. Her daughters have taken up the Nubian trade of dancing at the temples, but unlike Roman vestal virgins, these women are free, and able to chose their own destinies, within their limited options. The son-scribes write us, sending the lotus oil with their notes. The sons lack training in the Greek healing arts and culture. We fear, as does their mother, that they slowly are descending to the call of their own blood. Daily we pray that even just one of her their ten children live, and recall that which is the light of the Greek heart. For that, we can only pray and hope.
Fate is history’s way of forcing the good and evil in and out of descendants, like cycles of life. Slavery took its toll too much on that younger daughter. Her bitterness overran our teachings.
And now, who am I? The man lies within the woman’s arm, and as my eyes gaze into hers, I really, in all honesty, do not know who I am – the man or the woman, the father or the son, the original or future Genghis Khan or the children of Gaul, the Nubian dancers, or the soldiers of the East and West.
All these life threads, like the veins in one’s own private body, weave themselves into a tapestry before my eyes, and I can only sigh as I die a peaceful death, a good slave, a healer, a husband, a Greek.