The sun was continuing it’s slow but steady ascent as Nimr reached the doors to Lady Crispina’s house. He pummeled the huge wooden doors with all his might, until young Stigr opened it. Crispina’s latest servant looked wide-eyed in shock at the imposing sight of Nimr, who did not waste time on pleasantries, pushing past Stigr and into the house.
“You cannot just…” Stigr started, but Nimr raised a hand.
“Quiet! I do not believe I was followed but do not test this.”
Stigr gulped, then nodded.
“What is the…” Crispina’s door swung open as she walked out, looking resplendent in her maroon robes. She stopped in her tracks when she laid eyes on Nimr.
“What? What are you doing here?” She stopped forward, eyes filled with confusion.
“I apologise for my entrance my lady, but I have news that Nepos must hear. His enemies conspire to accelerate their plans.” Nimr bowed his head. “Please, send word that he needs to come here.”
Crispina placed a hand on his shoulder. “That may not be so simple. Nepos has business in the arena this afternoon. I would imagine he prepares even now for the games.”
“Nonetheless, I must speak with him.”
She smiled. “Very well. I shall send servant to fetch Nepos.” She looked like she wanted to say more, but Ekwueme stepped into sight and his eyes went wide when he saw his beloved.
“Nimr…” He crossed the short distance between then in only three strides, then wrapped his arms around him and held him in a tight embrace. “What has happened? Why are you here?”
Nimr kissed him, and returned his fierce hug. “Much has happened my love. Crispina is sending for Nepos- I must break important words with him… and I must speak with you as well.” Pain welled up in Nimr’s eyes, and Ekwueme’s filled with concern.
“What is wrong?”
“Not here. I will speak with you in private.” The worry on Ekwu’s face did not abate with Nimr’s words.
Crispina snapped her fingers after speaking to Stigr, who hurried from the house. She gave the two men a moment of privacy before coughing discreetly.
“You look most unbecoming of a gladiator Nimr. Ekwueme, take him to the baths, tend to his wounds properly, and see him cleaned.”
Ekwueme bowed. “Yes Mistress.”
He took Nimr by the hand, leading down a corridor, toward the baths.
Vibius’ face with red with anger as he stood in the entrance to Munatius’ cell. Flanked by two centurions, he cut a surprisingly imposing figure in his pristine white robes.
“I am told Nimr was here for much of the night. What did the two of you discuss?”
Munatius stood in the presence of his master, looking more contrite than he actually felt.
“We broke words of our battles in the arena Dominus. I recalled some of my finer victories; he spoke of his great delight at defeating Decimus. He mentioned his homeland once or twice…”
“And where is home?” Interrupted Vibius.
“I think he uttered about Syria Dominus, but do not take my words as fact, for my memory is hazy.”
Vibius took a step forward, and thrust his face at Munatius’ own.
“Pray that memory clears, and that Nimr is found, or even you will face consequences.”
With that threat, Vibius left. The centurions gave Munatius a dirty look, then turned their backs and departed.
The water was warm, refreshing and soothing upon Nimr’s physical wounds. Ekwu’s hands rubbes oils into his skin and his mere touch felt invigorating. Yet there was no soothing Nimr’s soul.
“Speak to me my love. Lend voice to what troubles you.” Ekwu pleaded, as he too got undressed and climbed into the bath.
“I… to aid escape, to find myself here, to save those I care about… I had to commit an act of betrayal.”
“What sort of act?” Ekwu was worried.
“I… provided another with the services of my body.”
“I see.” Ekwu fell silent for a moment, but continued to scrub and massage at Nimr’s grimy body.
“I am so sorry…” Nimr began, but Ekwu placed a finger on Nimr’s lips.
“Nimr, tell me, if you had not given your flesh, what would be happening now?”
“I don’t unders…”
“What would be happening now? Where would you be?” Ekwu took another bottle of oil and dripped some upon Nimr’s chest.
“I would… I would most likely still be in a cell in the house of Vibius Metellus.”
“And would Nepos not still be unaware of the accelerated plot to destroy him?”
I… he would still be unaware.”
“And you would not be here, with me, right now.” Ekwu looked Nimr in the eyes. “We must all do things we may not wish to do in order to survive. I love Lady Crispina, but she bids me to fuck other men and women on a daily basis, when I would much rather fuck only you. I do what is required of me for that is my place, just as you do what is required of you.”
Nimr looked shocked. “Ekwu I… I thought you would be angry, that…” Ekwu clasped Nimr by the shoulders.
“I could never be angry at you Nimr. You are my brave warrior. You have risked much to escape from Vibius and to help your friends. And the very fact you feel such pain over what is necessary tells me how much you love me.” He smiled, and Nimr smiled back.
“Now…” Ekwu playfully grabbed at Nimr’s cock. “You had best fuck me twice as hard as you fucked him, as punishment!”
“Who would call at this early hour?” Etruscilla was not amused. One of their servants, a young man by the name of Numerius, more a boy really, rushed to the doors and pulled them open.
An exhausted, rather disheveled young man (but not unattractive!) was waiting.
“Please, I would speak with the master of the house.” He panted. Numerius was about to speak when Etruscilla reached the door.
“I am the lady of the house. What brings you here?”
“I am Stigr, sent here by Lady Crispina. She has words to break with your husband my lady.”
“I see. Numerius, would you kindly escort Stigr to the courtyard- I shall summon my husband.”
“Yes Domina.” The two men headed off.
Nepos was wrapping a toga around himself when Etruscilla returned to the bedroom.
“Who was it my love?” He asked.
“A servant of Lady Crispina, by the name of Stigr, sent here so that she may break words with you.”
Nepos looked confused. “Did he say what those words concerned?”
“No, but he is waiting in the courtyard.”
The expanse of soil and the arrangement of flowers were one of Etruscilla’s passions. Breathing life into the earth was a beautiful thing, and she loved her little garden. She now walked along the side of it, watching the animated conversation between Nepos and Stigr.
“So, as you can see sir, Vibius and his brother Caius prepare to move sooner than expected, much sooner.”
Nepos put his hands on his head as he paced. Etruscilla recognised the look of fear in her husband’s eyes.
“Two months is not enough time… not enough time!” He wanted to scream. As ever the gods were against him.
“Lady Crispina does not know what can be done with this news, but she hopes at, now you are at least armed with this knowledge, you may find a way to prepare.”
Nepos nodded softly for a second. “Gratitude to both of you for informing us. You should return to your house, lest any troublesome forces see your presence here. Please tell Lady Crispina I will seek an audience with her in the next few days.”
“Yes sir. I shall take my leave now sir.” Stigr bowed, then let Numerius lead him away.
“What do we do now?” Asked Etruscilla calmly. Nepos didn’t look at her.
“I can see only two choices. We either discover the secret that led to the Metallus family seeking to ruin us, or we take a bloodier path, that will rid us of them but lead us to certain exile or death.”
“Why do I fear you will choose the violent path?” Etruscilla walked toward her husband.
“Because you know as well as I the secret we must discover will be buried deep within the very homes of our enemies, where we cannot reach it. I had hoped Nimr would have time to somehow explore… but we have been robbed of that.”
“You are not a killer Titus. You are a good man…”
“A good man… who might yet do nothing and preside over the loss of everything his family and loved ones have worked for. I cannot let my wife, not to mention our servants, be lost to destitution! I will not have a pair of vindictive shits get away with destroying my family name!”
“And what happens if by some miracle you should succeed in murdering a senator and a powerful ludus owner? What becomes of us then?” Etruscilla’s voice grew louder.
Nepos saw the heat in her eyes and met it with his own. “We must do something!”
Etruscilla took her husband’s hands in her own. “And we shall Titus! We shall find the documents that will free us from this nightmare and we shall bring down our enemies properly! And if, if, this does not seem possible… then we shall consider what further steps to take.”
Her words reached him. There was still much passion in Nepos’ eyes, but it was subsiding. For now at least, he saw reason.
“Come, let us prepare for today’s games. There is always the chance our fighters will win us much coin.” Etruscilla led Nepos from the courtyard.