For once Stigr was not the one to travel to Nepos’ villa. Another servant was sent whilst he entertained an older couple with, amongst other things, a gag, a whip, and various penetrative implements.
He wasn’t quite finished with the husband when he heard Nepos’ familiar voice upon arrival. He mentally shook his head as he spanked arse, wishing Crispina would leave the matter alone.
“Thank you Titus, for seeing me on such short notice. I am beginning to think you and your wife should take up residence here, such is the time you spend within these walls. Mmm, quite the thought!” She offered a naughty smile. Nepos tried to think if he knew anyone as flirtatious as she, but no one came to mind.
“Wine?” She walked from her bed to the cabinet where a bottle waited.
“Normally I would say no- I think however, I would say yes.” Nepos smiled politely.
“If only you would say yes to other offers!” She laughed, then her face became serious. “As my messenger informed you, Nimr did not succeed in his… mission. I believe that is for the best young Titus- slaying members of the powerful Metellus family will not help you escape your plight, and the more time Nimr spends within the city the greater risk to himself.”
“I… have come to the same conclusion.” He began. He shuffled in his seat. “However, I am still without means or plan to rid myself of current problems, apart from one, desperate strategy.”
“What would that be?” Crispina took a generous sip of her wine and handed Nepos a goblet.
He took a drink from it. “There is but one man who holds the key to unraveling this plot completely. A man who has always held the key. His secrets were partially unlocked once before, by you, but now, the door must not only be opened but smashed down.”
Crispina’s eyes narrowed. “You are not suggesting…”
“I do not mean to suggest you should offer more of yourself to him. Far from it. I simply need Paulus drawn into the open, so that I can apply proper… pressure.” Nepos was hesitant, but he had no other way.
“You mean to interrogate him? Titus, if you should force him to spill words, do you think he will then quietly withdraw to his home?” Crispina shook her head. “He will run to the authorities, have you arrested, and your ruin will be much hastened!”
“Then it is simple. He will not survive his questioning.” Nepos tried to sound firmer than he felt.
“You would have me be accessory to murderous intent?” Crispina’s voice raised, but a notch.
“No one need never know who or why he was upon the streets when he is abducted. He will not be given chance to name you or anyone else.”
“That is hardly the point Titus! I have no love for Paulus or the Metellus family, and I am sympathetic to your plight, but you ask me to assist you in the torture and murder of a citizen of Rome!” The indignation in her voice rose.
Nepos fixed desperate eyes upon her. “I could have simply asked you to request Paulus’ presence so that I could speak to him. I chose to reveal to you my plan, out of honesty and trust.”
“And gratitude for for this. This does not mean I can help you Titus. I believe it best you take your leave.”
Nepos rose, feeling worse than ever. “I will pay any price- any price.”
“There is no price I will accept to be a part of such a venture. You ask me to be complicit in a man’s death Titus- never ask this of me again.”
Nepos looked ready to say more, but he saw the resolve etched on Crispina’s face.
“Apologies. I have… failed you.”
“You have done no such thing Titus. You are however, on the verge of such a thing. I urge you to make correct choice.”
Nimr was waiting in the corridor when Nepos took his leave of Crispina, still cloaked, in case anyone should recognise him. Nepos could only smile weakly.
“I am pleased, old friend, that you did not spill blood. Well, I am both pleased and dismayed. The end of the Metellus brothers would both ease and increase my burden, but the most important thing is your freedom. Leave this city Nimr. Flee whilst you still can.”
Nimr stood resolute. “What of you Dominus? Your plight is still great, the threat to you still remains. How can I leave when you are in greatest need?”
“I have made other plans Nimr. Arrangements are in place.” That wasn’t strictly true, though it soon would be.
“I may yet be of help…”
“No Nimr. You have already done much and risked much to be of aid to my house. I can allow no more chances to be taken on my behalf. Leave, please. Be safe.”
Nimr was silent. There was sense in Nepos’ words, even if it went against everything he felt in his heart.
“Goodbye Nimr. For the final time, goodbye.” Nepos patted Nimr on the shoulders, smiled weakly, then departed the House of Crispina.
“Praxites, I would have words!” Nepos’ voice thundered across the training sands as the gladiators sparred. Praxites ceased his current duel, meeting the eyes of his master, and bowed respectfully, before making his way into the house proper.
When he found Nepos, his master was pouring wine into goblets. Good wine, not the cheaper stuff the gladiators were used to. When Nepos turned around, he thrust a goblet at Praxites, to his surprise.
“As a reward for your fine performance in the arena yesterday. And to sweet the offer I am about to make.” Nepos wore a smile but it was forced.
“I am honoured and intrigued Dominus.” Replied Praxites.
“You may not feel intrigued for long.” Nepos looked away, and walked over to the balcony. Praxites followed quietly.
“I require you to put your skills to test beyond the walls of the arena. There is a man, who holds many secrets regarding the plot you may have heard of to destroy this house. I need you to extract his secrets from him.”
Praxites was confused. “You wish me to apprehend this man and torture him to part tongue?”
“… Yes. He either knows full details of the plot against this house or can tell you where proof of plot lies. It is… important he does not live beyond spilling words.”
“I understand Dominus. Who is this man and how shall I find him?”
Nepos faced Praxites. “You seek Marcus Octavius Paulus. I shall lure him into the open by extending invitation to discuss repayment of debts. I shall seek to dull his senses with wine, and then, upon his return to his home, you shall intercept him, dispatch any centurions guarding him, and take him to private location to extract words.”
The gladiator stood nervously. He did not look confident in the idea.
“You are uncertain as to whether you can carry out assignment?” Asked Nepos firmly.
“No Dominus, I can carry out your orders.” Yet something was unspoken.
“You have concerns?”
Praxites sighed. “Yes Dominus. I am not sure this is wise. This man, Paulus, what if he does not come? What if he should determine you are not worthy of his time?”
Nepos smiled thinly. “I shall send word that I will offer him coin- a man such as Paulus values the acquisition of wealth. It is not perfect- he may yet stay away- but I believe it is our best chance of luring him into the open. Are you absolutely certain you can carry out this request?”
“Yes Dominus, if it is to save the house that I call home.” Nepos was pleased by the lack of hesitation in Praxites’ voice.
“Good. I will send word in the morning. Let us hope Paulus plays his part.”