Petillia Crispina had clothed herself in only the finest of her garments, a blue one-piece ensemble that exposed a generous amount of leg, but stopped at the knee, and woven out of expensive cotten. It was tight, and the v-cut front only served to expose a generous degree of cleavage as well. Her blonde hair was virtually dead straight down her back, her nails were freshly painted, and her brown eyes twinkled at the thought of the mischief to come.
She had watched- and thoroughly enjoyed- Nepos and Etruscilla make love on her bed- more than ever she wished Nepos would frequent her chamber- and she found herself rather drawn to Etruscilla too. Oh, the things she could teach them both!
Alas, that was not on the agenda. Escorted by Ekwueme, Crispina had made her way to the outskirts of Rome, away from the riff-raff, where the rich and powerful lived, in large, old villas.
The task ahead of her was not one she relished. Marcus Octavius Paulus wasn’t a particularly handsome man by any means, and the thought of pressing her flesh against his made her skin crawl. Yet she had given her word, and Crispina always kept her word. Besides, she had one or two tricks up her sleeve to make the proceedings more pleasant…
Paulus’ villa was three floors high, with a generous coverage of the land and a reasonable garden as well. Candles burned in the windows as sunset loomed, and something was cooking that smelled delicious. Crispina guessed it to be lamb, although she couldn’t be sure. What she could be sure on, was that Paulus had received her message and was preparing a sumptuous meal for her. Her keen nose could detect the scent of rosemary and thyme- he was hoping to impress.
She walked up to the large wooden door and rapped three times upon it. The door was opened by a small, nervous-looking woman who had dark hair, and pleading green eyes. She looked haggard, as though she slept little hours, and Crispina could not help but notice bruising upon her left arm. Her toga was old and dirty- once white but now faded to grey. Crispina wondered how well- or poorly- Paulus treated his servants.
“Please inform Master Paulus that Petillia Crispina is here.” She said pleasantly, offering up a warm smile. The poor woman simply nodded, and opened the door fully to permit her and Ekwueme entry into the house.
The opulence was clear. Golden, styled frames were wrapped around every mirror- golden candle holders jutted from the walls, which were smooth slabs of rock and marble. The floor was polished black and white marble in a chequered pattern, and blue and red drapes hung from the walls. The entrance hall was a symbol- and declaration- of power and status. Crispina could only wonder what the rest of Paulus’ home looked like.
The nervous woman who had welcomed her refused to make eye contact. Was she forbidden from doing so? Or too afraid? “Would my fair lady care for refreshment?” She asked softly.
“No, thank you.” She replied, offering up another encouraging smile. The poor thing might have been quite beautiful, if treated properly, yet, like a rose that was not watered, she was withering.
“I will let my Dominus know you are here.” She nodded again, then scurried away, down a corridor to the left and disappearing round a right corner.
“Paulus extends his control to how he treats his slaves.” Muttered Ekwueme. “Those marks…”
“Hush Ekwu. I agree, but if Paulus were to hear you it would reflect upon me, and our purpose here would founder.”
Ekwueme was silent but clearly stewing. The sound of footsteps drew their attention.
Coming down the corridor was the rotund figure of Marcus Paulus, with the slave girl following behind. He wore a bright white toga, with an undershirt also of white- said to be symbolic of how pure and noble he was.
“Ah, Crispina, you are here! You brighten the house with your presence.” Paulus spread his arms wide. “When I received your request I must say I was surprised. Had I known your playful teasing hid greater desire I may not have been so quick to refuse your attentions. I hope you will find tonight to be pleasing for all your senses.” Paulus took Crispina’s hands in his own. “I am most pleased you are here.”
“The pleasure is mine Marcus.” She noted how her use of his first name made him smile. It suggested comfort in his presence.
“You bring your Moor with you.” Paulus stared at Ekwueme impassively.
“He provided me with escort here, and shall provide escort home again. Rome after dark can be a dangerous place for a woman on her own.”
“Of course. Would he like to join my servants for this evening? I am sure he can be of service in other ways.”
“Ekwueme would be honoured.”
“Good.” Paulus turned his head to his slave. “Cadwyn, take Ekwueme to the wine cellar, and bring wine to the dining area.” He said sternly.
“Yes Dominus.” She replied softly. She looked expectantly at Ekwueme who gave her a gentle smile, then followed her down the corridor.
“I have had a feast prepared to mark your visit my dear. Spit-roasted lamb and seasonal vegetables await us. Let us retire to the dining area, so we may enjoy our banquet.”
“Of course dear Marcus.” She let Paulus lead her down a different corridor, further into the house.
The dining area consisted of plump cushions and benches furnished from expensive-looking wood. The mats upon the floor were elaborate designs of black and gold, with gold trim used to portray Romans in acts of conquest against their enemies. The room opened onto the courtyard, which was filled with flowers plucked from all corners of the Empire. Everything was a symbol of wealth and power.
“Please, be seated. Some of the finest wine to ever embrace your lips is on the way.” Paulus sat himself down upon one of the cushions. Crispina took a cushion beside him.
“This property is most impressive- it speaks volumes of its owner.” She said coyly. “You are truly a man of importance.”
“One would like to think so. I have devoted many years of hard work to my position. I feel it only right to enjoy the trappings of it.”
“Oh most certainly. What good is fortune if you cannot spend it?” Crispina laughed. Paulus chuckled too- it was a most unusual sound to hear from such a man.
Scurrying footsteps caught their attention. A slave, a different woman from before, with short, light-brown hair. She too was quite short, had tired blue eyes and wore a look of weary resignation- she was clothed exactly as the first woman.
“Dominus, honoured guest, dinner shall shortly be ready.” She bowed.
“Good. Bring it here, and find out why Cadwyn has not brought us wine yet.” He snapped.
“Yes Dominus.” She spun on her heel and marched down a hallway, presumably leading to the kitchens.
“So…” Paulus’ tone changed completely as he re-addressed Crispina. “What has persuaded you to seek me here?”
Crispina gave her most dazzling smile. “I have come to realise that many of the men who court my attention are too… immature, for my tastes. I do not want boys who think they are men- I want a man who knows exactly who he is and what he wants. I can think of no other man who fits that description save for you.”
“You flatter me.” Paulus smiled. “I would not say I understand exactly who I am- I do not believe anyone can make that boast- but I would like to believe I understand what I want.” He looked her body up and down as he spoke the last part, and Crispina forced herself not to shiver.
“Mmm, I suspect you do.” Crispina giggled a little, and place her hand on Paulus’ arm.
Before things could get any more uncomfortable for her, the sound of several sets of footsteps drew their attention. Cadwyn was carrying a tray with two large, gold goblets, and a large jug of wine. Ekwueme followed, carrying another bottle. Behind him came a small army of servants, bringing out what looked like a whole lamb on a large silver tray. Crispina had to admit that it smelt divine.
“Ah, finally, the wine and food arrives.” Paulus remarked. The slaves busied themselves arranging it all, and Cadwyn poured out two very full goblets, laying upon the ground.
“Thank you Cadwyn.” Said Crispina pleasantly. The poor girl looked mortified that she’d spoken to her.
Paulus fixed a look of disdain upon Cadwyn. “well, what are you and the others still doing here? Be gone, clean this place, and do it properly for once!”
“Yes Dominus.” Came a chorus of nervous voices. His servants- and Ekwueme- went off, in search of tasks to do.
“I will never understand…” Paulus paused to take a deep gulp of his wine. “Why you are so… loose, with your slaves. They have fallen from previous position or never held position to begin with. Why show them respect they have not earned?”
“Oh Paulus…” She replied airily. “I find my servants serve me better when they want to do so, not because they must.”
“Yet they must all the same.”
“True. I imagine there is a place for both ways in this world.” She sipped her wine. “This is very good. One suspects you parted with considerable coin for wine of this quality.”
“Not as much as you might think. Someone owed me favour, which I have recently claimed.” Replied Paulus.
“Well, here’s to more such favours.” Crispina raised her goblet and clinked it against his, placing a delicate inflection upon the word ‘favours’. She could see in Paulus’ eyes that her suggestive tone had not gone unnoticed.
“Shall we eat?” Asked Paulus. “Such finery should not be wasted.” He took ahold of a dagger left by the meat and started to carve into a thigh.
“That smell is most intoxicating. Lamb is a particular favourite of mine.” Quipped Crispina. It was not in fact the case (she much preferred chicken), but better to let Paulus believe it.
“Then I am sure you will enjoy this- and much else- by tonight’s end.”
“Oh, of that I am certain.” Crispina’s eyes were full of mischief, but not for the reasons Paulus hoped.
They began to eat, and as much as Crispina was not a huge lover of lamb, she had to admit it was beautifully prepared. Whoever cooked it clearly understood what they were doing.
Wine was also consumed in generous quantities, only Crispina was careful to keep her intake slow and steady- whilst encouraging Paulus to fill his cup more frequently. They talked about the latest events of Rome, about scandals and problems and friends. The lamb disappeared (mostly thanks to Paulus), and more wine was brought out (which Paulus again drank more of).
When the third bottle arrived, Crispina put her true plan into motion. By now Paulus was clearly feeling the effects of the wine- his face was going red and he appeared more relaxed.
“Allow me dear Marcus.” She said, taking his goblet from him. She turned away, pouring him another glass, and secreted a generous degree of crushed up passionflower leaves. The unique calming properties of the flower were said to greatly aid sleep, which combined with the copious amounts of wine he had drunk, would hopefully be enough to send Paulus into a deep slumber for several hours. All the time she needed.
“I must say, this has been a most entertaining evening.” She purred, handing him his wine. She took a sip of her own as Paulus took a large gulp from his own, and she smiled seductively.
“Y-yes, it most certain… certainly has.” Already the passionflower was seeping into his system, making him drowsy. “Bu… but the best is y-yet to come.”
“My dear Marcus, you seem tired.”
“Hmm? No, no no no… I fear the wine is talking, that is all.” He tried to sit up, but failed.
“Perhaps I should take my leave…” Said Crispina, preparing to stand.
“No! Heh, no my dear, I am fine, I assure you…” Paulus yawned, and inwardly Crispina smirked. He was going to drop off to sleep any moment at this rate.
“Mmm, perhaps I can stay a while longer.” She sat back down, grinning.
Paulus looked at her with a horrible look of lust. “Good. Let us retire to… to…” His eyelids began to droop. “To the…. the bedroom…” His eyes closed completely. Slowly, he slipped back upon the cushions, settling in.
Crispina waited a few minutes. Paulus began to snore, and thus Crispina could now put her main purpose to action.
There was a chance that Paulus’ slaves would inform him of what she was doing, but from what she had seen of how he treated them, she was not too concerned. She looked for anywhere that Paulus might contain documents, seeking any information on Nepos and his family. The key to his salvation was somewhere within the walls of this house.
As she moved from room to room, she could not help but notice that someone was shadowing her. She ducked into what appeared like a storage room, and waited in the shadows. The footsteps were light, hesitant, and then Crispina saw Cadwyn walking by, looking anxious.
“Cadwyn.” She said softly, yet the poor woman still jumped.
“My lady, I am sorry, I do not mean to follow, I just… my master, is he…” Cadwyn was so jittery.
“He merely sleeps. To what end do you follow me?”
Cadwyn’s eyes were clear. “You move from room to room, checking papers, as though looking for something. You are seeking something to use against my Dominus…”
There was little sense in denying the truth. Cadwyn was more perceptive than Crispina had given her credit for. Yet giving Cadwyn the whole truth might not be wise.
“I seek information that may help a friend in dire need. I do not wish harm against your Dominus.”
For a moment Cadwyn appeared disappointed. “A pity. Forgive me, I speak out of turn…”
Crispina placed a hand on the young woman’s arm. “No, you do not. When was the last time you slept?”
“I… I slept for several hours last night…” Yet there was something in Cadwyn’s voice that gave Crispina pause- and she noticed yet more to give her concern.
Squinting in the light of the torches that hung from the walls, Crispina noticed bruising on Cadwyn’s neck, as though great force had been applied to her. Wordlessly she brought Cadwyn closer to her, inspecting her neck in greater detail. Cadwyn looked terrified.
“He has struck you? Hurt you?” Crispina’s tone was harsh.
“He… he gets angry when I fail him…” Cadwyn was contrite, tears forming in her eyes.
“There is no justification for such things.” Crispina knew she should not be angry with Cadwyn, but she could not help the vitrol in her voice.
“I am his slave, his property, to do with as he wishes…”
“You may be a slave but you are also a person. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. You do not deserve such treatment.” Crispina’s voice softened. “And, with a bit of good fortune from the gods, you will not have to endure it much longer.”
Cadwyn’s eyes were wide. “My Dominus knows too much to be brought down. It cannot be done!”
“Everyone can be felled. It is simply a question of the right tool.”
Cadwyn looked uncertain, but nodded.
“Paulus will sleep for many hours. Take this opportunity to find rest of your own.” Instructed Crispina firmly. The other woman nodded again, and started to scurry away, for anywhere she might feel safe.
Crispina continued her search. The sun had since fallen and the moon was rising- torches provided a gentle glow as Crispina climbed the stairs to the building’s second floor.
She was greeted with a formidable sight. The first first room contained what looked like hundreds of carefully stored leather-bound manuscripts. The information she needed had to be here- it was a question of where to start…
The events that had transpired to lead Nepos’ grandfather to ruin had taken place decades ago- so Crispina lifted a torch from its holder, took the oldest-looking manuscripts, and began to read…