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R. Paul Sardanas and Tisha Garcia
authors of "Torera"
Beneath an Elegant Moon
During the reign of the Emperor Nero in the First Century AD, sensual excess became a way
of life. On a steamy summer day, a Roman noble rides into the town of Baiae on the Bay of
Naples, to arrange a summer holiday for the Emperor. Psyche, a courtesan from Rome's
Africa province, meets one of the most fascinating figures of the court of Nero—Gaius
Petronius, called Arbiter Elegantiarum, or “arbiter of elegance”—the man who would write
the enduring testament to Roman decadence, The Satyricon. Over three days, Psyche and
Petronius contrive erotic spectacles that will ultimately be for the Emperor’s pleasure, and
after each day the two of them walk and talk together beside the bay, under a warm and
elegant moon. Two passionate and subtle minds, they build a friendship layered with more
intense desire—but Petronius is forbidden to touch Psyche, who has been selected for the
Emperor. So the uninhibited courtesan and master of erotic revels plot for their final
spectacle to be one that transcends the flesh, and joins them closer than most lovers could
Excerpt from "Beneath an Elegant Moon"
Psyche woke after a restless night of intense summer heat. Unusual for the air to be so relentlessly
steaming here in Baiae—after all, it was to the seaside that the aristrocrats of Rome came to escape the
furnace-like summers of the city. But the month of Julius had seen baking heat that left the citizens of the bay-
town sluggish and weary, and the month of Augustus had come in with no relief. Even business here at the
House of Quartilla had been slow, with the courtesans sleeping most of the day away, and the night-revels
less rowdy than the norm. Psyche, with her Numidian blood, never thought it got too hot for fucking, but
clearly not everyone felt the same.
At least this morning a light sea-breeze stirred the curtains at her window casement. She sat up on her bed
and watched the hazy clouds in the pink dawn sky for a while, before sliding to the edge of the pallet and
putting her bare feet down on the tiles. A fine coating of sweat sheathed her black skin—she reached for a
linen cloth draped over the bedpost and patted her forehead, shoulders and breasts. Psyche never wore
clothes to bed, unless a customer specifically requested it. She had serviced only one client last night—an
equestrian from Pompeii who liked to stop in and visit the House of Quartilla on his way to business up the
coast. A middle-aged man and not too vigorous a lover, he’d been gone in the pre-dawn, wanting to resume
his travels before sunrise and hopefully dodge some of the heat. That had left Psyche with a few precious
hours to doze alone—always a treat for a popular courtesan.
She yawned and stood up. Today would be a busy day. Special guests from Rome were due, and Quartilla
wanted her to venture down into the market early with some of the house slaves to tote back special food,
spices, incense and aphrodisiacs the mistress of the brothel had ordered to please the new arrivals. Quartilla
was usually stingy with every sesterce, but these guests rated the most lavish treatment. Quartillia had called
all the girls into her chambers a few days ago and explained that a small party of Roman soldiers, escorting a
high court official, were traveling to Baiae to arrange a very private festival for the Emperor himself, Nero.
That Quartilla’s girls’ beauty and charm was known far and wide, and that her house had been picked as a
future place for the Emperor to spend a few days relaxing and enjoying the entertainment and company of a
special group of courtesans to keep him sexually amused. A small band of his right-hand men would be sent
to ahead a few days to make all arrangements. "This," Quartilla had said, while preening in her lavish
polished-metal mirror, which leaned against the wall from floor to ceiling, "is a gift from the goddess Fortuna
herself. It will put my house of delights on the map. What man would not want a woman who has laid with an
And would Psyche herself be one of those women? She shrugged at the thought. Very likely she would be,
as her black skin, piercing jet-colored eyes and luxurious crown of night-dark hair had caused many a Roman
cock to rise at the sight of her. But she had not felt caught up in the giggling, breathless excitement that the
other girls displayed—the emperor had an unsavory reputation, to say the least. Psyche had felt far more
interest upon learning that the representative coming to scout the House of Quartilla for his Imperial master
would be none other that Gaius Petronius, the Arbiter Elegantiarum of Nero’s court, who had written a series
of clever bawdy tales that the booksellers down in the town called The Satyricon. Psyche herself haunted the
bookstalls constantly—she was a voracious reader, a rare attribute for a courtesan. She enjoyed not only
scrolls of poetry and comedic stories, but sequestered herself in her room every chance she got to read and
muse over Plato, Aristotle, and Homer.
Quartilla actually encouraged this—the mistress of the brothel was, Psyche thought, flighty and lazy, and
delighted to have a courtesan of such formidable intelligence in her house. Quartilla often delegated the
plans for revels to Psyche, sitting back herself like a smiling overstuffed bird to watch and garner the praise
for the clever sexual displays concocted by her “Numidian scholar’s” fertile imagination.
So Psyche’s anticipation for the arrival of the Roman entourage held little excitement about its royal aspects,
but much about its literary ones. She felt a secret thrill at the thought of soon meeting Gaius Petronius—and
sincerely hoped he wouldn’t prove to be a debauched and vacuous dolt. Surely not. The wielder of such a
brilliant stylus would certainly not disappoint her.
She slipped into a light summer stola, pinning it at her shoulder and allowing the fabric to drape down over
her ample curves. Just a practical summer dress for this errand—no need to be the alluring courtesan. She
strapped on her sandals, and didn’t even bother to comb out her wild hair, taming the flying strands with a
shawl. She was off then to gather up a small troop of slaves. While there was pink still in the morning sky, she
led them out the main archway of Quartilla’s, heading for the market.
Once there, she dispatched the house-slaves to pick up various items, while she herself focused on some
additional shopping. She always liked to squeeze in her own purchases along with Quartilla’s—a sesterce
here or there on the house bill would slip by even the sharp-eyed brothel-mistress.
She browsed happily, searching for the fruits from her own land that were sometimes brought in on ships
traveling from the coast of Africa, but was settling for olives and sweet breads when she saw them a group of
men riding over the hill that banked the entrance to this small bay of Naples.
Citizens in the cobbled streets parted way for the soldier's as they led their horses to water. Many watched,
curious to know why the Emperor's guard had traveled so far from Rome to this sleepy burg. The leader of
the group paid no attention to the fishermen and their wives that watched from under the arches of nearby
buildings. He stood beside his men and surveyed the town. They nodded in response to pointed directions,
and leading their horses, made their way toward the villa that Psyche had just left. The curious villagers
turned away with knowing glances. It was a given, if they were headed to Quartillas house of courtesans,
there could only one thing they were looking for. Early in the morning for it, but Romans were Romans, and
no doubt were in the market for pleasure at any hour.
Psyche stepped back into the shadows as they passed. The sweet over powering smell of the wild star
jasmine from the merchant’s stall beside her, rich and heady, made her breathe deep for a moment. The
soldiers rode as if they and their horses were near exhaustion. It was a long journey to the great city of
Rome. Or at least this is what she had heard. She couldn't claim to have ever traveled to the great city
herself, but someday she would. She saved a gold aureus here, a copper as there, and one day she would
have enough to go there and take in the great city. Drink handfuls of crystal clear water that flowed in
fountains from distant mountains where the gods surely bathed. The Romans passed proud and regal,
staring straight ahead as if the people and slaves in the streets did not exist, all except the leader.
Petronius…it must be!
He was different—she wouldn't be able to pinpoint just how much until later when she looked back on her
first impressions. He had the broad handsome face of an Italian, with thick curly black hair and his cheeks
covered in the first few days of a beard. His eyes as he passed seemed to meet and take in everything as if
he were taking notes. He smiled at children that scurried up to touch his white horse. She watched him he
patted the steed, and scratched it behind the ears. There was something about him that she felt drawn to.
She had spent time in the company of many distinguished men, but had come away always largely
unimpressed. But here under the mid-day sun she followed this man like a dog hungry for a scrap.
Psyche strolled along behind him at an even gait, away from his peripheral view. She studied him, his strong
jaw line and flashing green eyes as he joked with a peddler about the cost of his wares. His voice carried
across the courtyard as they left the market and bustling street behind. Psyche watched them as they made
their way to the arched gate of the brothel, and there Quartilla herself met them on the stone walkway. She
must have had someone watching from one of the high windows, to give her warning. Flowers in her hair and
a bright red dress on, Quartilla was at her finest and in her element. Waiting until the men disappeared into
the gates Psyche hurried back to the market to collect the slaves and goods. Her heart beat in her chest like
a caged finch and she wondered what he would be like...
"Beneath an Elegant Moon"
by R. Paul Sardanas and Tisha Garcia
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