Rita Oakes























(Originally published in Aeon Speculative Fiction, issue 7 (May 2006)


After they skinned him, Marcus shifted back to man-shape. He lay limp upon the grass in the peristyle garden, the stench of his own blood, pain, and urine thick in his nostrils. The moon bathed him with healing light. The agony of his stripped muscles diminished, from fire to a sting, and then to a shuddersome itch, like a million ants crawling over bare flesh. New skin covered him, blessedly cool.

The men drew close again. Marcus tensed. Perhaps they wanted his man-pelt, too, though it would never be as warm as the fur of his wolf-shape. Why had the Mistress ordered him punished? Perhaps the wine he had spilled when the scent of a rabbit in the garden distracted him? A gift of Caligula, and costly.

Marcus resolved not be so clumsy again. The Mistress would forgive him, wouldn’t she? Even though she had another Mutaro to play with now?

The new Mutaro, Julius, had only hatred for the Human masters, and contempt for Marcus. Why did they not strip Julius of his pelt? Julius never tried to please, but had to be drugged and beaten before submitting.

Marcus shuddered. When no knife touched him again, he opened his eyes. The play of moonlight and shadow on the leaves of the fig trees drew him from the memory of pain. Sweet-scented roses twined about the colonnade. Grapes hung heavy, so ripe they nearly burst their skins. Ivy trailed from the central fountain and its image of Venus. The plash of water was pleasant, and the grass cool beneath him. Above, the dark rectangle of sky sparkled with stars and a moon three-quarters full.

Hands upon him, though not so rough as before. They stroked his private parts until he felt himself spurt.

Hands again. Too soon. It hurt. Yet the moon lent him strength. He felt himself stiffen and spurt as before. He bared his teeth. A low rumble vibrated in his chest. The men laughed, ruffled his hair. This could not be on orders of the Mistress. Mutari seed was too precious to waste on slaves. She would be angry, if he told. She only shared her Mutari with special guests. The Emperor once. Marcus had not enjoyed that, for Caligula smelled of madness.

He felt strength returning, gift of moonlight and the rare absence of the silver-lined collar.

The collar bound Mutari to one shape only, and cut off the moon’s power. Wearing the collar, he had the strength of any mortal Human. Without it…. He shook his head, imagined running in wolf shape through the olive groves. Sometimes he dreamed of running.

They locked the collar once again about his neck. Footsteps retreated. Human scents faded, except where their touch lingered on him. Tarquin bore the bloody pelt away to the Mistress.

Under the blank stone stare of the goddess, Marcus scooped a palmful of water from the fountain, drank. Then he retreated to the small room he shared with Julius.

The chamber was dark, for only Severian, the steward, or the Mistress had authority to order the oil lamps lit. Marcus did not mind the shadows. Mutari eyes were more keen than Human ones. And moonlight spilled in through the narrow window overlooking the courtyard.

He curled into a ball upon the floor and pulled a thin wool blanket close. He did not usually notice cold, but his new skin felt icy. He lay still, unable to sleep.

Julius returned, smelling of sex and hate. Marcus curled into a tighter ball, new fear wafting from his pores. If he were small enough, and still enough, perhaps Julius would take no notice of him. Julius had never hurt him, but tonight the scent of the older Mutaro held the bitterness of barely controlled rage. Who knew if it might not spill out?

“Filthy creature,” Julius said. The breath sounded harsh between his teeth. A growl rumbled deep from the chest.

Marcus squeezed his eyes closed, tried to curl into an even smaller ball. “I don’t mean to be.”

A new scent. Astonishment. His voice held a gentleness Marcus had never heard in Julius before. “I didn’t mean you.”

Julius paced the narrow room as he might a cage. The air of suppressed violence lingered. Tension in the broad shoulders. Veins corded in the neck. Teeth bared.

Marcus summoned courage. “Who, then?”

Marcus flinched beneath the golden stare. Julius regarded him as if he beheld a half-wit. “That slut Lyvia. Who else?”

Julius should not speak so of the Mistress. She would be angry, if she heard. Marcus thought he should caution Julius, but his courage had not progressed quite so far.

“Wanted to play the Mother of Rome,” Julius said. “Wearing your skin.” Julius swallowed hard. A new scent intruded, like spoiled meat.

“Are you all right?” Marcus asked.


Julius retched into the chamber pot. Marcus smelled bile and the remnant of the priapic potion Lyvia always dosed Julius with, something bitter and sweet.

The odor of anger faded, replaced by a sour scent of despair. “I’ll never get her stench off me,” Julius said, staring out the narrow window into the courtyard.

Moonlight silvered him. He was compact, leanly muscled. Marcus imagined Julius would be large and powerful in wolf shape. A Mutaro in his prime, he moved with a stealthy grace that always made Marcus feel young and awkward. His golden eyes usually held too much arrogance for a slave, though tonight they had a soft, distant look.

“Do you not long to leave the sewer of Rome, Marcus? To race with your grex at the hunt? To return to the dark pine forests of Gaul, and run shoulder to shoulder with your chosen mate while the wind ruffles your fur?”

“I don’t remember my grex. And I’ve never hunted.”

Astonishment again. Julius left the window, crouched beside him. “What do you remember?”


“Fire. Soldiers. A cage on wheels. Huddling with my brother on dirty straw.”

“What happened to your brother?”

“He opened his veins with a silver knife.”

Julius rose, resumed pacing. “Leaving you to the mercy of Rome.”

“The Mistress has been kind to me.”

“She ordered you flayed alive! So she could fornicate in your bloody pelt! Will you be her lapdog? Lick her hand and fawn over her?”

Marcus squeezed his eyes closed, concentrated on not letting his bladder go. I don’t know anything else. He huddled in silence, wishing Julius would use the gentle voice again, wishing that his own sweat and fear-stink did not betray panic so easily. What would it be like to run with others of his kind, racing to bring down stag or ibex? To have a life-mate and be free of the constriction of the silver collar?

Imagination failed. He’d been too young when the soldiers seized him. He doubted he would make a successful hunter. His nose was keen enough, but his legs always seemed to tangle together. He would starve without the Mistress. He didn't mind her games. Not usually. Though he hoped one pelt was all she would require of him.


Severian ordered Marcus and Julius to pick fruit in the garden. A pleasant task, for the day was warm. Bees droned. The wind freshened. Julius turned his face into the breeze, inhaled deeply. “It’s raining in the north,” he said. His nostrils flared again. He closed his eyes. “A herd of deer are grazing at the edge of the east vineyard.” Julius went very still, his muscles taut.

“What are you doing?” Marcus asked.

“Imagining the hunt.” Julius opened his eyes. “You spoiled my kill.”

He dropped a fig into their basket, bent one of the higher branches so Marcus could reach.

“Tell me of your grex.”

“There’s nothing to tell.”

“You don’t trust me.”

Julius released the branch, which swished abruptly upwards. He moved to the next tree. Marcus stayed where he was.

“Don’t sulk,” Julius said.


The Mistress sent for Marcus and Julius. Strato, a grim former gladiator who had won the wooden rudis of freedom,bound Julius’ wrists behind the back with silver shackles. Lyvia reclined upon the wolf pelt.

Marcus’ nose twitched in recognition of his own scent. He felt vaguely ill, as if he existed in more than one place at the same time. He was here, in the center of Lyvia’s bedroom, and there, underneath Lyvia’s naked form like a rug or trophy.

Knives. So sharp. Hands. A pulling away of skin from muscle. Scraping of a thin cushion of fat. Blood. Fire as air rushed over exposed muscle. Hands clamped firmly over his muzzle so he could neither bite nor howl in pain.

“Marcus, come lie beside me,” Lyvia said.

He swallowed bile.

“Defy her,” Julius said, so softly only Marcus could hear.

He could no more defy Lyvia than he could remove the silver collar locked about his neck. She was the Mistress.

Julius was a fool in his stubbornness. Wild. Uncivilized. If Julius learned obedience, he would not have to suffer the silver shackles, nor taste the bitter potion that distorted senses. If he surrendered to her will, he would learn the Mistress could be kind.

Marcus breathed through his mouth to keep the scent of his dead pelt at a distance. He snuggled at Lyvia’s side. The fur felt coarse and strange beneath his bare skin. Cold sweat broke upon his flesh.

Lyvia rested her hand upon his flank. He tensed. Though her touch was light, in his mind he felt stripped, raw. She pressed his face to her bosom and he drew in her scent of sweat, brine, attar of roses, other men. Cloying. Overpowering. But better than the madness of his own scent in two places.

She toyed idly with his hair as he tried to forget the fur beneath them. She could be kind. She did not know the very act of resting upon his flayed pelt was making him ill.

His breath came fast and shallow. She rolled over on him, covered him, rubbed herself against him. Her hair cascaded against his chest. Pleasant. It should be pleasant.

His stolen fur prickled at his buttocks. His stomach roiled. The new scent rising from him held sickness, not desire. He turned his head, saw Julius watching them. Anger smoldered in the older Mutaro’s eyes.

Lyvia moved lower. She moistened a finger with her tongue and rubbed it between his legs. He closed his eyes as she caressed the sensitive spot between scrotum and anus. His body began at last to respond as trained. He felt her mouth upon him, wet heat as she drank him down. He shuddered.

Lyvia drew away from him. Marcus rolled off the pelt. He crouched, taking fast and shallow breaths through his mouth. He dared not vomit, dared not ask for leave to quit the chamber.

He imagined himself running, running. A forest. Cool air. Wind. A large, hot-blooded something fleeing before him. Stag.

“No,” Julius said.

Marcus jerked himself from the daydream.

Lyvia advanced upon the bound Julius with a cup. Strato and another former gladiator, a Nubian named Kanu, gripped Julius at each elbow, preventing retreat.

Marcus knew what was in the cup. He could smell the contents. Lyvia’s special drink.

Lyvia had made a study of Mutari. She knew they lived long lives. Centuries, she told Marcus once when feeling particularly expansive. Perhaps millennia. She believed, as did many Romans, that Mutari seed conferred youth and vitality. She mixed it in potions, perfumes, and cosmetics. Shared it with special, much-favored guests.

Julius never gave his seed willingly. Lyvia, after many trials, had developed a potion that enflamed Mutari senses. With her priapic philtre, she could milk Julius for hours.

“Drink,” she said.

“No,” said Julius, muscles rigid, jaw tight. Hatred in the eyes. Hatred in the sudden scent of his sweat. Always he resisted. Always Lyvia, assisted by Strato and Kanu, prevailed.

Julius refused to be tamed.

Kanu swept Julius’ feet from under him. Julius went heavily to his knees upon the mosaic tile. Strato pressed a knee hard into the Mutaro’s spine, pulled his head back by the hair.

Julius’ muscles bulged in a vain attempt to break the silver bonds. Kanu pinched Julius’ nostrils shut. Julius kept his jaws clenched tight. His face darkened for lack of air. His chest heaved.

At last, desperate for breath, he gasped. Lyvia tipped part of the contents of the cup between his teeth. Julius spluttered. More of the drink spilled than went in. Lyvia swore.

Kanu dug his fingers into the hinges of Julius’ jaw. Lyvia emptied the rest of the drink into the Mutaro’s mouth. She clamped her hand over Julius’ lips, smoothed his throat.

Kanu still blocked Julius’ nostrils. Julius must swallow or choke. He swallowed. Kanu released him.

Julius knelt, drawing air into starved lungs. He closed his eyes. His shoulders slumped. Strato hauled him upright.

“That’s my good wolf,” Lyvia said, smoothing her hand over Julius’ chest. He tried to step back from her, but Strato blocked him.

Julius shook his head as if to clear it. Marcus could smell the rising musk. Julius growled.

Marcus began to study the mosaic floor intently. Neptune with trident. Strange creatures of the sea. Marcus forgot his own nausea while watching Lyvia with Julius. Now he did not want to watch Julius’ further humiliation. He’d seen it many times before.

The sound of a blow made Marcus look up. Lyvia sprawled upon her backside, holding one hand to her brow. Julius slipped free of Strato’s grasp. Julius launched a kick at Kanu’s knee. There was a soft pop as the Nubian’ s knee bent in a direction knees were not meant to go. Kanu grunted, fell.

Strato seized Julius by the elbows, bore him down, pounded his head repeatedly against the hard tiles. Swearing, he dragged Julius from the floor.

Stunned from Strato’s blows, and now in the full grip of the drug, Julius did not resist. Blood poured from his nose. Strato unlocked one manacle, drew Julius’ arms up, and refastened both wrists onto a ring set high upon a decorative column.

Julius rested his cheek against the pillar. Sweat ran from him freely. His skin flushed all over. He smelled of pain and despair. The tip of his erect penis brushed against stone. He groaned.

Marcus rose, helped Lyvia to her feet. “Mistress?” A bruise was already beginning where Julius butted her. She jerked free. “Severian!”

The steward, never distant, appeared. “Mistress?”

“Take Kanu out of here. And fetch my whip.”

“At once, Mistress.”

Marcus felt his nausea return. She must mean the special whip. Multiple strips of leather tipped in barbs coated with silver. Marcus had never felt its sting, though Lyvia had teased him with it once, had drawn the strands playfully over his skin.

The moon would not heal any wound made by silver. Time might heal such a wound, if slight. If deep enough, the silver would poison and kill.

Nicanor and Tarquin supported a limping Kanu between them. Severian presented the whip to Lyvia.

Lyvia thrust the whip into Marcus’ hands. “Flog him,” she said.

Marcus blinked.

“Flog him,” she said. “Flog him, or you will both taste the lash.”

He swallowed hard. The whip felt unclean in his hands. Defy her, Julius had said. He wanted to. But he had proof before him of what defiance meant.

He raised the whip.

A half dozen thin lines of blood appeared on Julius’ back.

“Put some strength in it, boy,” Strato said. “The thing’s not meant to tickle.”


Lyvia had been to a party on the Palatine. Her fair skin was flushed with too much wine. Her sun-colored hair, usually elaborately curled, hung disordered about her shoulders. She smelled of perfume and other men. Strato attended her. He had put aside leather armor and gladius, stood clad only in a short woolen tunic.

At a nod from Lyvia, Marcus removed his own plain tunic. Strato took him without violence, but without tenderness, and the Mistress caught the answering spurt of Mutaro semen in a golden chalice. This she mixed with wine and drank, offering a mouthful to Strato as a sign of favor. When she had drained the contents of the cup, she drew them both down beside her.

Marcus missed the unique odor of spice and musk that Julius had, the radiant heat of him as he slept, the companionable rumble of his breathing. He dimly remembered a similar scent, and a comforting press of bodies snug against him. A shadowy recollection of childhood, perhaps. Before the Humans. Before Rome.

Still, it was pleasant squeezed between Lyvia and Strato. Only the reek drifting up from the wine cellar, where Julius remained caged these many weeks since the flogging, spoiled his contentment.

Marcus woke with his face burrowed in the hollow of Strato’s collarbone. Lyvia lay on Marcus’ other side, all softness and warmth. Her hand lay curled over Marcus’ hip.

Marcus studied Strato’s hard face. Strato, awake, looked at him through half lidded eyes. Marcus nuzzled into Strato’s throat, licked the skin there. Salt, sweat, a careless spill of honeyed wine, the rasp of beard in need of the morning’s razor.

Strato seized him by the hair, hard. “Let be,” he said.

Lyvia stirred. “Quiet,” she said. “My head.”

Too much wine, Marcus realized. Strato let him go and Marcus turned to Lyvia.

Her face was swollen, dissolute, creased with marks from the cushions. Her hair spread out in golden tangles. She traced a fingernail down Marcus’ ribs, smiled. “Once again, my golden-eyed wolf,” she said. Her fingers moved to his member, caressed him, squeezed his testicles gently. He closed his eyes as she toyed with him. He enjoyed the touch, but could not rise.

“I am sorry, Mistress,” he said, “I am awake, but my loins are yet asleep.”

“Then what good are you?” She slapped him sharply across the face. “Get out.”

He tumbled away from her, over Strato, who swore. Marcus hit the floor, hard. Lyvia rolled into Strato’s arms.

Marcus quit the bedchamber quickly. He fingered his stinging cheek.

The rest of the household was dark, Severian and the others yet abed. Marcus paused at his room, but did not enter. Instead, he crept down the stairs to the wine cellar without aid of a lamp. He was glad of the darkness. He would not be able to see the full extent of Julius’ hurts.

Chains clinked softly as Julius moved a fraction. Shackled with his hands behind him, wrist to ankle, his bonds bent him into an awkward half crouch.

The welts from the lash smelled of silver and pus. He’d fouled the cage. No one had been ordered to clean it. Pain, fever, hate, merged with the other odors into a rank miasma of despair.

Teeth flashed white in the darkness. The golden eyes burned. “Come to gloat, pup?”

Marcus shook his head. He did not know why he had come.

“Her scent clings to you. You offend me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You’re not supposed to be here, are you, pup? ”

“Stop calling me that.”

“Lap dog, then. You like playing bitch to the Humans, don’t you? Pup.”

“It’s better than being caged in my own shit.”

Julius laughed. “Fangs at last. There may be hope for you. Have you come to extol the virtues of your Mistress?”

“Our Mistress.”

“Not mine.”

“She paid gold for you. A lot of gold.”

“That will not help her when I rip out her throat.”

“You are a mad thing. They will crucify you. If you try to harm the Mistress again, they might crucify all of us.”

Marcus had seen crucifixions. A hundred years had not dulled the memory. Thousands of slaves lined the road from Capua to Rome as the cart that imprisoned him and his brother trundled to market. Crows grew fat upon the stinking dead.

Marcus’ stomach clenched. He shivered. He fled up the stairs, Julius’ laughter echoing in his ears.

In the garden, his nausea receded. He looked up at the sky, growing light as dawn approached. Scents of rosemary and lavender purged his nose, calmed him. Stumbling with weariness, he crawled beneath drooping branches of wisteria.

Enclosed in a sweet den of blossoms and leaves, he slept.

He dreamed of his brother. The two of them raced in wolf form. His brother nipped him playfully and Marcus tumbled, rolled in a patch of wildflowers. He rose, flanks heaving, and the other barreled into him, grinning. They both shifted and wrestled in man form. No longer his brother, it was Julius who easily pinned him. Marcus tilted his chin up, offering his throat. Pollen dusted Julius’ bare shoulders like a sprinkling of gold. The eyes held no madness, only mischief.

Someone kicked Marcus awake. Severian. Marcus stirred reluctantly, tried to hold the dream. Julius had been about to kiss him. He was sure of it.

“Who gave you leave to sleep in the garden?” Severian asked. “Get up, you lazy wretch.”

Marcus crawled from the wisteria. The sun felt warm on his back and shoulders. The sky was a brilliant blue above, framed by the curved terra cotta tiles of the roof. Bees hummed and flitted over the roses. Butterflies settled on spears of fragrant lavender.

“Get cleaned up and dressed. Meet me in the kitchen.” Severian stomped away, grumbling.

Marcus splashed water from the fountain over himself. In his chamber, he drew on a simple woolen tunic. He would prefer to go nude, but Severian insisted he wear clothing when not entertaining Lyvia.

Marcus paused outside the kitchen, scenting Strato and Severian inside.

“Stinks worse than the beast pits below the arena,” Strato said. “Never saw so stubborn a slave.”

“The smell begins to permeate the entire villa. He has refused food altogether these four days past. I think the Mistress made a poor bargain in him.”

“You have to take them young, or they’re worthless,” Strato said.

“Like young Marcus. He’s not overly bright, but he’s obedient enough.”

“Don’t turn your back on him, Severian. He’s still a wild beast, even if his fangs are drawn.”

“You’re wrong, Strato. There’s no aggression in him. And he’s loyal to the Mistress.”

Marcus entered the kitchen and Severian started. Strato twitched his hand toward the gladius he wore.

“Make some noise when you enter a room, boy,” Strato said, removing his hand from the sword. “Don’t skulk about.”

Marcus bowed a little, kept his eyes downcast. “Sorry.”

Severian pushed a clay bowl of diced liver toward him. “Light a lamp and take this to that fool downstairs.”


The oil lamp flickered. Marcus breathed through his mouth to avoid the worst of the stench. By lamplight, he saw what shadows had concealed last night.

Julius looked dead. Only the sound of a stubborn heartbeat and the slightest flaring of nostrils betrayed life. His eyes were closed. The face had grown gaunt. Dried blood still crusted beneath a broken nose. A fine sheen of sweat covered him. Some of the more shallow lash marks had scabbed over. The deeper ones were puffy and leaking yellow pus. Bound and unable to move more than an inch or two, blood pooled in his hands and f eet, leaving them purplish and so swollen the bonds bit into flesh.

Marcus held a bit of diced calf’s liver through the bars, to Julius’ mouth. Julius ignored him.

“You must eat,” Marcus said, “or you will die. I can smell death on you.”

No reaction.

“You mustn’t die,” Marcus said.


Julius would choose death over continued captivity, as his brother had done. Leaving Marcus alone. Again.

“Eat,” he said. “Please?”


“Tell me about your grex. Tell me about the hunt. Tell me of your mate. What is her name?”

Julius opened his eyes, blinked at the light. “Mathilde,” he said, his voice a hoarse croak.

“Mathilde,” Marcus said. “What is she like?”

“Go away.”

“I’ll go away when you eat something.”

Julius closed his eyes.

Marcus sighed. He put the bowl down. He crouched to wait, a few steps from the cage. When he could bear the silence no longer, he said, “Remember when you spoke of running with Mathilde? In Gaul?”


“You must live. For her sake. Human lives are short. Perhaps the Mistress will free us in her will.”

He did not believe his own words. Human slaves were often manumitted in such a fashion, but Mutari slaves were too prized. Marcus had already passed through three Human owners. He and Julius would be willed from generation to generation, like bits of jewelry or costly furniture. Marcus felt his chest grow tight with grief and hopelessness.

“Tell me about Mathilde.”

Julius banged the back of his head against the bars. “I don’t remember,” he said. “First, her face faded from me. Now I cannot even recall her scent.” The heavy smell of despair overlay the rest of the stinking chamber.

“You will see her again,” Marcus said.

Julius’ chin sank onto his chest. “No. How could I go to her, polluted as I am? Go upstairs. Walk in the sunlight. Leave me.”


Strato and the Mistress smelled of rut and drowsy contentment. Marcus felt only emptiness, longing. He nuzzled gently at Lyvia’s milkless dugs, was rewarded by her slight smile, and a soft caress at the nape of his neck. At her other side, Strato snored softly.

“Mistress?” Marcus said, scarce believing he dared speak to her unbidden. But she smelled happy, and was pleasantly drunk besides.


“How long will you keep Julius caged?”

“Until he learns to obey me as you do.”

“He was expensive, yes?”


“He refuses to eat. He smells of death, Mistress.”

She frowned. A sour smell of annoyance rose from her. “What is that to me?”

“Indeed,” Strato said, waking with a grunt. “Enough of your prattle.”

“Forgive me,” Marcus said. He tensed in anticipation of a blow from either of them.

Instead Lyvia sighed, rose from her rumpled bed. “Let’s have a look at the wretch. I shall be cross if he dies.”

Strato and Marcus donned their tunics. Strato buckled on his gladius. Lyvia took considerably more time arranging the folds of her stola.

“Fetch a lamp, Marcus,” she said.

He seized one of the terra cotta lamps and lit the way to Julius’ cage.

“Gods, what a stink,” Lyvia said. “Stick him with your sword, Strato.”

Strato unsheathed his short sword, inserted it between the bars of the cage, and prodded gently. A trickle of blood ran from the slight wound, but Julius did not flinch or cry out. He might have been a corpse already, Marcus thought, except a corpse would not bleed.

“All right,” Lyvia said, removing keys from a chain about her neck. She handed the keys to Strato. “Get him out of there.”

Strato opened the cage, and the locks upon the chains binding Julius. He gestured to Marcus.

Marcus dragged Julius from the cage. The limbs, though unbound, remained locked in the same position. The golden eyes, though open, appeared unseeing. Julius might have been carved of wood.

Lyvia knelt beside Julius, put her hand to his bare chest. Marcus could hear the Mutaro’s heartbeat, more sluggish now than earlier. It stuttered a moment, then quickened.

An expression of sorrow flickered over Lyvia’s face, and was gone. “Fool,” she said to Julius. She glanced at Marcus with a trace of impatience. “Take him to the garden. Clean him up. Moonlight should restore him to himself.”

“Yes, Mistress,” Marcus said. Strato had to help him, for he could not carry Julius up the narrow stairs alone.

Strato grunted and dropped his share of the burden at the edge of the courtyard. Marcus, who gripped Julius by the shoulders, dragged him to the center of the garden, where moonlight might fall upon him more fully. He lowered Julius gently to the grass. Fetching a bucket of water from the cistern, and a bit of cloth, he began to bathe Julius’ face. The emptiness in the unblinking eyes frightened him.

The cheeks were hollow, and covered with a tangle of beard. Marcus washed the throat, avoiding the collar that gleamed so brightly in the moonlight. Carefully he laved the chest, and the unhealed welts curving about pronounced ribs. The flesh was hot and puffy where the lash had bitten. Next he washed the limbs. Dropping the cloth in the bucket, Marcus rubbed Julius’ broad hands between his smaller ones.

Julius might have been a statue. His arms, so long bound in the same unmoveable position, felt heavy and dead beneath Marcus’ touch. A vaguely rotten smell rose from the flesh. The eyes remained vacant. Moonlight could restore circulation to the long-cramped limbs, and flesh lost to the long fast. It could mend the broken nose. Could it restore sanity to a disordered mind? Marcus did not know.

“How is he?” Lyvia asked, kneeling unsteadily beside Marcus on the damp grass. Marcus smelled sour wine upon her breath, saw the brimming cup in her hand.

“I do not know, Mistress. He is very sick . The moon will not heal the whip marks, but perhaps . . .”

“Perhaps, what?”

“If the Mistress removed his collar? Just for a little while? The moon might better heal the rest of him.”

“Absolutely not,” Strato said.

Lyvia’s eyes narrowed. “Who is Master here, Strato?”

Strato flushed. “I meant no disrespect, Mistress. A Mutaro uncollared is dangerous.”

“And a Mutaro dead is useless to me. Bind him, if that will grant you courage.”

Strato’s flush deepened. “This is not wise, Mistress.”

Lyvia rose. Marcus smelled her anger. Wine sloshed in her cup. “Do you mean to defy me, Strato? You can always return to the arena.”

“I’ll get the shackles,” Marcus said. He disappeared for a few moments. Lyvia’s wits were dulled with wine and simmering anger. Strato’s also. In the darkness would they notice he brought iron manacles, not silver?

Strato locked the bands about Julius’ wrists. Lyvia unfastened the silver-lined collar.

For long moments, Julius remained motionless, eyes still open, empty. Then he blinked, stirred a little. Marcus smelled puzzlement on him. Julius raised his arms, stared at the irons about his wrists. He touched his throat briefly. His nostrils flared.

Julius rolled to a crouch. He bared his teeth. A rumble sounded, deep, from the chest. Marcus took a step back. Rage and hatred filled Julius’ golden eyes.

Marcus heard the metallic sound of Strato drawing his sword.

The air about Julius shimmered, like the air above a lamp’s flame. Marcus blinked. Julius shifted. The shackles clinked as they fell empty to the grass.

In wolf form, Julius was larger even than Marcus had imagined. At the shoulder he stood more than twice the height of a true wolf. His pelt was the dark gray of a thundercloud, and tipped at the ends in black. The marks from the lash remained, stripes of angry red over back and ribs.

Marcus held his breath as Julius brushed by him. His scent now was earth and musk and rage. He circled Strato. The former gladiator turned with him, sword ready to thrust.

Lyvia flung her wine cup at Julius, darted behind one of the pillars. She fled inside, shouting for her guards.

Julius’ teeth gleamed very white in the moonlight. His hackles bristled. His eyes, like lit amber, held madness. He sprang upon Strato.

Marcus closed his eyes, not wanting to see Julius spitted upon the sword. He heard a ripping of cloth, and then a ripping of something more substantial. Something fell to the grass.

Marcus opened his eyes. Strato’s severed arm lay upon the ground, still gripping the gladius. Julius had the man’s throat now, wrenched free a mouthful of meat. A gout of blood fountained. Julius lifted his blood-spattered muzzle. The lips drew back from his teeth. He growled a warning, then padded off after Lyvia.

Marcus’s nostrils flared as the harsh, metallic smell of blood crept to him. Inside the villa, he heard a man scream. Marcus walked without haste. He heard the click click of Julius’ paws upon the mosaic floor before him.

Tarquin lay face down upon the floor, the white of his spine exposed. Blood pooled upon the tiles. Marcus shook himself. He stepped over Tarquin, careful not to step in the spreading red.

Julius had cornered Lyvia in her bedroom. She had the silver-tipped whip in her hand. Julius watched her, ears flat. He kept out of range of the lash. Marcus paused in the doorway. “Marcus! Stop him. He has gone mad. He’ll kill us all.”

Marcus took a step forward. Julius growled. Marcus froze. His eyes strayed to the bed. His pelt still lay upon it. Marcus crossed to the bed. He brushed his knuckles against the fur lightly, felt the coarse outercoat. He studied the interplay of light and shadow cast by the lamps, the mix of tawny brown, gray, and black hairs.


Part of him wanted to go to her. Protect her. She was the Mistress. She should be obeyed. “Julius,” Marcus said.

The ears flicked once, but Julius did not take his attention from Lyvia or the whip. The lash marks had broken open. Blood glistened, matting his fur. Marcus closed his eyes. He had made those wounds. On the orders of the Mistress, yes, but his hand wielded the whip. He hadn’t wanted to. Julius knew that. He hoped Julius knew that.

“Marcus!” Lyvia's fear was now laced with anger.

Marcus turned his hand, rested his palm upon the pelt, then worked his fingers into the softer undercoat. “No,” he said, softly, tentatively. The word felt strange in his mouth. He said it again. Experimentally. “No.” He smiled, pleased.

Lyvia screamed.

Her scream ended when Julius took her throat.

Julius ripped her belly. Ribs splintered with a sick cracking sound. The stench of blood and death filled the room.

Julius broke his long fast, bolted bits of Lyvia’s soft insides. Alive, Lyvia was wielder of life and death, happiness and misery. Her elegant fingers lay upcurled like the petals of a flower.

Dead, she reminded Marcus of meat. He felt his stomach rumble. A sudden wash of saliva made his jaws ache. He swallowed convulsively.

Julius growled. Kanu, limping upon a bandaged knee, entered the room with his sword drawn. Severian stood behind him, a flaming torch in his hand. The fear smell was strong on both.

Julius crept forward.

“Enough,” Marcus said.

The two men looked at him in amazement. Even Julius gave a snort of surprise.

“Don’t block his path,” Marcus said. “And don’t crowd him. No one else has to die. Tell everyone to keep to their rooms.”

“Are you mad?” Severian said. “We can’t just let a mad beast go.”

Marcus shrugged. “Then die.”

Severian and the Nubian retreated. Marcus approached Lyvia’s torn body. He bent and took the chain with the keys from her. Julius’ claws clicked upon the tiles as he stalked from the room, hackles still raised. Marcus followed, chain dangling from his fingers.

In the peristyle garden, Julius paused a moment to leave his mark near Strato’s body. Then he lapped water from the fountain. No Humans interfered.

Stars gleamed brightly over the low roof. Julius stretched. His tongue lolled. The lashes would be slow to heal, Marcus thought. They would scar.

Julius began a slow lope the length of the garden. His muscles bunched, and he leapt to the roof. His claws scrabbled for purchase. Broken tiles slid and shattered, but Julius did not pause. He achieved the summit and then disappeared over the other side.

The keys felt cool in Marcus’ hand. He fit one into the lock of his collar, turned it until the hated thing sprang free. He studied the gleaming circlet a moment, touched his throat. Strange.

He picked up Strato’s body, and the severed arm. He carried them to Lyvia’s bedroom. He lay Strato beside Lyvia, face down. He covered both with his pelt, and tossed the collar on top. Seizing the lamps, he doused the bodies with oil, lit them.

Without haste he made his way through the house, passing frescoes of Diana at the hunt, Bacchanalian revels, the labors of Hercules.

At the vestibule, he drew a deep breath, tasted smoke and roasting meat. He went on, past the shrine to the household gods, the lares and penates. He opened the door, ducking beneath the bronze tintinnabulum, a winged phallus hung with bells. Fortune and fertility had left this house, in spite of gods. He felt little triumph in Lyvia’s death, but no sadness. One should not expect to play with wild things and escape a mauling.

Marcus tightened one hand upon the door frame, was surprised when the wood gave beneath his fingers like a sponge. He glanced at his hand as if he had never seen it before. Once again he brushed his fingers against his bare throat.

Flames roared as the fire spread. Perhaps the other slaves would run. Perhaps not. They could blame Lyvia’s death upon the fire and perhaps escape the fate of Spartacus.

Marcus threw off his tunic. Outside the villa, the oily, unpleasant scent of roasting meat and burning hair seemed stronger.

He shifted. Joy not to be bound to a single, weak shape. Ecstasy to be free of silver. He began to run. Paving stones hard against paws unaccustomed to them. Muscles loosened. He veered from the road onto fragrant grass. The wind felt like a caress. It brought Julius’ scent to him. Near. Very near. Waiting.