Sempronius deemed it essential for his future advancement to keep on good terms with her. At the same time he was ill pleased at this last fancy of hers. In the first place, he was a suitor for the hand of her daughter Julia. In the second, he greatly admired the northern beauty of the Gaulish slave girl whom she had spoken of, and had fully intended that when Flavia became tired of her — and her fancies seldom lasted long — he would get his mother to offer to exchange a horse, or a hawk, or something else upon which Flavia might set her mind, for the slave girl, in which case she would, of course, be in his power. He did not, therefore, approve of Flavia’s intention of introducing this handsome young Carthaginian as a slave into her household. It was true that he was but a slave at present, but he was a Carthaginian noble of rank as high as that of Flavia.
That he was brave was certain, or he would not be the captain of Hannibal’s bodyguard. Julia was fully as capricious as her mother, and might take as warm a fancy for Malchus as Flavia had done, while, now the idea of setting this Gaulish girl and the Carthaginian together had seized Flavia, it would render more distant the time when the Roman lady might be reasonably expected to tire of the girl. However, he felt that Flavia’s wishes must be carried out; whatever the danger might be, it was less serious than the certainty of losing that lady’s favour unless he humoured her whims.
His family was far less distinguished than hers, and her approval of his suit with Julia was an unexpected piece of good fortune which he owed, as he knew, principally to the fact that Gracchus wished to marry his daughter to Julius Marcius, who had deeply offended Flavia by an outspoken expression of opinion, that the Roman ladies mingled too much in public affairs, and that they ought to be content to stay at home and rule their households and slaves.
He knew that he would have no difficulty with his father. The praetor was most anxious that his son should make an alliance with the house of Gracchus, and it was the custom that such prisoners taken in war, as were not sacrificed to the gods, should be given as slaves to the nobles. As yet the great contests in the arena, which cost the lives of such vast numbers of prisoners taken in war, were not instituted. Occasional combats, indeed, took place, but these were on a small scale, and were regarded rather as a sacrifice to Mars than as an amusement for the people.
Sempronius accordingly took his way moodily home. The praetor had just returned, having seen Malchus and the officers lodged in prison, while the men were set to work on the fortifications. Sempronius stated Flavia’s request. The praetor looked doubtful.
“I had intended,” he said, “to have kept the officers in prison until the senate decided what should be done with them; but, of course, if Flavia has set her mind on it I must strain a point. After all there is no special reason why the prisoners should be treated differently to others. Of course I cannot send the leader of the party to Flavia and let the others remain in prison. As there are two of them I will send them as presents to two of the principal families in Rome, so that if any question arises upon the subject I shall at once have powerful defenders; at any rate, it will not do to offend Flavia.”