The hooded figure made their way down one of Rome’s many back alleys, past small market stalls, beggars and miscreants, all of whom tried to speak to them, or thrust their hands out, desperate for the smallest crumb or coin. The figure bustled past without so much as a second glance- they had far more important things to worry about than Rome’s forgotten people.
One of the nondescript wooden doors on their left was the entrance to one of Rome’s most notorious- and busiest- whore houses. Even now, mid-morning, the person knew the brothel would be heaving.
They rapped three times on the door, and it swung inward, permitting them entry.
Several private rooms were either side of the corridor they now walked down, as they followed an impressively large man of the Moors (who probably acted as a guard against the rowdier elements of the place). Most of the rooms were in use- although the doors were closed, the sounds (of men and women grunting, groaning and shrieking, for various reasons) made that quite obvious.
The respectable and the powerful, despite often being the ones to claim the moral high ground, were quite often the ones who came here. There were plenty of such places in Rome, but few offered the discretion- and the privacy- of Petillia Crispina’s House. It was not uncommon in other brothels for the fornicating to be out in the open- and the standards were usually low.
Not here. Petillia’s men and women were hand-picked, well-trained in various techniques (the older ’employees’ were expected to ‘educate’ the younger ones), and the standards of beauty were high. There were also very strict rules about the treatment of her whores. It was said that Petillia looked after them like they were family.
And because she charged her clients quite handsomely, she was able to treat them like family as well.
This also allowed her House to offer the perfect location for clandestine meetings- such as the one about to take place.
“This way.” The deep baritone voice of the Moor directed the hooded figure through a large set of double doors at the end of the corridor. The figure went through- his minder did not.
The next room had all the trappings of wealth. Small marble statues of men and women in various states of sexual entanglements were perched on small tables around the room, with a larger table in the middle. A soft, plush bed and a small desk were nestled in the far left corner. Two small mirrors with gold trim (another mark of wealth) rested on the desk, as did various articles of make-up. One or two… implements (a whip, and some chains) had also been left on the desk. The figure could only imagine what they’d been used for.
“You are late.” A voice- an angry, old voice- came from behind the door. The figure flinched ever so slightly, but managed to keep their resolve.
“Apologies.” Titus Norbanus Nepos pulled the hood back. “My wife had pressing business that could not wait.”
“I’m sure.” As the door swung shut an older man, dressed in a similar hooded cloak, stepped into the light afforded by the high yet small windows.
Marcus Octavius Paulus, more than twice Titus’ age, and decidedly rounder in shape (years of over-indulgence with Rome’s political elite had sharpened his mind but not his body) was not a Senator, but held the ears of several such men. He was said to carry more influence than half the Senate combined, and over the years he had accumulated many secrets on the important and powerful. A property owner, Paulus had spent a great many years with his fingers in many pies. What he knew was said to be capable of destroying shops, markets, businesses- even the Senate.
“I trust you know why I have asked to meet you here.” Paulus walked slowly toward the middle of the room, his stark green eyes never leaving Nepos.
“I believe I have some idea.” Replied Nepos carefully. He strode toward a pair of cushions near the bed. “Shall we sit?”
“I prefer to stand.” Came the stern response. “Let us get down to it. You wish to secure your family’s legacy. I can help you to accomplish this. However, you lack the coin to fund my services, so a different sort of payment is required.”
Nepos stood still. This was what he had been dreading.
Paulus continued. “Your ludus needs investment. You need fresh blood to bolster your ranks. You have some fine gladiators, but not enough of them. A number have fallen in recent weeks in surprising- some would say- shocking, circumstances.” Paulus stepped closer. “The fewer gladiators you have to send to the arena, the less opportunity for winnings. The harder it becomes to pay your dues and taxes. The more this persists, the worse it will get.”
Nepos looked Paulus squarely in the eyes. “You speak nothing that I do not already know. What is your price?”
Paulus smiled. “Direct and to the point. Your father could be equally blunt. I can secure for you fifteen new gladiators, all of whom have some measure of fighting experience, either in their previous occupations or as existing gladiators. None of them are what you would call exceptional but all are of good quality. In return, my client wishes for one- just one- of your gladiators.”
Nepos cocked his head slightly. “Who?”
Paulus spread his hands wide. “The Tiger, Nimr.”