Marcus Paulus was not used to be summoned. A man of his importance did not expect such things.
Yet when Caius Metellus called for him, Paulus did not dare ignore it.
What he had not expected, upon strolling into the senate office of Caius, was to be faced by not one brother but two.
“Vibius, this is an unexpected pleasure.” He said evenly. The expression on Vibius’ face was not at all welcoming.
“A few days ago I parted with much coin to procure a worthy and able gladiator. As the sun was rising he slipped from my grasp and is now at this moment potentially anywhere in the city!”
Paulus was shocked. Vibius was legendary for the stern measures in place to deter escape from his ludus. Clearly Nimr was even more skilled than anyone knew.
“That is… most unfortunate.” Paulus began.
“Unfortunate? Unfortunate? This is an outrage Marcus! I did not invest so heavily only for my prize to part from grip! You assured me Nimr would be obedient!”
“I assured you of no such thing. You sought a means to hasten Nepos’ end, and I assisted you in removing his most prized fighter from his possession, placing him into yours. I promised you a skilled and potent warrior, and I delivered.”
“Are you being intransigent Marcus?” The cold, calculating eyes of Caius stared into his own. Paulus returned that gaze with one of equal measure.
“No, of course not Senator. I am being precise. I was commissioned to help your brother procure Nimr and I did exactly that.”
“Hmm. It would seem to me that you delivered faulty goods Marcus.” The temperature seemed to drop a notch more. “Clearly Nimr has loyalty issues, issues you failed to mention, either because you did not acquire proper knowledge, or because you failed to pass on such words.”
Paulus was becoming irked. “I can assure you, I fulfilled my obligations to the letter. I do not appreciate my integrity being questioned.”
“And I do not appreciate losing my most prized possession within days of acquiring him!” Vibius was red-faced, burning with fury, in complete contrast to his brother.
“Calm yourself Vibius.” The words were quiet, yet Caius carried much authority. “We are all reasonable men. I am certain we can find a satisfactory arrangement for this… mishap.”
Paulus nodded. “I will commission all the centurions under my command to keep watch for Nimr. They will join the authorities in patrolling the city.”
“Gratitude Marcus. As a senator I will be issuing a warrant for Nimr’s immediate arrest. It is important he is returned to my brother unharmed.”
“I shall make sure of it Senator.” Paulus bowed, and met Vibius’ angry glare with a quiet dignity as he left.
“Nimr!” Nepos exclaimed. There was his friend, still nursing injuries from his fight with Decimus, looking exhausted from his escapades, but yet still looking as formidable as ever. Somehow he carried that look, even after being hastily dressed in robes more befitting someone of Nepos’ size.
Nepos had quickly rushed to see Nimr in person, even as Praxites and other gladiators were being transported to the arena. Though he was now armed with the knowledge that his house was in more immediate peril than he thought, it mattered to Nepos to see Nimr.
“Dominus.” Nimr smiled and bowed his head.
“You are no longer my servant Nimr, and I am not your dominus.”
“Nonetheless, it is a title I would sooner bestow upon you than upon any other.” Nimr’s expression grew more serious. “You take many risks coming here.”
“You flatter me.” Nepos slapped Nimr on the shoulder.
“Perhaps, but I could not pass opportunity to see you my friend. Especially when it will become dangerous for you to remain in the city.”
They had use of Lady Crispina’s private quarters for their discussion. It felt strange to hold such a talk when surrounded by implements of a sexual nature. Neither of them sat, for neither wanted to.
“I had considered that.” Nimr looked away, at one of Crispina’s more elaborate sculptures. “I wish I could do more to aid your cause.”
“Nimr, you have already aided me in so many ways. Without you my house would have been broken a long time ago. Without you I would not know of this plot’s hastened progress.”
Nimr turned to face his former master once again. “And yet this plot continues, with no end to it, save for your destruction.”
“Yes, it continues. For now. But when time comes to make fateful choice, I will act.” There was steel in Nepos’ words, but Nimr did not see it reflected upon his face.
“You plan to murder the ones responsible.” The statement hung in the air.
“Etruscilla believes I will seek the documents that yet hold the secret of why the house of Metellus holds such a grudge against my own. I do not believe there is time to locate such information, assuming it even exists. If Caius and Vibius should fall, their house crumbles, and their plot dies with them.”
“You are not a murderer Dominus. I do not believe you would commit such acts, even in the face of utter ruin. You are too good a man to dirty your name with such deeds.” Nimr’s voice rumbled.
Nepos paced the room. “I have no choice! Not only for the sake of my wife and myself, but for all those who now reside within my walls! We shall become slaves ourselves if I do not act!”
“There is another way.” Said Nimr calmly. “I can perform acts that you cannot.”
Nepos stopped in his tracks. “You… Nimr, no. You are already a hunted man. Your priority should lie with fleeing the city!”
“As I am already a hunted man, what difference should it make?” Said Nimr. “Murder a senator and there will be no way back for you Dominus. Even if the rest of your house is not somehow condemned for your actions, you will meet a painful end. Should I do this, I am confident enough that I can evade capture and give you valuable alibi.”
There was so much passion in Nepos’ eyes. So many conflicting emotions. With a sigh, he seemed to relax.
“Nimr, the powers that be may still link you to me. They may claim you were acting upon my orders.”
“Then it is their obligation to prove such words were broken between us. If I am not caught, they will have only their allegations, which are meaningless. If I am caught, I promise you I will claim I acted alone.”
Another sigh escaped Nepos’ lips. “I have asked so much of you over the years old friend. It does not feel right to ask this of you as well.”
“It has been, is, and always shall be my honour to serve the House of Nepos, in any way I can. Besides…” Nimr’s face spread into an evil smile. “From what I have seen of Vibius, it would be a fate most deserved.”
Nepos laughed. “This I will not dispute. I must take my leave now old friend. I do not know when, or even if, we shall meet again.”
Nimr thrust out a hand, that Nepos took.
“We shall one day, in the afterlife. That is guaranteed. Until that day… the gods will decide whether our paths meet again Dominus.”
Tears were beginning to well up in Nepos’ eyes. “Live well Nimr.”
“Live well, Titus.”