Chapter Seventeen - Aulus Cuts Up Rough
The Verres Family Villa – August 218BC
The sweat poured off of Lucius back, off his forehead and down his arms. Lucius looked around him at Andronicus, Marcianus and Numerius his father, they had all worked as hard as him and all looked equally as exhausted.
After they had spoken to Aulus last night, the men had all gathered together in a quiet group, Aulus gaged that the men were in no mood for fun and congenial company, and had had Marcus set a reception room aside for the men with food and wine, and baths ready for their use. He also dismissed the specialist female company he had prepared to welcome the men.
Aulus had then returned to the Atrium and had played the genial host, Lucius had heard him play to the gallery marvellously, he had everyone eating out of his hands from the local merchants to the two senators who had blessed the gathering with their auspicious appearance.
The men had bathed, a local surgeon had seen to their superficial wounds, then they had eaten and drank albeit fitfully, nobody had got drunk, not even Marcianus with his taste for all fluids of the grape. Even Andronicus legendary appetite had taken a hit, with him barely touching the delicacies that had been so generously laid out before them.
The room had a sombre air as the men had sat quietly around the table staring into space, each lost in their own thoughts of Quintus, and as for the men of the Verres family they also had the added pain of the loss of Leo, who was more than a simple servant more a trusted and loved friend. For Lucius the pain was almost unbearable, Leo had been the rock of his childhood, long before he had become aware of his parentage, the Illyrian had taken him under his wing and treated the boy with kindness and had found the time to give him his first lessons as a warrior. Leo had been a former gladiator and had taught the young boy a few tricks to help him deal with the Rat Boys and the other thugs of the Subura. Added to that loss he now had the image of Quintus being gutted stamped on his mind, a staunch comrade, a newly found friend and what should have been the beginnings of a life-long friendship ended before it had even really began.
In the end the old First Spear had got to his feet, raised one of Aulus fine silver goblets to his mouth and said a few heartfelt simple words, the words of a soldier ‘lads, lets not be sombre eh, Leo and Quintus were good men, they died with their comrades around them, heroes deaths. They would not want to see us sitting around all morose and feeling sorry for ourselves. Drink up, and let’s have a toast to Leo and Quintus. May they have all the wine and women they need in Elysium!’ Numerius had then drained his full goblet with the three men repeating the toast and draining their own drinks in unison.
Numerius waited until they had all finished and continued ‘I want you all up at 6am, we are going to work until we drop. We are going to get our hands on that scumbag Manugas and whatever cronies he has left and gut the lot of them!’
So that’s was why Lucius and the rest of the men were sweating so hard. Numerius had got them up at 6am as promised and had worked them until they could not do another press-up, his father had even dragged the youngster Felix out of his bed and made him join in. It was 9am now.
Three hours of press up, sit ups, boxing, weight training, and a hundred and one other exercises. If Lucius hadn’t of felt so exhausted he would have been impressed with his uncle’s gymnasium, Aulus had bought an adjoining property for the sole purpose of creating it. Not for his own use of course, he preferred exercise of a more cerebral kind, the gym was the sole use of his men Aulus wanted them fit and ready for action whenever he deemed it necessary. In fact when Lucius had last been at the villa, the gymnasium had been a butchers shop.
As Numerius called a halt to the morning’s workout, a slave came bustling into the room with an amphora of cold water and a tray with some bread, cold meats, olives and cheese on. The men gathered round slurping and chomping, to slake their rampant thirsts and ravenous appetites.
Lucius had known that his father had worked them extraordinarily hard just to keep their minds busy, and to stop them from dwelling on their friends deaths. If only it was so easy as soon as the exercise stopped then the real pain started. He hadn’t even had much sleep.
Lucius had been awake when he had heard a cart pull up in the early hours of the morning. He had stretched got out of bed and looked out of the window overlooking the servants’ entrance, and had seen Aulus men struggle to carry the bodies of Leo and Quintus inside the villa for their funeral preparations.
Aulus had wasted no time in getting the bodies collected, and had sent for a man to prepare the bodies for burial. Lucius had seen the man come into the villa, telling Aulus men to be careful. The funny thing was he had looked Egyptian to Lucius; surely it couldn’t be the same man that Aulus needed to take care of Ovidius….could it? He didn’t look all that imposing.
Lucius had wanted to storm around to Ovidius house and slay the man. His father and uncle, had finally convinced him to be patient, and that with what Aulus had planned he would get more than what was his due coming to him. Manugas was a different matter, he was theirs to take. There was no senatorial privilege for the Numidian to hide behind.
Just as the men were finishing their food and drink, Aulus had come into the room; he was holding his nose, not from the sweat, but from the thought of all that physical exercise. Aulus shook his head in mock amusement and addressed them all ‘good morning gentlemen, it’s so good to see Rome’s finest making sure they are in peak condition to slay her enemies. I have a little present for you fine gentlemen this morning, if you would care to follow me please?’
Intrigued the group of men filed behind Aulus and found themselves being led back through the villa to the small stabling yard, that Aulus had running alongside the left of his home. As they entered the yard, they saw a naked man tied upside down to a large cart wheel, he was covered in a mass of blood, cuts and bruises, his mouth was gagged, that was why Lucius had supposed he heard no screams.
Aulus pointed at the Egyptian looking man Lucius had seen in the early hours of the morning, who was standing next to the blooded man, with a set of pliers in his left hand and a small surgical knife in the right. He was a slightly built man with the broadest, whitest smile that Lucius had ever seen, off setting his tanned features. The smile was rather unsettling considering what the Egyptian was up to with his instruments.
Aulus began ‘gentlemen this is a very dear friend of mine, the most eloquent and educated Set, he used to be a priest on the upper Nile, but now he is an embalmer and undertaker here in our own beloved Rome, although he does have other numerous talents. He picked this man up yesterday for me, he was one of the scum who killed poor Leo and Quintus. Would you like to tell them what our friendly Rat Boy had to say Set?’
Set bowed deeply to the assembled men his fine smile still plastered on his face, ‘of course my dear Aulus, this creature has told me that the man you seek, this Manugas the Numidian, has a vessel waiting for him at the docks in Ostia. I believe it is called the Moon Star. I am sure word of his men’s failure will have reached him by now. You had best go if you are to catch up with the scoundrel!’
‘Thank you Set, I have had horses saddled and your arms and armour have been prepared, you had best leave straight away Numerius. I have also provided you with a little extra manpower that you may find necessary. Do not concern yourself about the senator, my friend and I have some rather entertaining plans for him. Would you hand me your knife Set?’ Aulus held his hand out for the blade.
‘Of course, here you are my friend’ Set handed over the blade and performed yet another deep bow.
Aulus stepped up to the man tied to the wheel and gave him his most disarming and reassuring smile, addressing him in a friendly almost paternal way, you could almost see a hope of life rekindled in his eyes. ‘My boy, you have really fallen into bad company, I am sure your parents, the Gods bless them would be appalled to find you mixing with such gutter trash. Your nefarious master had you attempt to murder my family, which thank the Gods you and your ilk have failed so miserably to do. But you have killed a man of mine, Leo, a good solid servant, and what’s more a noble and honest friend to this house and furthermore you have killed a fine comrade of my nephew’s, for these abominations I cannot in all good conscience forgive you. I would however like to thank you most sincerely for the information that you have provided so readily to Set, for it will lead to the deaths of all of your foul accomplices across the Subura, and that I am sure will be a fine bloodletting.’ Aulus’s voice then rose to a shrieking maddening scream ‘Scum! Nobody threatens my family and lives!!’
Everyone within the yard watched transfixed with fascinated horror as at the end of Aulus speech he cut away with the surgical knife, first the man’s ears, then his nose, then he plucked out the eyes with the hooked end of the blade and left them dangling on the man’s face, then with a theatrical flourish he cut down to the man’s groin and removed his manhood, dropping it on the floor in distaste. Lastly he took the blade and cut out the man’s still beating heart. Aulus was covered in blood, from head to foot, spoiling his once pristine white linen toga.
‘Ah, I do so hate violence, but sometimes it is necessary. I am such a rank amateur, wait until Set performs an epic Masterpiece upon Ovidius…