Chapter Twelve - Legionary Therapy
On route to Roma using the Via Flaminia – August 218 BC
Lucius removed his helmet and wiped the sweat dripping down the back of his neck away with a piece of cotton cloth. He could feel his tunic sticking to him under his Mail. Today had been a horrendously hot day, and as they had moved progressively south the heat had only got worse.
He and the rest of the 4th Century were laid out alongside the Via Flaminia. They had just been given a rest stop by Marcianus. His shoulders ached from carrying his marching pole; it had been a long march.
Lucius had to admit to himself that the road was an inspiring sight though; it showed just what Rome could achieve when it set its mind to something. The road had only been completed two years previously during the Censorship of Gaius Flaminius; its purpose was to help make the movement of grain from the Po valley to the citizens of Rome and central Italy much easier.
Rome was not far now, in the distance Lucius could see the brown smudge in the sky that perpetually overhung the city.
The time between the executions and this route march to Rome had been hard on him and the rest of the Century, the extra duties that they had to fulfil as the ‘Shamed Century’ had kept the men eternally busy. Digging trenches, digging latrines, marching, drilling, constant patrols, and weapons practice.
Rinse and repeat.
The men had felt exhausted. Then at the end of July Marcianus had told them some welcome news, as he had taken the century through yet another weapons session, he had called the men to attention and made them all fall in. Marcianus had had a stupidly broad grin on his face. Lucius swore that the Centurion had enjoyed taking his men through all the extra duties, apart from the Latrine work that was.
What could his Centurion possibly have to smile about?
‘Well lads, it seems the Gods are smiling on us once more. The legion has just received orders instructing them to send our century to Rome for Ceremonial Duties. We are due to leave in two days, so get your gear in order Gentlemen, we are returning to the eternal city for two whole months of guarding Vestals!’
Lucius most immediate thought had been why? Why were they being rewarded? They were the shamed century, this didn’t add up. Then he remembered the letter.
He had written to his Uncle Aulus and explained the situation with the Rat Boys and warned him to be on his guard. He had also asked his Uncle to make some informal inquiries into the dealings of Senator Ovidius too.
Since Lucius had left his Uncle’s household as a boy, and had lived and travelled with his Father from one Legion encampment to another, Aulus fortunes’ had gone from strength to strength.
His Uncle was still a merchant, and had a finger in most commercial pies in the Subura, but now he traded in something more valuable than grain, olive oil and jewellery. He traded in information.
Aulus had become one of the leading men in the city. He was more powerful than the Senators or the Tribunes of the people. How had he achieved this? He knew the secrets of the rich and powerful, things that they would rather hide.
Lucius knew that if there was a man alive who could find out what Ovidius had been planning it would be Aulus. He could remember Aulus picking Numerius brains about tactics as a boy, how his Uncle had crammed in as much information into his mind as he could. His Uncle had proven the age old adage right, knowledge really was power.
So it wasn’t too much of a leap of the imagination to figure out that Aulus had pulled a string somewhere to get Lucius century returned to Rome. It was a master stoke of simplicity really.
With his Uncle getting the century returned to Rome, his Uncle now had a ready made bodyguard of trained men he could call upon if threatened by the Rat Boys. Plus the Century would be armed.
Normally soldiers were not allowed to bear arms in the city, or even enter it without permission from the Senate. But Aulus had secured them a ‘ceremonial duty’which meant they could venture around the city legally armed. He had to admit his Uncle had turned into a very a canny operator.
They would be guarding the Temple of Vesta. The temple was in the very heart of Rome, in the Forum Romanum itself. Normally the Vestals held their festivals in June, but this year the Senate had deemed it necessary to hold a further festival in August because of the impending hostilities with the Carthaginians.
The duties of the century would be purely symbolic. Just to guard the Vestals at the time of the festival, their person was inviolate anyway so it would be an easy time for the century. The rest of the time would be given over to training. But Lucius knew that he would have plenty of opportunities to slip away and visit his Uncle to see if he had any news about Ovidius.
The Senator had left with unseemly haste after the execution of Manius and Dextus, keen to get back to the pleasures of Rome no doubt and that of his prospective new wife. Lucius had had a rough time mentally too. His dreams had been plagued with the faces of Manius and Dextus.
Not the faces of living breathing men, no, the faces were those of decaying rotten corpses, with maggots and blue bottles creeping over them.
It had not helped that every time the century had left via the North Gate for their numerous duties that he had seen Manius slowly dying and then decaying on the cross.
No matter what way he looked at it, he had put him there.
After witnessing and being woken by his nightmares Andronicus and Quintus finally decided he needed some therapy. Legionary style therapy.
With Marcianus tacit approval, all three men had sneaked out of the camp and headed to the ‘village’ that had sprung up next to the camp over the previous months. You could virtually guarantee that whenever a legion settled in one place long enough camp followers would set up shop.
There they had found a tavern and made Lucius drink himself insensible.
The next morning he had woken up to find a pretty dark haired young slave girl sleeping beside him, but he couldn’t remember what happened or her name. But he felt happy and exhausted.
His two friends had come into the room looking how he felt, and had dragged him out of bed and back to barracks. He had spluttered an apology to the girl, who had smiled, laughed and then said something in a language he did not understand.
He had felt better ever since though and the dreams had eventually stopped.
Marcianus voice pulled Lucius from his reverie, ‘Fall in Ladies; lets get to Rome before nightfall eh?’
Lucius picked up his yoke and put his helmet back on, tying it in place, the last few miles to Rome would be easy he hoped. He decided that as soon as they had reached their barracks he would head off to his Uncle Aulus villa, and see what he had to say about Ovidius and the Rat Boys.
He would ask Andronicus and Quintus along too, best to never travel alone in the Subura.
Ah good old Uncle for sorting it out
Looking forward to hearing about Lucius' experiences in Rome - now that he's a legionary
Keep it up!
P.S I've voted on what new story to do, looking forward to whichever one you pick
Chapter Thirteen - Aulus’s Spies
The Verres Family Villa, the Subura - August 218 BC
(The same night that the 4th Century arrive in Rome)
Aulus relaxed in his newly redecorated and refurbished study, it was the final piece of the extensive renovations and reworking that he had started a year earlier.
When you stood on the doorstep to the family home, there was nothing to mark the building as being remarkable or of showing any sign of wealth or opulence.
Once you stepped inside however, you could have been standing in a villa on the Palatine, the décor, the art, the frescos and murals showed that the villa was owned by a man of exquisite but understated taste, a man who knew that when he brought the Senators and the powerful of Rome into his home he need not be ashamed.
Indeed he was wealthier now than most of them.
The layout of Aulus home was much like the man too. He smiled wryly to himself thinking of the outward façade that he put on everyday to amuse his friends, and to put his enemies at their ease.His plain everyday demeanour was deceptive. Aulus character seemed to be that of the classic jolly fat man, a man who enjoyed life and whose only concerns seemed to be those of any other merchant, concerns such as making a profit, or buying low and selling high.
But those who really knew him, his brother and his nephew and the few close friends that he trusted, knew that this man had a razor sharp intellect, they did not let Aulus considerable bulk fool them.The only other people who had found out about his intellectual prowess had been those who had crossed him, or those he had found juicy bits of information about.
That’s were the money to turn the family home from a humble Suburan villa into a veritable Palace had come from. In the last two years as a ‘spymaster’ as he liked to term himself he had made the same amount of money as he had from the previous twenty years of trading – and he had made a lot of money trading.
When he had received Lucius letter he had moved with the speed that had so often caught his enemies unaware in the past.
He had called upon his most trusted man to put out some subtle feelers into the Suburan underworld, a man who moved in the shadowy circles that the Rat Boys inhabit and who could keep an eye on their movements and warn Aulus of any plans to harm his nephew Lucius, his brother Numerius and himself.
He had also moved to set respectable men on similar tasks from the political, banking and commercial establishment who were carefully probing into the lifestyle, habits and background of Senator Ovidius. Aulus knew and trusted the men he had set out upon each of these tasks, although these men operated in very different social circles, he knew he could count on their absolute loyalty.
Each ‘agent’ as Aulus liked to term them, had been woven into the network that Aulus ran, by a number of methods. They could owe him money, he gave some his patronage and to others still he had suppressed evidence of past misdemeanours, or had solved little problems for them, problems that he made disappear for example – he had special men for those latter tasks.
As such any possible threats from the Rat Boys, did not overly concern Aulus, he had dealt with gutter scum all his life. In fact he had made it one of his early tasks as a spymaster to have their little gang recognise him as their patron, making sure they repaid the protection money he had paid to them from his time as a ‘pure merchant.’
But the smaller men, the men who did the menial tasks for the Rat Boys, did not know of this arrangement. Which was why Manius had cursed Lucius so freely when he had been crucified, he had had no idea of the power wielded by Aulus over the now grown up Rat Boys.
According to the information supplied by Aulus’s man within the Rat Boys, Manius and Dextus had ended up in the Legions after falling foul of a local magistrate. The magistrate had offered them the choice of prison or the army, after they were caught red-handed in the back of a money lenders shop.Then the two men had ended up in Lucius unit, after a series of blunders, petty crimes and bullying that had seen them thrown out of their original posting. Aulus knew the rest.
Aulus man had also informed him that the Rat Boys were in full possession of the knowledge that Aulus nephew had killed their men. But that the senior men within the gang had no intention of extracting revenge, even though Manius had led the gang as boys. Nobody seemed to want to cross Aulus and show their former boss or his side kick some loyalty – so much for honour amongst thieves.
Which turned Aulus thought processes to the next point; his man had found something very interesting, the Rat Boys had been skimming.If there was one thing Aulus, would not countenance, it was thieving by his employees, which, albeit indirectly was exactly what the Rat Boys were.
Aulus had noticed from the notes supplied by his man, that the skimming from the various Rat Boys industries, such as protection rackets, robberies and pimping had all dropped by fifteen percent over the last three months, even though some creative accounting had tried to hide the drop.This just happened to coincide with the gang being taken over by a Numidian called Manugas, after the previous man Fabricius had simply disappeared. For once all of Aulus knowledge and manpower had borne no fruit; nobody knew what had happened to Fabricius.
Manugas had been all smiles and bowing to Aulus, and had taken over the gang swiftly and without any fuss, after smoothing his way there with plenty of silver. Where had the silver come from? According to Manugas he had collected a horde from a previous career in piracy. Aulus had accepted this story to his face, but the man did not look like any pirate he had known, and his business dealings meant he had seen more than a few shady characters down the years, from all walks of life and trades.
Aulus had not trusted him then and his instincts had been correct.He had had his man on Manugas tail ever since he had taken over; on a couple of occasions his man had lost Manugas as he went to visit the Palatine, the Numidian was as slippery as an eel.But yesterday his man had finally not been shaken off by Manugas as he went yet again to the Palatine. He had seen Manugas enter a large villa by the servants’ entrance at the rear of the building.
A villa belonging to a plebeian senator named Ovidius.
Which brought Aulus neatly to the greasy little senator, like any roman politician, he wasn’t a nice man. All of Rome or at least the upper echelons of it, had known of his numerous affairs and how his poor wife had suffered but would not divorce him. Heavens knows why the poor woman didn’t, the rampant old goat should have been neutered years ago.
He had had some dodgy business dealings sure, not too different from some of Aulus own deals of the past. But there was nothing that would warrant him being exposed to blackmail by Aulus or censure by the Senate.So far the men working on finding dirt on Ovidius had found nothing. The purchase of land in the former lands of the Boii, had been a legitimate land transfer from the Republic’s Treasury.
Aulus had even bought land in the new territories himself, it was cheap and a good source of grain, that Aulus could sell in Rome to the numerous bakeries or to the people themselves.But he kept coming back to his nephew’s letter. It had stated that Ovidius had kept quiet in the village until after his wife had been killed.
He had wanted her dead. Not that it mattered; it had not taken long for tale of the death to reach Rome via the Tribunes of the 6th Legion. The woman he had lined up to be his new wife, had been horrified and her family had agreed a marriage contract with a patrician more her own age.
Aulus laughed, the old goat must have been furious, he had lost a huge dowry.
The death was of no real import however. What mattered was why was Senator Ovidius so close to Boii land when he was taken? Everything about him had taken a great deal of effort to uncover.
Apart from the opportunistic killing of his wife, he acted with caution in his dealings, well those dealings that did not concern women anyhow. He would never have been so close to Boii land without their being an angle for him, so money that had to be the angle.
He had heard from the men he had posted outside the Temple of Vesta that the 4th Century had arrived an hour ago. He had made sure that his nephew had received a message to come as soon as he was able.
He had made it clear to the men meeting Lucius that they should escort him to the Villa personally. He might have the Rat Boys in his pocket, but there will always be plenty of other scum ready to pick off the unwary at night in the Subura.
Thanks for all the positive feedback Lads. I wasn't sure if people would enjoy my style of writing its not an AAR at all. Although I might try to write one day soon!
King of Rome, have you had a look at the poll thread yet?
Let me know what story you would like me to continue.
WElcome. If you write a book id buy it and read it Its a matter of opinion on writing styles everyones different
Also being an Authors what i want to do for a living But that may come later in life i suppose
Yeah i have seen and voted. Rich man poor man beggar man. Thief
Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer. ~ Barbara Kingsolver
The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say. ~ Anaïs Nin
Chapter Fourteen - A Carthaginian Point
The Palatine - August 218 BC
(The same night that the 4th Century arrive in Rome)
The Rat Boys leader could finally relax. He was a short ten minute walk away from the home of Ovidius. He walked past the huge villas and tree lined avenues of the Palatine, with the wealth of conquered peoples on show all around him, he ruminated on the hated that he felt for these roman jackals. They were a people who take everything and offer nothing but misery, death or enslavement in return. His dark eyes subconsciously took in the dark corners of buildings, unlit alleys and back streets for any signs of possible danger, as his thoughts returned to the happenings of the last couple of weeks.
Manugas had had that feeling crawling up the back of his spine again.
Somebody had been tailing him. He might not be a spy by choice, but he had learned that you didn’t stay alive long in this profession if you ignored your gut instinct.
He had trailed around both the merchants and the market quarters for hours and finally he had entered the front of a wine shop, had run past the bemused owner and straight out of the back exit, knocking over a slave in the process and breaking the two amphorae that the startled man had been carrying. The man following him had not entered the shop after him, which meant that he had managed to finally lose his tail, he was sure of it.
He hadn’t been so sure yesterday; somebody had managed to trail him to Ovidius’s Villa, even after several dogged attempts by Manugas to shake him off. He had contemplated ending the man’s life, but figured that the Palatine was not the Subura, and he would have drawn more unnecessary attention to himself.
Still it was a problem. He did not think that the Roman authorities’ were aware of him, or his real reason for being in Rome, which meant that the man following him was probably one of the fat merchant’s Aulus thugs. Manugas hadn’t wanted to cross the sharp merchant, he knew that the Roman was suspicious of him from the off, but he had been left with no choice, he had needed money to get the Rat boys onside, and to continue to pay Ovidius.
And what a bloody useless weasel he was too, but even weasels still have their uses.
His sponsor had promised Manugas enough funds to carry out his mission, but the logistical problems, of getting silver from his homeland to Rome had meant that he had been forced to skim money from the Rat Boys which had meant that Aulus had got less money. In the end he was always going to notice. It shouldn’t have mattered though.
If Ovidius had stuck to the plan, and had kept his courage then Manugas would have been out of Rome and back where he belonged, on the battlefield. He had been a fool to trust the politician; everyone knows that they make the best liars and oath breakers.
Only his devotion to his sponsor had led Manugas to Rome in the first place, the General was a fellow soldier, and he had given Manugas a dangerous mission, one that his General had said he would not entrust to anyone else. Manugas chest swelled out with pride as he remembered the way that his General had said those words, and the way he had looked at him.
The way a Brother looked at a Brother, not the condescending way that the rich behaved when dealing with the poor in his homeland. How could he have said no? No man in the entire army could have said no. So he had ended up in Rome.
Manugas stopped just short of the turning into the senator’s street, he bent over to adjust his sandal, quickly scanning the area around as he did so, pretending to remove a stone, and then standing with a stretch to take in the area behind his shoulders. Nothing to be seen, good.
He turned into the street of the villa, and quickly turned an immediate left down an alley that formed an L shape behind the first three big villas on the street. Ovidius home was the final villa. Stopping at the back of the villa, he knocked on a small door.
He waited for a slave to open the wooden slide shutter that faced him at head height. The shutter slid to the right and the same slave that had’greeted’ Manugas on his previous visits looked disdainfully down his nose at him. Manugas smiled to himself, only in Rome could a slave, looked down his nose at a freeman.
Manugas kept it short, ‘I have an appointment with your Master.’
‘I was told to ask for a password sir’ the slave had even managed to insult him by given him the honorific.
‘Do we have to do this every time I visit, this is getting ridiculous. Oh, very well, Venus buttocks. There, are you satisfied? Now may I come in?’ Manugas had a sense of humour like any man, but he thought it ill advised to mock a God, even a Roman one. Trust Ovidius to have picked such a password. The reply was even worse…
‘Priapus horn. Very good sir’
Manugas was always amazed that the slave could keep a straight face when he replied to the password. The man had no personality at all from what he could gather. He heard the two large bolts being drawn back and the door opened inwards, with the slave waving Manugas through, and quickly shutting and locking the door behind him.
Manugas took in the slave again, every time he came here he was amazed.
The man was enormous, simply enormous. The senator had told him that he had purchased the man after the episode of the senator’s capture. He had been bought from a gladiator school for a massive sum of money, the most expensive purchase the senator had ever made.
The slave led Manugas through the beautifully tended gardens, past the exquisite marble fountain that formed a centre piece to a colonnade of miniature spruce trees, and then led him on a sharp left to avoid the main entrance at the back of the villa and lead him through the smaller entrance that led to the slave quarters instead. The gardens had been as clear as on his previous meetings with Ovidius, to ensure that nobody but the slave and Manugas would know of his visits to the villa.
The slave held the entrance door open for Manugas, and motioned him to sit down at a small wooden table, with two basic looking benches lined either side. ‘The Master will be with you presently, you will not be disturbed sir. I am to wait with you.’ The slave had a very thick guttural accent; Manugas knew that he was from the North,he hoped for his General’s sake that they were not all giants in the mountainous territory west of the Rhone.
The slave stood against the wall with the door in, the door led further into the villa. His two meaty arms folded across a barrel chest, a neutral look on his face as he stared at Manugas. Cold blue eyes, framed with long blonde pigtails either side. A large dagger sheathed on his left hand side, hidden under his clothing. Manugas mentally locked that away for later…
Manugas eyes turned to the table, and he picked up a cheap looking clay cup, and poured some unknown liquid into it from the even cheaper looking jug that was beside it. He was in the slave quarters, so was not too surprised. He momentarily thought about asking the slave to drink it first, in case of poison, but though better of it. While he was still paying Ovidius for his services, then he would not want him dead. He took a cautious mouthful from the cup.
Hmm, at least the wine was good, even if the pottery was poor and the company was less then hospitable. Manugas had been waiting for ten minutes and was beginning to lose his patience, when the door opened with a red faced flustered looking Ovidius making his entrance while rearranging his toga.
‘Ah, so sorry I’m late Manugas, I had thought I had more time spare than I did. I was trying out a new young slave from Syracuse, what a Vixen!!!’ Ovidius, sat down on the opposite bench from Manugas with a broad grin on his face.
‘Spare me the sordid details Ovidius. Can we get on with business?’ Manugas had grown tired of the man’s depravities and wanted to get out of the villa and on with his plans.
‘Of course dear friend of course, I have made contact with the tribal leaders through various contacts I have made down the years. They are all reliable men; they can be trusted to keep quiet. Especially with all that good silver your General has given them.’ Ovidius took the second cup from the table, and poured himself a helping from the jug of wine. ‘Ah, now that’s stuff, Maximus, you have excelled yourself young man.’
‘Thank you Master’, Manugas let out an audible gasp, as the slave smiled at Ovidius. So he could change his facial expression after all.
Ovidius laughed at the look on Manugas face. ‘Yes, Maximus! A good name eh, my big blonde friend here, he is many things I have discovered. A bodyguard, an expert in wine and he shares my passion for women too. I shall make him free one day, and he shall run the household for me.’
Manugas couldn’t believe it. The senator had managed to find a bodyguard as warped as himself, no wonder he had paid so much for Maximus. He had to admit that Ovidius had named him well though. ‘I still don’t understand why you did not carry on with your mission after you were freed. Nor why those Gauls held you.’ Manugas did not believe the senator’s tale of his time as a prisoner, and wanted to press him on it one more time.
‘Manugas, I’ve told you my friend, the Gauls did not know who I was, I tried telling them, but they just beat me, and said they would take my wife and pleasure her if I did not shut up. I could not let them do that to her, I may not have loved her, but she was still the matron of my house.’
Manugas frowned. He had seen the senator’s wife; she had looked like the back end of a camel, even the vilest of Gauls would not have taken her. Even Ovidius had only married her for the dowry.
Still Ovidius was sticking to his story. He would not get anywhere pressing the issue further. ‘Fine, I understand. But you must understand that this delay has cost my General time and silver. He is most displeased, and you would not want to incur his displeasure still further senator. Do not fail him this time. Are you sure that the tribes will rise, when the General reaches their territory?’
Ovidius looked at Manugas and spread his hands wide, ‘I can assure you that as soon as I returned to Rome I put the wheels in motion to make sure the tribes were contacted. The Boii and the Insubres are ready. The other tribes will join in when your General gives them the first scent of victory. The silver has been spread far and wide; smaller contingents amongst the other tribes are already lobbying their leaders to give your man his support.’
Manugas, believed the man. Yes, Ovidius was a traitor to his people, and Manugas guessed that the senator had lost his courage when attacked by the Boii by mistake and had abandoned the plans. However on his return to Rome, and with fresh silver from the General in his coffers, the little senator’s courage had returned. Money seemed to have that affect on the man.
Manugas nodded and smiled at the weasel ‘Right, I am sure the General will be pleased with your efforts. This brings us to the other business of the day, the 4th Century. They arrived in Rome this evening.’
‘So, they are here for ceremonial duties. The vote was passed in the senate. Much to my chagrin may I add!’ the little man scowled.
Manugas answered him ‘Don’t be a fool; they are here because Aulus wanted them here! They will be his own personal army; Aulus knows that I have been taking money that should rightfully be his tribute.’
‘So, what is that to do with me?’ the weasel smiled.
The man was unbelievable. Manugas snarled back ‘everything you dolt! The 4th is here because you let two men die for killing the wife you wanted rid of. You then compound your mischief by getting Verres nephew to carry out the executions. The boy gets suspicious of your motives and contacts his Uncle asking him to do some digging’.
Ovidius jaw fell.
‘Then Aulus puts men on you and me. I can tell you now that those men have succeeded in tailing me here, yesterday, which was no surprise to me. His men are very good; I would not be surprised if he had men placed in my Rat Boys or in your household. He has connected us, which means that we need to take him out, but I have arranged for a little message first; his nephew’s head!’Manugas finished with a flourish and scooped up his cup and drained it.
Ovidious looked aghast ‘You can’t be serious, you cannot murder his nephew. He will see Rome burn for that! Even if all you say is true, they have no evidence of either of our links to the tribes. Plus they can’t just murder us in our beds; I’m a senator for the God’s sakes.’
‘You may be a senator, but I am not. They can fabricate evidence; they can get rid off us quietly. Why not, Aulus has done this before, ‘for the good of Rome’, from what I hear. We have no alternative.’ Manugas sat back with his arms folded and waited for the senator to respond.
‘I can see you have thought this through Manugas, what do you propose to do?’ the senator nervously rubbed his hands together and gulped as the gang leader’s hard stare bored through him.
‘I have already given the order for the boy to die. There are certain senior men in the Rat Boys who are unhappy at paying tribute to Aulus, and almost as unhappy that two of their boyhood friends are dead, they also wish to send him a message too. I have carefully nurtured these men, away from the majority who seem to be happy with the current status quo. I have a group of twenty men awaiting Lucius Verres when he enters the Subura. Once he is dead, they are to deliver his head to Aulus. Once that is done, I have plans to rid us of the fat merchant for good too. With the Uncle and Nephew dead, nobody will be able to link us together.’
Ovidius pleaded to Manugas with his head buried in his hands, ‘I need to think, can you cancel the ambush. It’s all happening too soon. Can we not just pay Aulus to go away?’
Manugas responded coldly with no trace of emotion ‘No. Unlike you the man has a greater love than silver. He loves his country more. We need to end him and his nephew, maybe even the father too.’
Ovidius was silent.
Manugas needed to convince him. He still needed the little senator’s help with the tribes. Plus when the General conquered Rome he would need natives with no honour, but plenty of avarice to help run the place.
Manugas reached across the table and accidentally knocked the jug of wine on the floor, ‘Ah, damn, see what I’ve done. I’m sorry Ovidius, let me clear it up.’ Manugas rose from the table and bent down and began clearing up the pottery.
‘Don’t worry, leave it. Maximus will clear it up for the moment’. Ovidius, motioned to the big man to clear up the mess.
‘Thank you Ovidius, and you too Maximus’. As the slave drew nearer he bent over and started to pick up the remaining pieces scattered on the plain looking floor.
With both men’s attention on the broken pottery and split wine, Manugas right hand slipped up his left tunic sleeve, and produced a slim dagger with a four inch blade.
As Maximus stood up from collecting the last piece of crockery, he caught the glint of steel in the lamplight, far too late.
Manugas right arm thrust back and drove the knife into the bigger man’s neck, straight into the Adam’s apple as he had been trained and he had been trained by the very best. Maximus did not even lay a finger on his own concealed blade. Some men said a thrust to the side of the neck was just as good.
It didn’t matter, he was just as dead. Maximus collapsed to the floor, both hands clasped to the blade, blood pulsing from the wound in great torrents over his hands, rushing down the front of his tunic and mixing with the wine already staining the floor. Neck wounds do that, you just have to drive the blade in deep enough…technique, bah…
Ovidius, sat at the bench, his eyes fixed on the corpse of his giant bodyguard, the man he had paid a small fortune for.
‘My men are as good as me Ovidius. If I can take out a man like Maximus, just think how they will carve up Lucius and his little soldier boys. Are you convinced?’
Ovidius looked up as Manugas bent over and retrieved his blade, a sucking sound emanated from the neck wound, as the flesh closed and tried to coagulate as air rushed from the wound. The gang leader, wiped the blade on the dead mans chest and placed it back under his left sleeve. The senator winced ‘You killed him to make a point?’
Manugas nodded ‘Exactly.’
Ovidius pointed at the corpse ‘I’m convinced. I will get my slaves to dump the body; I hope your General will give me some more silver to pay for him.’
Manugas was not impressed ‘You have had enough to pay for him a thousand times over Roman.’
Ovidius smiled ruefully, ‘Well, it was worth a try. I will see you out. I hope this plan works; life will be simpler with the Verres boys out of the way.’
Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer. ~ Barbara Kingsolver
The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say. ~ Anaïs Nin
Chapter Fifteen - An Ambush Awaits
Roma - August 218 BC
Aulus’s man had lost Manugas after he had slipped into the entrance of a wine shop in the small merchants’ quarter that bordered the start of the Palatine.
He swore that the Numidian knew he was on his tale, after the gang leader had led him a merry dance through back alleys, up and down wide avenues and through the colonnaded arches and covered walkways of the pristine public buildings that formed the beating heart of Rome. He could guess where he was headed however, straight to Ovidius, he toyed with the idea of going there himself and waiting for the arrival of Manugas, but thought better of it, it would be just another waste of his time.
He decided to head back to the Rats Nest, the informal head quarters of the street gang that lay in the filthiest, roughest and most dangerous part of the Subura. The Rats Nest was a tavern and a brothel, and a real grubby hole too.
In recent days he had noticed that some of the more senior men had began to become more distant from the newer members of the gang, the senior men had been friends as boys, friends with Manius and Dextus too. It had got the young man thinking.
It seemed from the intelligence he had gathered so far, that the gang had been unconcerned about the loss of two of the founder members of their organisation, and that is what he had reported to Aulus. But since then the older men seemed to have closed ranks, he had noticed small subtle changes in their patterns of behaviour, things such as the closing of doors that had always been left open, the halting of conversation when a younger member passed by and the unavailability to find men in their old hang outs at the usual time of day.
He had been mulling it all over throughout the morning, a nagging suspicion at the back of his mind that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time when he was tailing Manugas. That’s why he had let the Numidian slip away. Aulus had told him to use his own initiative, that as a lad, he would be virtually invisible, as long as he kept his head down, watched, listened, but did not ask any questions. He had kept strictly to Aulus instructions.
He had decided to quickly make his way back to the Rats Nest, avoiding eye contact as usual, moving along at a regular pace, Aulus had said never move fast and never move slow, it draws attention to you. He had a hood over his head, a grubby tunic and worn sandals; he looked like a thousand other urchins on the streets of the city. The young man had only walked for five minutes into the very beginnings of the Subura, when he heard the movement of many feet coming down the street towards him.
He instinctively ducked into a recessed doorway leading to the hall of a communal insulae, his nose wrinkled as he realised he had trod into somebody’s dung which lay in the centre of the doorway. How Lovely…. The first man rounded the corner, just as he managed to slip into the darkened hallway.
It was the senior Rat Boys, and they were armed to the teeth. The young man noticed that they carried a mixture of long blades, axes, rough shields and some even had armour on. They were here for no street dust up that was for sure. He started to count them as then went by, when the order to halt was given by Postumus. Postumus was Manugas right hand man, a handsome man, but a real nasty piece of work from the stories and the evidence the young man had seen. Those looks hid an evil soul. Still the girls at the Rats Nest liked him well enough.
Postumus was also a deserter, his gladius strapped to his hip. He was pretty useful with that thing too.
They looked like a horde of barbarians, rather than street thugs, the usual cudgels, daggers and hammers were only noticeable by their absence. They had stopped right outside the insulae… the young man felt his heart beat faster and sweat popped out in tiny droplets on his forehead and under his arms. He could hear himself breathing and fought to control his lungs and to stop himself from panicking.
He looked to the back of the hallway, hoping to find a rear exit, most Insulae especially the cheaper ones on this side of the city only had one entrance, as this one did. Damn. He was trapped; he tried the two doors leading to rooms within the hall, but they were both locked securely, no surprise in the Subura. He did not have the strength to kick them in, and even if he had, the noise would only attract unwelcome attention.
He risked a look outside; the men had bunched up in the street, he guessed that about twenty men stood outside…they were waiting, but for who?
Postumus had turned to face the gang members, ‘this is no good lads, one look at you lot and the soldier boy and his friends will run away, how far away did you say they were Crixus?’
If Postumus was handsome, than Crixus was his polar opposite, dirty, smelly, and resembling something from the underworld, a mean man, with a long handled, doubled headed axe resting on his right shoulder. He also liked young men; so the lad had always given him a wide berth.
‘Our boy in the Forum Romanum, said he would be here in about five minutes. I can’t wait to chop his pretty little head off with this.’
The lad swallowed hard, as Crixus patted the battle axe on his shoulder; the realisation had struck him that they were here for Lucius.
‘This is no good, we need to get off the street, they will see us a mile off and leg it, get the men into the shadows, move lads’.
The young man had nowhere to go…and Postumus himself was headed to his doorway…think, think, and think….what could he do….a shadow loomed large in the door frame, as Postumus entered the insulae.
‘Hello, what have here, hang on, I know you don’t I? Felix that’s it. What you doing here?’ Postumus, didn’t seem suspicious just curious.
Felix decided to play it as cool as he could. ‘I was going to turn the place over Postumus, then you and the men turned up, what you up to?’
Postumus seemed to have bought the story, and laughed at him ‘You’ve got a lot to learn if you thinking of doing this place over son, it’s a cesspit even by Suburan standards, and what have you stood in?’ the handsome man’s nose wrinkled with distaste.
Felix replied ‘Sorry about that, I didn’t see it when I came in the doorway.’ He was tempted to repeat his question again about what the men was doing here, but remembering Aulus’s advice he decided to hold his tongue.
‘Listen lad, something is going to happen soon, it’s going to be nasty. If you were a few years older, I’d let you join in, but what I want you to do is stay here in the hall, no matter what, right. I don’t want you ruining our surprise for our friend.’ Postumus had made it clear he was to be obeyed, as his right hand had clamped painfully on Felix’s left shoulder.
‘Alright I promise, I’ll stay here’, Felix didn’t really have any other choice.
‘Good lad’ with that Postumus turned away from Felix and faced back out to the street.
Speaking to himself, Postumus grinned wolfishly ‘Great, their all in cover. That should be a surprise for our little soldier boy.’ Postumus yelled out into the street, ‘Wait for my signal morons; do not move before I give the order!’
Felix felt helpless, what could he do to warn Lucius?
When Lucius had arrived at the temporary camp that had been set up for them on the field of Mars, he had wasted no time in quickly dumping his excess kit, polishing his armour until it gleamed and making himself generally look as presentable as possible, he wanted to look good when he saw Aulus.
His friends were busy doing the same, although for different reasons, they wanted to impress the women of Rome of course. They had plans to hit the nearest tavern.
One of the men from the century popped his head round the door, ‘Lucius there’s some men at the main camp gates wanting to speak to you, and they said they’re from your Uncle Aulus, they gave me this scroll for you’. The soldier handed over a small scroll, which had Uncle Aulus’s simple symbol pressed in wax upon it, the symbol of a pair of weighing scales of course.
Lucius nodded to the man, ‘Thanks for bringing the message over.’
The soldier winked at him ‘No problem mate, the old bloke in charge gave me a week’s wage to bring it to you’ he then spun on his heal and left the room.
Lucius broke the seal, and rolled up the scroll, as he read further down a broad smile broke open on his face.
Quintus looked over at Lucius and then elbowed Andronicus gently in the ribs. He was sitting next to Quintus busily working away on a stubborn piece of mutton fat that refused to budge from his second tunic. ‘Bloody mutton, I love it, but when Marcianus sees this he will have a fit!’
‘Never mind that you great hulking walking stomach, look at that silly grin over there on Lucius face, what you got there Lucius?’ Quintus waited expectantly for an answer.
Waving the scroll in the air with a flourish, Lucius replied ‘I shall tell you my nosey little Optio, it’s only an invite to my uncle’s place, he knows that we have arrived and has arranged a little party for me.’
‘Did you say party lad?!’ Marcianus had entered the room carrying his vine stick, he liked to keep his lads on their toes with the odd surprise inspection or two.
‘Eh, that’s right Centurion, my uncle has lain on a party, a welcome home sort of thing.’ Lucius could see where this was heading, but how could he say no to his Centurion?
‘Would this be a sober affair, of stuffed door mice and larks tongues?’ Marcianus pulled a face at the thought of a ‘sober’ party.
Andronicus shook his head at the Centurion ‘No way, his uncle Aulus is great; well that’s what Lucius always says. More like wine, women and song all around I would have thought.’
Why oh why did his big friend have to be so stupid? Lucius pet theory was that as Andronicus stomach grew his brain shrank.
‘Has your Uncle extended his invite to a few select friends, young Verres?’ Marcianus smacked his lips together in anticipation, of the wine and women, you could keep the song though…
Lucius resigned himself to the inevitable, ‘Actually I was planning to invite you all along, my uncle wanted to meet some of the men I serve with. There are five men at the gates ready to escort us.’
‘Then what are we waiting here for eh? Grab your kit, and don’t forget the gladii boys, the ladies do love a nice shiny gladius to play with.’
Marcianus winked at Lucius, he was looking forward to this; he had a growing appreciation for his three legionaries after their disposal of the two criminals last month.
As Marcianus led the men from the room, Lucius gave Andronicus a hard stare which left the big man baffled and forced Quintus to bite down on his own hand to stop himself from laughing out loud.
The men gathered their senses and trooped after Marcianus down through the main camp to the main gates where they’re escort awaited them. As they drew closer the Optio in charge of the guard detail drew himself to attention, saluted Marcianus and let the men through.
The 4th had been given special permission to come and go from the camp as freely as they wanted for the rest of the week, as a reward for their ceremonial role. The rest of the camp housed two centuries of light skirmishers; they looked on their Hastati colleagues with no little envy, jealous of their special status and their better equipment.
Five big men waited outside for Lucius and his party, all of them armed; and all resembled former military men from their bearing alone. Even in the failing light, as the sun began to dip, bringing on the early evening, Lucius recognised the first as Leo, the Illyrian, and Aulus’s Major Domo, and now his primary bodyguard.
Stood next to him he recognised another face….his Father’s. His father still had the appearance, manner and build of a fighting man. Lucius forgot about any face saving protocol and ran to his father and gave him a mighty hug, his father’s face creased with laughter as he hugged him back and then held his son at arms length to take in his uniformed appearance.
‘You look good son, really good. The uniform suits you well’ Numerius beamed at his son. ‘A nice surprise eh? I got back from Capua yesterday when you’re Uncle Aulus wrote to me two weeks ago about your visit to Rome.’
Lucius father was now in semi-retirement, living on a small piece of land, with a nice but simple and functional villa he had built himself upon it.
But sometimes he found the time to help his brother out with the odd job or two.
‘Are you joking?! It’s a great surprise Father, I have one for you too!’ he waved Marcianus out of the pool of darkness he had been standing in, ‘Centurion Marcianus, say hello to First Spear Verres.’
Marcianus stepped forward and saluted his old commander, ‘A pleasure First Spear, good to see you again.’
Numerius returned the salute and strode forward with his arm outstretched, ‘Marcianus you old goat, I can see you have licked my lad into great shape. You have my thanks old comrade.’
Marcianus smiled at his friends compliment, and clasped the others arm in a firm grip in the Roman fashion ‘Not a problem First Spear, I was working with good stock.’
Lucius decided to break into the conversation, before the two old veterans began to reminisce about the old days. And then start complaining about the inadequacies of modern legionaries and how everything was so much tougher in their days.
Lucius pointed out his two remaining companions ‘These two are good friends of mine, Quintus and Andronicus, father.’
Numerius had a playful look on his face, ‘Right Gentlemen, may I suggest you fall in with us, your uncle Aulus has laid on quite a feast for you, and there’s food as well boys if you get my meaning!’
The nine men walked in pairs with Leo the only solitary figure, heading the men from the front, the men busily chatting away to each other and betting and boasting as to who would be unconscious by the end of the evening’s drinking.
The walk to the Subura would only take a short while.
As the minutes ticked by Felix became more and more anxious, biting on his finger nails, his brain a whirr, thinking of possible solutions.
Blank…the sum total of his agonising was nothing. He forced himself to concentrate. What would Aulus do? And then he had it. He had surprise on his side.
His hand slipped behind him to the small fruit knife concealed behind his back. He knew he had to time this to perfection. He had never killed a man before. But just how hard could it be? He had seen men die at others hands, and he had been taught a few moves by Leo and Numerius.
Postumus gaze was fixed firmly on the street, he paid no mind to the young man behind him. His men were waiting on his order to charge. But if Felix had his way that order would never leave handsome boy’s lips.
Felix moved silently behind Postumus.
When he was in striking distance, his left hand shot up and clamped over the mans mouth, whilst it also stretched his head down and to the left, Felix’s left knee smacked him in the small of his back to compromise Postumus balance, his right arm shot up with the blade palm downwards for more power, as he plunged it straight into the right hand side of Postumus neck.
The blade, initially met resistance from the flesh of Postumus, but it gradually bit deeper, and deeper still, Postumus struggles intensified, his feet hammering on the floor drumming out a staccato beat, the Rat Boy desperately tried to bite into Felix’s left hand but the cupping of the hand made it impossible for him to do so. Suddenly the struggles ceased.
Postumus became slack and Felix struggled to gently let him fall to the floor, the knife still protruding guiltily from his neck. He noticed for the first time the blood on the front of his clothing, and the urine he was standing in upon the floor where Postumus had soiled himself in the final moments of his life. Killing was not easy, not at all; the sightless eyes of the man stared up at Felix accusingly, Felix felt tears well up in his own eyes for the last of his own lost innocence.
Felix decided to leave the fruit knife, it wouldn’t be much use in what was to come. He reached down to Postumus body and rolled him on his side so that he could take the man’s gladius. He drew it from its scabbard, and noted that it was lighter than the wooden one that Numerius had made him train with. He had no more time to dwell upon his actions; he heard the sound of approaching feet on the deserted street, from the other side of the doorway. The street had quickly emptied earlier as the local residents and shop keepers had hidden at the first approach of the Rat Boys.
Felix cautiously poked his head out of the doorway. Nobody had heard Postumus struggles. Good.
He could hear the sound of the approaching men, the sound of the legionaries’ footwear marking them out from the plain sandals worn by the inhabitants of the Subura.
An urgent whisper broke into the silence, ‘Postumus give the order! Give the bloody order you idiot!’ it was Crixus the Greek was becoming agitated with good reason, Lucius and his companions had now rounded the corner and where in sight.
‘Postumus hurry up for the Gods sakes their here!!’
As Leo turned in the street, his suspicions were instantly aroused. The street was empty. The shops should still be open; people should still be about their every day tasks. This was wrong, the other men had noticed too.
‘To arms the 4th to arms!!’ a shrill young voice cut across to them from the right hand side of the street, as a wiry young man bolted out of the nearest insulae and sprinted towards them, a gladius clutched in his right hand, held aloft like an Olympic flame. The men drew their weapons unsure as to how the youngster knew who they were, and why he was running at them with a drawn blade.
‘Hold its young Felix! Your eyes must be getting old Leo.’ It was Numerius who had spoken. No sooner had Felix reached them and collapsed in a heap at the feet of Andronicus, then a horde of scruffy men in mismatched armour and weaponry charged out into the street from a dozen different bolt holes.
‘You filthy traitor boy, I will cut your head from your shoulders and have your skull for my night bowl!!’ Crixus swung his blade from hand to hand like a toy, giving the most hate filled looks at the youngster as Felix struggled to his feet ready to fight with his older comrades. Thanks to Felix the Verres men now had enough time to react.
‘First Spear your orders Sir’ Marcianus had deferred straight away to his old commander from habit.
‘Double line, veterans to the front!’ Numerius had quickly realised that there was only room for five men abreast on the narrow street. Instinctively Numerius, Marcianus, Leo, and two of the bodyguards formed the front line. Lucius, Quintus who had dragged Felix by the collar next to him so he knew where to stand, Andronicus and the final bodyguard formed the rear.
The Rat Boys ran howling at their targets, Numerius noted that although his men were outnumbered there was no discipline or training evident from the other side, these were just street thugs with stolen weaponry. They just came forward in a rush hoping to overwhelm the two small lines with their numbers. Numerius had a surprise for the street scum ‘forward in line!!’
He planned to get so close to them that their numbers and longer weapons, such as the long swords and axes would count for nothing if they could not swing them. Without Scuta, his own men would need to close fast, crush against the enemy and use their gladius points to good affect. Numerius timed the order to perfection, ‘use the point boys, double time and close!’ his men moved quickly forward and met the enemy head on.
In the rear rank, Lucius position placed him directly behind his own father; he was determined to keep his father safe from harm.
A man with a long sword came sweeping over from the right of Numerius aiming to slice into his neck, without thinking Lucius blade cut inside the yelling man, whose mouth was agape with rotting teeth and ran straight through the thin leather helmet he was wearing into the front of his forehead.
The blade was stuck fast, and Lucius had to use both hands to pull it free. As the man fell to the ground instantly dead, a second came roaring after him wielding a short battle axe, this time Numerius gladius flicked up under the man, as the man swung the axe down trying to bury it in Numerius head, Numerius gladius pushed up into the soft part of the stomach where the sternum ends, and was then ripped free, bloody entrails, intestines and a rush of blood tumbling out of the man’s stomach as he squealed in agony and fell to the floor.
Lucius stabbed downwards through the man’s heart to stop him from possibly hamstringing Lucius or Numerius from below. Lucius eye’s flicked over to the rest of the line.
They were holding up well, with the front rank causing havoc, as the experienced veterans with years of experience between them tore into the Rat Boys. Already there were five bodies on the street in front of them, so far only one of the bodyguards had picked up a cut to his left arm. The Rat Boys may be armed to the teeth, but they had obviously not fought soldiers before in any reasonable number.
Out of nowhere the unwashed looking gangster with the double headed long axe, who had sworn revenge on Felix, and who seemed to be their leader, broke through his own men’s crush and swung away at Leo. Leo neatly stepped inside to cut to the man’s stomach, but with unbelievable speed, he swung the axe into the other hand, then reversed it, down into Leo’s right foot, and then brought it back up again to cleave through his right arm, the arm flew away into the distance, and with Leo calling out in tremendous pain he was grabbed by the left arm and dragged backwards by Andronicus, and dropped behind the line.
‘I’m coming for you boy, you’re next you little worm!!’ Lucius could only watch from his position, as the axe man prepared to rip apart Felix, who was standing before him, the youngster afraid, but prepared to fight the monstrous foe before him. Quintus however grabbed the youngster by the arm and placed him in the line next to Lucius and then took the lad’s place in front of the axe man. This now meant that the axe man was faced with Quintus on one side and Andronicus on the other. The legionaries desperately needed to close the breech in the line caused by the putrid looking Rat Boy.
The axe man grinned manically at the two men as they closed on him. Quintus was the first to move, the speed of the smaller man meant he beat Andronicus to face him first. Quintus gladius was poised before him and prepared to slice through the man’s guard position into his stomach, but as before he moved like lightning, swapped his hand positions and prepared to cut down on Quintus’s head.
Before he had a chance to complete his move, Andronicus with a mighty roar launched himself bodily at him, and crashed in a tangled heap on top of the man, the man frantically let go of his axe, and put both hands to Andronicus throat, and raised his right knee into the big man’s groin. Andronicus groaned and the Rat Boy managed to roll him off and scramble to his feet, as Andronicus also rose to his feet prepared to fight again, but with more Rat Boys closing in on the gap in the line, he swore in frustration and he let the axe man go to plug the gap.
Quintus had moved as quick as the axe man and had stepped in close to finish him off, before he had a chance to pick up his formidable axe again. As Quintus ran him through the stomach with his blade, incredibly the man pulled himself closer to Quintus by pushing himself on the Optio’s gladius and driving it deeper still into his own body. His right hand fumbled to his waste and Lucius swore he had delivered a punch to Quintus….no not a punch; his hand had held a short handled dagger.
Both men locked onto each other in death’s embrace and then sunk to their knees and thence to the ground beneath them.
Lucius head spun, his temperature rose, he felt an ocean roaring in his ears, like a thousand furies unleashed, he felt a rage on him that he had never experienced before.
He left his place in the line, dropped his gladius and picked up the dead Rat Boy’s battle axe, he ran screaming defiance, hatred and murder at two men trying to force their way through the gap, he swung the axe at the neck of the man on his left, who tried to block it using a long sword, the weight of the axe and the power of Lucius behind it knocked the sword clean out of his hand, and Lucius continued the swing and with one clean accurate slice, his head flew from his body.
The second man looked at the madman with the axe, and dropped his sword and homemade wooden shield on the floor, and raised his hands in supplication and surrender…Lucius did not care….he could only see the face of the axe man before him, he swung the axe once more taking the man’s right hand off from below the wrist, and then swung the axe behind his head and drove it down through the man cleaving his torso virtually in half. He prized the axe free by standing on the man, and raised it once more to charge at the Rat Boys.
But they were gone…..
The sight of Crixus being slain, and the legionary running crazy with the axe had been too much for them, what was left of the ambushers had dropped their heavy weapons and ran.
Lucius, Lucius…Lucius, can you hear me Son? Put the axe down, their gone, come on put it down.’
Lucius had felt like he had awoken from a daze, like somebody else had possessed him when he picked up the axe and run amok.
He eyes refocused, it was his father that was speaking to him.
‘Father, they killed Leo and….Quintus’ a lump caught in his throat as he remembered how the little Optio had helped him kill the giant Gaul, and how he had dragged Felix out of the line to save the youngster, at the cost of this own life.
As for Leo, he had always been there when he was growing up, even though Lucius had been a slave, he had always been firm but fair with him. He had even given him his first lessons in swordplay.
Numerius looked at his son, and rested a comforting hand on his shoulder ‘I know son, come let’s get you to Aulus; we will leave the rest of your uncle’s men here to guard their bodies. He will dispatch more when he hears of this outrage.’
Numerius looked meaningfully at his son, ‘Your Uncle will have blood for this lad!’
Absolouply fantastic!!!! I don't know how to describe it. Its amazing Yu were right. I did love this chapter. Haha i love every chapte mate. Keep up the fantastic work as soon as im able ill give yo reps!!!!!!
EDIT. Question about Rep. If you give someone rep dose it take it away from your rep?
Last edited by KingofRome; April 05, 2012 at 11:32 PM.
Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer. ~ Barbara Kingsolver
The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say. ~ Anaïs Nin
The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say. ~ Anaïs Nin
2 brilliant updates there mate, really well done
The second was my favorite, it was a joy to read I am looking forward to seeing what Aulus will do Whatever it is I' sure it will be brilliant
Keep up the good work
Chapter Sixteen - The Aftermath
The Subura – August 218BC
‘Will somebody tell me what the hell is going on around here? I know the Subura is not known as the friendliest place in the world, but I’ve had warmer welcomes from a Gaulish war band, Numerius?’ Marcianus looked at his old friend, waiting for an answer, expectantly.
Numerius replied quickly, one eye on his son, who still stood beside him cradling the bloodied battle axe ‘listen, I can only say that this is to do with what happened back in Boii country, you know, the incident with the senator. Aulus will explain in more detail. The quicker we get to my brother’s house the quicker you will have your explanation. Trust me on this one old friend.’
Marcianus simply nodded, leant over and cleaned his blade on the cloak of a fallen Rat Boy, looked back at Numerius and said, ‘Well we best get moving then.’
‘Thank you Marcianus’ Numerius pointed to the three bodyguards who were standing around waiting for orders. ‘You three stay here with the bodies, my brother will send more men to pick up our dead and see you back safely to the villa.’
‘Father, I want to stay with Quintus body’. Lucius felt more aware of his surroundings, he could feel the sticky blood congealing and cooling on his hand as he held the axe shaft. He looked around for his gladius and found it at the feet of a dead Rat Boy. He glanced at his sword cleaned it on the dead man’s grubby tunic and returned it to its scabbard.
‘No, you need to come with the rest of us, now!’ Numerius gave Lucius one of his ‘looks’, the one which meant ‘don’t push me boy.’
Lucius made no reply, but fell in with the rest of the men as they trudged off in a small dejected file. They had been victorious, but it didn’t feel like anything they needed to celebrate. Lucius found himself walking as the last man but one in the group, with Marcianus acting as rearguard. He watched as his Father led from the front, eyes scanning the side alleys as he walked, still wired to react, even though they had but a short distance to walk.
The boy Felix walked behind Numerius, his eyes red, fighting the urge to sob for a man who had given his life for him. A man the boy did not even know.
Then there was Andronicus, the big man shambled along, his face a mask of the torment that Lucius knew was raging inside him. He knew the Greek would be blaming himself for having to let the axe man through to plug the gap in the line. Lucius took a deep breath and spoke to the back of the man in front of him, ‘Andronicus, you did well plugging that gap. Quintus would have understood. You had no choice but to seal the breach my friend, you did the right thing, if you hadn’t we could all be with Quintus now.’
Lucius could see the big mans shoulders heave, as he nodded his head, ’Do you really think so Lucius? You’re not just saying that to make me feel better?’
‘No I promise Quintus knew you had to close that gap, just as he had to fight the greasy Rat Boy.’ Lucius could say no more to his friend, his store of compassion and mental energy now all used up, he followed the feet in front of him until the small column was called to a halt by Numerius.
As Lucius looked up he saw that the entrance to his Uncle’s house was ringed by a circle of tough looking men with lit torches. He noted that all of them had the bearing of ex-legionaries by the look of them too. His Uncle had been busy recruiting a small army of his own it seemed. He could see one of the men, a tough looking bald man, about the size of a small bull, surrounded by slaves, waive at Numerius and signal the doors to open.
The main doors swung open and Aulus came rushing out with a broad smile on his face, his arms wide ready to embrace his brother and nephew.
Then abruptly the smile faded, and his arms dropped as he took in the appearance of the men before him. ‘What’s happened Numerius, where are the rest of the men?’
Numerius replied wearily, ‘I need to speak to you inside Aulus, with Marcianus and Lucius too.’ Numerius leaned over and whispered into his brother’s ear.
Aulus flushed red, his jaw clenched and unclenched, then he responded quickly, turning to the bald man and issuing his orders, ‘Marcus, tell our guests there will be slight delay in the entertainment, the feasting may commence, please pass on my apologies and tell the guests I will be with them presently. Light the lanterns in my study and have cool drinks brought through to us. Have baths run, have fresh clothes ready for our men and send a man to fetch the surgeon from the street of the apothecaries to tend to our men’s wounds. Marcus come here please.’
The bald man approached Aulus, who then leant in close and gave some further instructions in an undertone, ‘Yes Master Aulus, I will see to it straight away’, the bald man hurried off, first waving in the direction of the ambush, which resulted in a dozen of the armed men running off in the same direction and then he called out a string of further instructions to the gaggle of slaves trotting after him.
Satisfied that his orders were being followed, Aulus, turned to face the small group, and talked to Andronicus and Felix first, ‘Felix, can you take your big friend here to the baths please.’
‘Yes master Aulus, of course’. The lad nodded at Andronicus, who then glanced at Lucius for reassurance. After the strange night they had had so far and the loss of Quintus, Andronicus did not emanate his normal self-assurance.
‘It’s fine Andronicus.’ Lucius could understand his friends reticence to leave the only people he knew, especially after the time he had experienced in the Subura up until now.
Andronicus nodded meekly, and followed Felix into the main entrance, who in turn was led by a household slave.
‘Shall we go gentlemen? Please let us go the study and reflect on the events so far.’
Aulus led the way through the villa, Lucius was amazed at how much work his uncle had carried out on the renovations of the old family home, the place was stunning. As they walked further into the home, Lucius could hear the sounds of music, laughter and conversation from the atrium in the centre of the villa, they were welcome noises after the night so far.
Aulus opened the door to the study, two sturdy men standing either side of the entrance, barring entry to all but those who accompanied their master.
Aulus sat behind his chair and motioned to the seats in front of the desk and the cool fruit drinks on a tray before him, ‘Please sit, have a drink, you must be thirsty.’ Aulus would normally have served wine, but not yet, not until he knew what had happened.
Numerius then told the story of the Rat Boys ambush, of how they had been saved by Felix, and how Leo and Quintus had lost their lives. Like any old soldier he kept to the facts, and was short and sweet.
Before Aulus, could ask any questions, Marcianus interrupted, ‘Can someone please tell me who the Rat Boys are and why they attacked us tonight, is this some sort of Suburan turf war?’
Aulus smiled at the Centurions interruption, normally he hated rudeness, but he could understand the soldier’s frustration after being attacked and losing his Optio in one foul swoop.
‘Marcianus, Numerius has told me all about you, he holds you in the highest regard.’The Centurion scowled, but Aulus noticed the smile in his eyes. People were easy to play when you knew which buttons to press.
Aulus, would be as honest as he felt comfortable with, ‘Yes the Rat Boys are a street gang Centurion, in fact the men my nephew executed on behalf of your century were Rat Boys; excuse enough you would think to order an attack on you, but no, the attack was not about revenge.’
‘I also have a hand in some of their more honest business dealings. They owe me money in fact. But tonight’s dealings are not about mere money either; they concern the good of Rome.’
‘Put simply, when you bumped into Senator Ovidius in the North, he was up to no good Centurion. I’m not sure what exactly he was up too, but I do have some thoughts on the subject, he has links with the man who would have ordered the attack on you tonight, a man name Manugas.’
‘I had in fact been considering backing off of the good senator, but tonight only proves one thing, a cornered rat fights harder. We have stumbled onto something big; the conspirators have become concerned that we may unravel their plot.’
‘And the plot? My instincts tell me that with the Senator’s flare for Gallic languages, and his contacts in the tribes, he may have been stirring them up to revolt, and heaven knows what, with the all the land confiscations, it would not take much.’
‘Just think gentlemen, with havoc reigning in the north, how much of a distraction would that be for the Senate. They would have to draw men and materials away from the planned invasion of Carthaginian Spain, and instead put down a huge insurrection in the north. I believe that Manugas is a Carthaginian agent, I am blind to have not seen it from the first time I met the man. As for Ovidius, he is lower then the most common Suburan street thug, a traitor who has every benefit of wealth and position that Rome can offer, and yet he still craves money enough to betray his country, and I thought I was avaricious.’
The other three men in the room had sat silently throughout Aulus’ monologue.
Marcianus was the first to speak, ‘I can believe it of that snake Ovidius, but how can you convince the senate of his guilt, I mean, where is your actual proof? It’s a good theory, but you need evidence.’
Aulus looked at Marcianus, his eyes seeming to bore through to the soldiers soul, enough to even make the veteran shudder, ‘No my dear Centurion I don’t, these men tried to kill my family, they are going to disappear.’
‘You can do that uncle?’ Lucius had watched how his uncle had knotted together his theory and was impressed. He remembered as a boy how his uncle had claimed that his father Numerius had the strategic brain, things had obviously changed now, and his uncle has grown in more ways than just his girth.
Aulus, smiled at his nephew, ‘It will be, when I gave Marcus his quiet orders, one was to fetch our men and the bodies of Leo and your friend Quintus. The other was to fetch a man of my long standing acquaintance.Let’s just call him the Egyptian for now.’
and Aulus saves the day... again!
I'm liking the sounds of this 'Egyptian' - can't wait to find out ore about him
You've got the description spot on, I can really feel the emotion coming through. It's coming along really nicely I'm lovin' it