It was good to test oneself, to push one’s limits, to go and go and go until you were sure you could go no more and then to go just enough more to prove yourself wrong and to glory in the excess. And they had chosen the course right. Two thousand or more strides before, Philodorus had looked into the distance to see where the villa was, and it was not there. He wanted it to be there. He wanted to stop running. His breath was deep, heavy and steady, and sweat ran down his back and his chest in even rivulets, and his back ached. He had not run like this since he left the active service, and Tully had. Daily. Tully, some 4 or 5 strides ahead of him, did not look at all stressed, at all beaten down by the seemingly endless succession of strides into the sun. And Philodorus was not about to let Tully beat him, wear him out. So he went on, staring into his back, watching the muscles move in rhythmic cadence, a cadence he matched and imitated. But how much more could he take? How much further was it. Suddenly, as they rounded the next bend, the red slope of the tile roof peaked out from behind the trees, and Philodorus saw his goal and his release. He recognized his own olive grove, and the few lemon tress off to one side. He would make it; he had made it; he would arrive first. With strength he did not know he had, he took longer, quicker strides and came upon Tully , next to him, and passed him.
The Younger man took a moment to realize it was now a race, and in those moments Philodorus pulled ahead just enough. He poured on the power, no longer listening to the pounding of his heart or the deep gasping of his breath. He lowered his chin, glowered at the villa growing out of the trees in the distance, its western wall now visible, awash in the light of late afternoon, and gave the final push. Tully yelled “Philip! You bastard!” And Philodorus knew he had him!
He made the portico a full 5 strides before Tully came through the gate. When Tully entered, Philodorus was sitting on the bench, leaning back, his elbow supporting him, as if he had been sunning himself for hours.
“Ah, here at last!” He had just enough breath to speak without gasping. And keeps the smile on his face so he could suck in the air through his teeth without seeming to be doing so.
“Your bastard! No, that’s an insult to your mother, not you. You shit eating dog! I thought it wasn’t a race.” He stood tall, his hands on his hips, smiling broadly, his dark hair plastered to his head. He came slowly forward, shaking a fist. “You said it wasn’t a race.”
“Well, I changed my mind.” Philodorus stood up and Tully fell against him, still gasping. Philodorus took the man in his arms and hugged him. Their hearts pounded against each other as they mutually supported their sweat-soaked bodies. Tully pulled back first and smiled. His fist gently pounded against Phil’s left breast as he said “You still have it. You do. And that is the truth.”
Philodorus was unaware of the blush that colored his cheeks, but Tully wasn’t. He turned and pulled off his short tunic, pulling it out of the leather belt that had held it against his body. He walked across the patio and with one bound, jumped into the water troth at the wall. Philodorus followed suit, and they sat in the cool drinking troth and splashed each other like boys. Tully was the first to stand up and get out.
“Ah, here we are, on the men’s patio, where the seed is gathered every morning.”
“Well, yes, the, er, masturbatorium, as it were. ”
“Where are they, by the way?”
“I don’t know. They are free to be wherever they want to be once their duty is done in the morning. Perhaps they are down in their quarters. They don’t live in the villa, you know. They just report here for the morning exercise.” Philodorus sat in the water, enjoying its coolness as the trough slowly refilled.
“I see.” He looked around. It was a functional space. A long table, benches built into the wall, like niches in a temple, the deep trough from which he had stepped, and at one end, the pillar, with places at the bottom for a man’s feet and leather loops attached at the top for his wrists. On the side of the pillar, on its hook, hung the three-goad whip, Thrysis . As if in response to his notice, it moved, blown by the light breeze no doubt, but Tully looked twice.
“Which role do you more closely identify with?” Tully had not taken his eyes from the pillar.
“Yes, the man holding the pillar or the man holding Thyrsus?”
Philodorus did not respond. But watched his friend watch the pillar and whip.
“Because, well, as for me. I identify with the man holding Thyrsus.”
“Do you? Well, I see.” He said no more. He stood up and stepped out of the trough. The water running from his body made small puddles on the flagstones. He took a few steps, leaving wet footprints. He stood next to Tully and looked directly at his friend. His friend did not return his gaze, but continued to look at the pillar. The breeze blew. Thrysis moved as if alive in it.Next chapter