Her name is Praeconina, and she is beautiful. She was born to Glaucia
while I was in Tibur, and I only learned of her arrival upon my
return, when I went to Mordanticus to hand him my trio of letters.
“Do you wish to see her?” he asked me. “Of course!”
I exclaimed, for what inhuman soul would even think to decline?
He laughed softly at my excitement and told me that I was welcome
to accompany him to his home that evening.
I left his office and excitedly conveyed to Decentius the news,
but he was already quite aware of it, having heard it directly from
Mordanticus the day after the birth had occurred. He was happy to
see me so joyous, but wondered why I should be so exceptionally
eager to see a child that was not even mine. “It is unusual,”
he suggested, “that a young man such as yourself – one
who is being so intensely groomed for political and social ascent
– should care so ardently about the appearance of a child
with so little consequence in your life.”
It suddenly struck me – far more powerfully than it had at
any time in the past – that I was the custodian of a rather
unsavoury secret concerning the paternity of Praeconina. To announce
to the world that the child was really mine would naturally bring
shame and dishonour upon not only myself, but Mordanticus and Glaucia
as well. I scrambled for a quick reply, and said to him simply:
“Mordanticus is a friend, and I celebrate with him the arrival
of his daughter.”
Decentius looked at me with a smile that held the hint of pity beneath
it. “Mordanticus,” he whispered, “is considerably
disappointed by the fact that his child is a girl.” I turned
quickly to look at the closed door, beyond which sat Mordanticus
in his office. Back to Decentius I peered, and asked, “How
do you know?” The soldier merely shrugged: “He told
me. It is not so uncommon, Antinous. The man desires a son. He has
political ambition – not only for himself, but his family
name as well. Be respectful of that, and curtail yourself from becoming
too overjoyed, lest it pain him all the more in his own refusal
How very sobering. I plodded back to the stables, laden with the
heavy thoughts of Mordanticus in his disappointment, Glaucia in
her fear (would he command the child abandoned and exposed in the
quest to save money while awaiting the son he desired?), and unfortunate
little Praeconina, born into a household that desired her not. Yet
what can I do? What can I say? It is certainly not my place to interfere.
I returned to my station to discover Vitalis hard at work, ensuring
that our mutual duties were completed. In truth, we both know they
should be my duties – and mine alone. In fact, everyone knows
it! Certainly Florentius and Anaxamenos, and quite possibly most
of the fellows in the Gelotiana, are quite aware that Vitalis has
been reassigned for the sole purpose of making lighter my list of
tasks that was, before the arrival of Vitalis, already remarkably
light. Thus there are now, officially, two pages assigned to the
care of but a single horse. Is that not absurd? And yet, we all
understand what purpose it serves: Antinous must be free to do as
he pleases. To study from the books of the Palatine library, to
learn, to grow, to groom himself into the kind of companion that
Hadrian himself must wonder if is even possible. It is a considerable
and daunting task, and thus I must believe that no one begrudges
me my freedoms. In fact, I suspect they are all quite relieved that
my life is not their own, for it is increasingly and widely known
that there is an immense expectation upon my spirit – one
that even I have only recently begun to fully comprehend. And I
am having considerable doubts that I shall ever be able to meet
When evening arrived I hurried to meet Mordanticus at his office.
Decentius was by this time relieved and there was a different duo
stationed outside his door. They let me pass without incident, and
I greeted Mordanticus with considerable decorum. As we walked together
toward his home, he seemed far more interested in whatever news
I could divulge to him of my trip to Tibur, something he imagined
I had written of at great length in my letters. Thus I briefly recounted
the most salient points, leaving out those that I felt were too
private and thus suitable only for the eyes of Lysicles.
He was immensely interested in my developing relations with Hadrian
(hardly surprising – there are few that I meet these days
who are not) and wondered aloud why I had yet to be invited into
the man’s bed. O, what I could have told him! But I didn’t.
I merely confessed my ignorance of the Emperor’s true mind
and resolved to him that the Fates would spin out my destiny as
ever they saw fit, and who was I to attempt to predict or even understand
With that we arrived at his home, and eagerly was I shown into the
courtyard. There before me reclined Glaucia, sipping wine, while
an attending wetnurse held a tiny bundle to her breast. Glaucia
smiled at me and held out a beckoning hand, “Antinous.”
I approached her and took her hand in mine. She in turn gave a private
and soundless squeeze of my fingers. It was a message of joy, and
of congratulations, and of hope, and fear, and the cry for support,
and, I suspect, of warning. There was much in her gaze at me that
was unspoken. “Go,” she said. “Look at her.”
And so I softly approached the wetnurse and peered in at the tiny
face with the closed eye and the fat, flushed cheek as it suckled
upon the woman’s breast. This was Praeconina. My daughter.
My secret. I turned to Mordanticus and smiled at him. “She
is beautiful,” I said.
“Are you surprised?” he asked me simply. “You
are not without your considerable appeal, Antinous. Nor is my wife.”
Suddenly I was bashful and ashamed. I felt as though I were a culprit
in some kind of grand conspiracy that had just been uncovered by
the Praetorian. But Mordanticus continued in a direction completely
at odds with how I felt: “You have given us a wonderful gift,
my friend. We are both grateful to you. Not only for your presence
in our lives, but too for your continued discretion and fidelity
unto our family’s aspiration."
I nodded my solemn agreement at him. And then I looked supportively
at Glaucia, who but smiled her thanks at me. There was a great amount
of tension in the room – I could tell there was much between
the couple that was unspoken. Or perhaps it had indeed been spoken,
and my presence there between them was cause for it to be safely
re-concealed. I simply could not tell.
We ate together a very light and casual meal, at which I spent most
of the time rehearsing but variations on the theme of my time in
Tibur. Mordanticus probed for the details of who it was I had met,
attempting to better understand the mechanisms of “the court
in the country,” as he called it. Meanwhile, Glaucia asked
after the grounds: the statuary and the mosaics beneath my feet,
the baths in which I washed and the gardens through which I ambled.
“It must have been dazzling,” she sighed, and there
was much longing in it.
At last I left them and returned to the Gelotiana. Vitalis was waiting
for me and wished to hear news of the infant. I told him simply
that the child was beautiful and pure, as is right. I did not tell
him of all the other thoughts and considerations that weighed heavily
upon me, but there is little doubt in my mind that he sensed them.
He took my hand in his and gazed at me earnestly. “Shall we
push our beds together?” he asked.
I smiled at him and thanked him for his offer. “But I am in
no state for such an exertion,” I said. “Then allow
me,” he replied, “to be the one who exerts himself,
Antinous. I alone shall provide the pleasure. Your sole requirement
is merely to accept it without effort.” How could I refuse
such an earnest offer? I lay down upon my bed and allowed Vitalis
to crawl under my covers. His lips around me were firm and capable;
his tongue was warm and pleasant.
When I had achieved my end, he resurfaced and wiped his mouth upon
his own blanket. “Thank you, Vitalis,” I said to him.
“You are most welcome, Antinous,” he replied. And he
pulled up the covers around me such that I fell to my sleep in but
This morning I awoke to discover that the youth had done yet another
drawing of me, this time in my slumber. On my face is an inscrutable
expression. There is no way to tell what I am dreaming – and
I confess to have no memory of their contents. Yet the fellow’s
talents are delightful: I continue to marvel at the product of his
nimble fingers under the direction of a capable eye.
To any outside observer, Lysicles, these days must surely appear
to them to be for me a continuous stream of blessings and joys.
Why then do I consistently feel by them burdened? Why do they make
me so afraid? Perhaps it is their uncertainty. The apprehension
that Hadrian shall suddenly decide I am but a distraction to him;
that he will be healthier if I am flung as far from him as possible.
Or perhaps it is a fear for the opposite: that the man shall consume
me in his fervent adoration of all that I unusually inspire in him.
I have no answer. Do you? A.