Nimr had always appreciated the treatment he received at the House of Nepos, but he had never truly realised what life for a slave- even for a gladiator- was like beyond it. The dank walls and dirty surroundings of the gladiators’ housing in the House of Metellus was depressing, although several completely naked warriors (apparently a requirement of the House when not in training, to avoid concealment of weapons) had caught his eye. None of them could never replace Ekwueme.
He entered what qualifying- barely- as the baths (a concession to the gladiators, who had argued that they should be clean- it looked impressive upon the sands), finding the place empty. He climbed into the waters, which were frigid, but forced himself in anyway. Shivering, he twisted around- in time to see the Doctore enter.
Nimr bowed his head in deference. “Doctore.”
“Nimr.” Came the curt reply. The Doctore’s eyes did not leave Nimr’s. “You caused quite the scene today, when you dispatched Kaeso so easily. He is greatly pissed. I would avoid his company for a while.”
Nimr shrugged. “It matters not to me. I am certain he is of great worth and skill, and as long as he keeps from my way, I shall keep from his.”
The Doctore climbed into the water and thrust out a hand. “Munatius.” Nimr looked at the outstretched hand for a moment, then shook it. “How did you defeat Kaeso so easily?”
Nimr shrugged again. “As I said, I am certain he has great skill- his mistake was in assuming I did not. Confidence in one’s ability is one thing- over-confidence is another.”
“You used his perceptions against him.”
“Is that not the best thing to do?” Nimr smiled. “If we should battle again, perhaps he will present more of a challenge.”
“I would imagine so.” Nimr noted that Munatius’ eyes had started to wander. Perhaps he prefered the male form to the female one? There was steel in the Doctore’s eyes, but a trace of something else too- desire perhaps? Not that it mattered- only Ekwueme would do for Nimr.
“Should he challenge you again, it may not be on the floor of the ludus- it may be here, or within the chambers- and he may not be alone. Kaeso has friends, allies, within these walls. He may seek to make an example of you.”
“If he takes such a path then he is a cowardly fuck. I do not fear such men.” Nimr replied with venom.
Munatius met his eyes again. “I see that you do not. It is however, a warning- be careful. Do not seek to make waves, lest it hasten your own fall from grace. The Dominus may have spent much coin to bring you here, but he has his favourites and he will not take kindly to them being humiliated. Watch your back.”
Munatius climbed out of the water and turned to leave. Despite himself, Nimr could not help but notice the firm arse of the other man. Munatius was a potentially dangerous opponent- but he was not unattractive.
Nevertheless, his words had given Nimr pause to ponder. Nimr had not sought to make enemies on his first day at a new ludus. It wasn’t that he sought friends either- but he had to be careful. His own, personal mission would not be aided by butting heads with other gladiators.
As Munatius left, Nimr wondered how much the Doctore knew of the owners of the ludus.
The knocking at the door was a rude awakening for Nepos and Etruscilla. They had slept peacefully in each other’s arms, only for someone to be disturbing them even before the sun had risen.
Despite feeling exhausted, Nepos had bade his servants return to their beds. He wanted to confront this disturber of the peace himself.
When he opened the door and saw Crispina standing there, flanked by Ekwueme, his scowl vanished. When he saw the rolls of parchment she carried, his eyes widened.
Before long, he and Etruscilla were sat with Crispina and Ekwu in the main chamber. A gentle cool breeze came in through the portals and Nepos himself felt vey cold, as Crispina recounted the events of the previous night.
“Paulus still sleeps now, I would imagine. When he wakes, he will no doubt feel embarassed and seek me out. His original documents have been safely returned to their previous locations- he will never know that I read them, let alone copied them.” Crispina’s natural sparkle was in full effect. “I have to say, the thrill of it all… I am looking forward to returning to my house for some… relaxation.”
Nepos and Etruscilla exchanged a glance. They could imagine how she’d relax.
“But I digress. I have here all that I was able to copy down. Be warned master Nepos- there are words here that will provide shock and anger. Do not be provoked by them into rash action- take time to digest them properly, thoroughly, and only then take further steps.”
Nepos exchanged another glance with his wife, this time more serious. “To what do you refer? I know someone engineered my grandfather’s downfall, and seeks to ruin this house. What more could possibly exist to provoke me?”
Crispina looked hesitant, an unusual state for such a woman. She took a deep breath before she spoke again.
“The men who seek your demise have been seeking it for some time. When your grandfather died and this ludus passed to your father, they believed they could hasten its collapse. They considered you too young to take on the mantle of Dominus. Without a strong hand to steady this house, they were convinced it would fall.”
Nepos felt his blood run cold. Crispina continued.
“Your father was removed as Dominus, his life taken from him.”
The words were like a hammer blow. Nepos had never forgotten that terrible day, when his father had stumbled into the house, coughing up blood, his servants screaming for aid. The horrible, gurgling noises he had made, the pain he had suffered…
“It was said to be a sickness of the chest…” Nepos turned away. “The medicus could not balance his humours…”
“It was poison Titus. Slipped into his wine as he took supper with a Senator. Senator Caius Maccius Metellus. The man whose brother has just purchased Nimr.”
Nepos stood. He had to walk.
“You imply that Senator Metellus is the one behind this malice toward my house?”
“I do not imply Titus. It is a fact. Paulus has many records, meticulously maintained, no doubt in case they became useful to him in the future. His dealings with the Metellus family are varied and many. He has a long history of helping them and being aided in return. The information I bring details everything about their campaign against your family.”
Etruscilla spoke up. “Could we not present this evidence to the authorities, have them take action on our behalf?”
“No. All I have are copies, easily disputed as slurs against some of the most powerful men in Rome. Present these and you would hasten your downfall. I would have taken the originals, but Paulus would soon know I had done so. I have connections of my own, but I dare not bring his wrath upon me. I am sorry, to both of you, but I have done all I can. Any further steps will place me and my house into risk that I cannot take.”
Nepos stopped pacing, and turned to look at Crispina. “You have our gratitude for helping us to this point. You have already done far more than we could have reasonably asked of you, and for that, we are humbled and thankful.”
“The privelige is mine.” Crispina rose. “And if I do find myself in a position to assist you further, I would seize it. My own house is hurting because of these events- Ekwueme’s heart is broken and when a servant of my house is hurt, so am I. I wish you well, and I wish you luck. Now I must take my leave- I imagine Paulus will awaken soon, and in his embarrassment seek to make amends. I should be at home for when he comes calling.”
As Crispina left, the sun was rising. A red sky, with few clouds, created a beautiful tapestry in the sky, but Nepos could not appreciate it. Every fibre of his being wanted to seek out revenge. He would gladly stomp upon the pompous Paulus’ face until nothing remained but shattered bone. Part of him wondered if he could restrain himself from doing so if they met.
“I am so sorry Titus. Your father was like a father to me as well.” Estruscilla wrapped her arms around her husband. “We will find a way to put this right. Justice will be ours.”
Nepos sighed. “I hope you are right my love. I hope you are right.” Together, they watched the sun rise higher, as tears slipped down his cheeks and upon the floor.
The tapping at her door came shortly after Crispina had retired to her chambers. Without having to look, she knew who it was.
“Come in dear Marcus.” She called.
Marcus Octavius Paulus stepped into her chambers to find her seated at her personal little desk. She had been writing correspondence to a friend near Capua, but now she stood and pivoted, facing Paulus.
She had chosen to wear one of her long, flowing pink dresses, that billowed every time there was a breeze. The material was almost- almost- see-through, and the top of the dress was tight, so as to enhance her attributes. It would serve to make Paulus feel even more uncomfortable than he already was.
“Ah, dear Marcus. I was about to send one of my aides to see if things were alright. You seemed quite ill when you slipped into slumber last night.”
Paulus tilted his head. “Apologies my lady. I do not know what had come over me. The past few days have been busy, but I have obviously been more fatigued than I first thought. I have come to make recompense. I cannot allow the events of last night to stand as they are.”
Crispina’s eyes held a neutral gaze. “Such a thing is not necessary Marcus…”
“I insist. My honour demands it of me. The Tiger Nimr, has his first fight at the Colosseum today. I would be honoured if you would accompany me to witness a piece of history in the making.”
Her expression did not change, yet Crispina found that offer to be intriguing. Could she exploit this somehow?
“If your honour demands it then I will not refuse. Besides, it would be fascinating to see how Nimr copes with his new surroundings.”
“Then it is settled then. I shall return in a few hours- I promise you that today’s entertainment will surpass last night’s.”
Without preamble Paulus left. Crispina smiled to herself. Yes, this was definitely an opportunity…