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  #76  
Old Mar 30th, 2024, 03:28 AM
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Dianthe the Hetaira
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Dianthe the Hetaira
Abactemus’ appearance abruptly signals the end of Dianthe’s attempt to imitate the Theban sphinx and tease the truth out of the old man’s lips. The magister’s secret has been revealed and it is the same that Dianthe, Levian and Fidelis harbor in their hearts. Gaius Erucius Taurillus is an Eagle too! A nod of acknowledgment is all Dianthe has the time to reward him with. Her uncouth guest’s demands have to be dealt with in an appropriate way or she might lose much of what she holds dear.

The hetaira turns and regards Abactemus amicably, forcing a smile upon her lips. But her eyes cannot hide her bewilderment, her disgust even, for the man daring to suggest such a high reward for mere information. Venus and CupidAphrodite and Eros is the greatest treasure in Dianthe’s domus, or, more accurately, the greatest treasure she is willing to display openly.

Crafted from the purest Pentelic marble, the same white stone that was used to erect the Athenian Parthenon, the complex of life-sized statues depicts Venus holding her winged son, who has the guise of a child and is looking at his mother with adoration. It is rumored that none other than the divine Praxiteles created this statue. One only has to observe the serene perfection of the figures’ faces, the realistic appearance of their limbs and bodies as the two figures interact with each other and the masterful way by which the thin fabric of the goddesses’ chiton is hugging every inch of her sensuous body, making her appear nude even though she is fully dressed, to know that the rumor is true. Never before or since has the world seen such wonder and Dianthe would sooner claw her eyes out than relinquish such a masterpiece to a man as hideous in countenance and spirit as Abactemus.

No one knows how the hetaira has come to possess such a priceless treasure. It is one of the tales she will not share with anyone, not even Aristarchus. Her denial hides more than the unwillingness to expose the name of a clearly very generous client. Dianthe sees the complex of statues as the very definition of motherhood. She fears that to brag about it could incur the wrath of the gods. What if they were to rob her of what she cherishes above everything else in the world - her son - to punish her for her hubris?

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Aphrodite and Eros, a work of Praxiteles

Slowly, the initial shock is replaced by the firm conviction that Dianthe will not give in to this greedy man’s demands. But the hetaira has learnt from a young age that hard words are meant for men who fight each other on the field of battle or in the forum. As a woman, she has to use sweetness and cunning.

"No one can fault your eyes for being attracted to beauty, dear Abactemus, and there is nothing more beautiful in this domus than the goddess of beauty herself. Know that she means a lot to me. And yet…" The hetaira sighs and her shoulders slump in defeat. "I will not go back on my word. I will allow you to take the goddess out of this house and neither I nor my servants will harm you as you do so."

The pain in the hetaira’s face is almost palpable, but it is feigned, painted upon her beautiful features like makeup. The statue weighs far too much for any man but Hercules to lift it, much less take it out of Dianthe’s domus and she has promised to allow only Abactemus, not anyone in his employ, to carry it. She hopes that her show of humiliation will befuddle his wits and blind him to the ruse. And if not, she has other ways of making him relent, ways she hopes she won’t have to resort to. If Abactemus is half as clever as he seems to think, he will eventually realize that one doesn’t negotiate with a lioness. Not while inside her den.

"So, there. You have my word. Now speak and by the gods, if there is anything you know that you won’t willingly reveal, may Venus curse you so that no man or woman may look favorably upon your face ever again!"



 


 
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Last edited by Elanir; Mar 31st, 2024 at 02:06 AM.
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  #77  
Old Mar 30th, 2024, 05:46 AM
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Gaius Taurillus
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Gaius Taurillus

Dianthe the comely housewife was a veritable font of surprises. Having initiated his own covert message to the three tangentially related acquaintances, he was ill-prepared for the rapidity and intensity of the lady’s comeback.
”What I say or do not say, honored magister, is not as important as what truly is. You claim to serve the republic, but what do you know about the bird that is its symbol? How many eyes does it have? What wing does it favor? What is its favorite nourishment – bright gold, humble copper, or the heady scent of laurel leaves? Answer me correctly, and I will speak of all you wish to hear.”

He paused, thinking through the questionnaire she had levied at him. It seemed a turning point, a fork in the road which he must not get wrong, or all further conversation would likely cease – and perhaps more than that. This was indubitably the case, for his sharp blue eyes watched Levian the ex-Legionnaire shift toward the door. Any deceit on Gaius Taurillus’s part would likely end with the younger man’s gladius thrust into his navel. He gripped his walking stick and stared thoughtfully out the window.

”I am too old for dancing, my dear. It is clear that you are not all acquainted by chance, and-“ a pause, considering the scene he had so recently witnessed. ”-and if that man is your husband,” he said quietly while jerking a thumb in the direction of the house Abactemus had retreated to, ”-then I am your father. I did not come here to intrude on any of your lives, that is the god’s honest truth, but I cannot deny a certain… curiosity about the nature of your relationship. Not to mention how it is that we have all crossed paths at one time or another. Very curious.”

He stepped over to a table where some bread, hard cheese, grapes and wine had been set out. ”May I? I’ve not eaten yet?” When the lady of the house nodded in agreement, Gaius cut a small wedge of cheese and placed it over a hunk of bread he ripped off the loaf. ”You have my thanks. As to your questions, I was approached by, of all people, a senator. Called upon, in fact, at my domus in the middle of the night. Well, I do not like to be disturbed and was about to turn him away in fact, but the man insisted. Perhaps it was the mystery of the whole thing, or perhaps it was the armed Legionnaire he had brought with him who stood imposingly in the background – whatever it was, I admitted him entry.” He took a bite of the bread and cheese, then poured a small goblet a quarter full of wine and sipped thoughtfully. He kept looking over at the area of the house that Abactemus had disappeared through, wanting to make sure the man was truly out of earshot. When he was sufficiently satisfied of their privacy, he continued.

”I heard a strange tale from a dockworker once, when I was a younger man. A dead bird had washed ashore with the morning tide. Now, I don’t normally take much stock in stories, particularly stories from drunkards, but the man seemed rather insistent on the veracity of his tale. This bird had been dead for a few days, and predators had picked away at it, gnawing at the flesh until it was but tatters and feathers. The dockworker nudged the body over with his boot and saw that it had but one wing remaining-“ and here, Gaius Taurillus held up his left hand. ”Certainly not a surprise, given the state of the rest of the body. What was a surprise, and why the man felt the need to hold onto this little tale of his, was the skull. There was a third hole, here, in the middle of the forehead. ‘How strange,’ I remarked. ‘Three eyes?’” He paused to take another bite and washed it down with another sip of wine, pondering how to proceed.

”As for its diet, I do not know what this particular bird ate. In truth, I hardly know what I am in the mood to dine on myself most days. I find as I get older, things I once had a taste for now curdle my stomach. I’m sure if I were a bird, I would find the thought of eating gold repulsive, given what I know of gold and those who covet its allure. Then there is the humble copper, which I’m sure must give a sort of noble feeling to dine upon for some. But this city has an overabundance of copper, too much of it has turned green and ugly, and no amount of gorging will ever make a difference. Given the choice, I am sure the bird would turn to dining on leaves, for what other option is there? Now, have my answers suited you fully, or will you have Levian cut me down in the middle of your home – and with your ‘husband’ so near?”

 
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Last edited by Noquarter19; Mar 31st, 2024 at 01:23 AM. Reason: Setting the dialogue to before Abactemus' arrival
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  #78  
Old Apr 1st, 2024, 10:53 AM
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Abactemus opens up
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Abactemus

Abactemus seems to enjoy the parade of emotions passing over the hetaira's face but when she finally tells him that he can bring the statue, he needs to call upon all his experience as haggler to avoid his own emotions from showing. Incomprehension that someone would give in to the first demand without any attempt at negotiation or wheedling, disbelief at his luck, suspicion at what might be behind this behaviour but in the end, plainly and simply: all-consuming greed. He hopes it doesn't show on his face. He tries to tell himself it doesn't show on his face but oh, he knows. There is no hiding the sharp intake of breath, the quickening of pulse and the momentary tensing up of all his muscles. Fortunately the lady is too down-cast by her imminent loss to notice anything.

"You wanted to know about old Pugio Antiquorum, yes?" he slightly waggles his head as he tries on his most suave voice. He will show his full cooperation. "I sometimes help him out by taking messages from the dead drop. We are good friends; well, as good as our line of work allows, you understand." he nods conspirationally, which, combined with the slight waggling makes for a very quaint impression. "We usually meet in a taberna, The Angler's Lure, but lately he doesn't like to go there anymore. I think he has let the tab run up a bit too high. That's also why he took on his latest job... money trouble. Never would listen to advice from uncle Abactemus."

He makes a show of collecting his thoughts and trying to remember all the details. "His latest job, nasty business. He had to wait for a little girl. Somewhere on the way to the villa of some foreign lady. Come what was her name?" Nearly, following a life-long habit, he tries to drive up the price of his information but then thinks better of it. It wouldn't do to appear greedy. "Ah, yes. Antikleia, that's what he said. A girl on her way to Antikleia."

Unspoken, the question hangs in the air what his friend was supposed to do with the girl. "Ehh, by waiting for her, I mean finish her off," he explains, "that's his job after all. But I never like that with children, got a bit of a soft spot for them actually. Useful as pick-pockets too."

"Well, that's about all I know... Oh, the way to Antikleia's domus? That's not hard to find. It's in the Carinae but one of the smallest villae there. It's standing right by the side of an olive grove. Anything else?" He waits with a great display of modesty for Dianthe to allow him to leave with the statue.


OOGMI have added Antikleia's villa to the map as well.

Last edited by Dworin; Apr 1st, 2024 at 11:24 AM.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2024, 05:48 PM
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Dianthe the Hetaira
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Dianthe the Hetaira
Like Theseus, Dianthe feels that she is wandering in a dark and confusing labyrinth, blindly braving her way forward in an attempt to find the passage leading back to the light. Each time she is convinced she is making progress, she comes face to face with a solid wall and has to turn back. Each time she stands before a fork in the path, she feels her heart beating faster. What if the Minotaur waits for her just behind the next corner? What if she never manages to leave this prison of secrets, blood and lies? She knows she chose to enter it willingly, but that doesn’t make her feel any better. And slowly, ever so slowly, she is running out of time. Little by little, she is turning into a monster herself…

Suddenly, however, everything changes. Suddenly, she is presented with Ariadne’s thread. Like the Cretan princess of legend, Abactemus too chooses to betray his own. He doesn’t do so to feel a pair of hot lips pressed against his own, but for the love of money, an urge as strong as any, possibly stronger than most. Now, all Dianthe has to do is follow the thread from Portia to the man called Pugio Antiquorum and then to Antikleia, a foreigner like Dianthe. The hetaira can finally see light in the dark. She hasn’t reached the exit yet, but she is close, closer than ever before.

Abactemus speaks and while he does, Dianthe listens, noting every word. She sees Levian’s lips form a determined line. She sees the magistrate’s eyes light up. She pictures Fidelis’ eyebrows being raised in surprise - an assassin hired to murder a child! By whom and for what reason? The light is there, she sees it clearly now, but she is not yet out of the labyrinth. She has to follow the thread a little bit longer. She has to carry the sword that will put an end to the monster once and for all, no matter who the monster really is.

"Pugio Antiquorum… Very poetic, but I have heard him called by other names too. Austerus, the man who doesn’t smile. or Paulus?Paullus Fulvius Barbula, the man who spends in wine more silver than he owns. What is his real name, Abactemus? What did his father call him when he presented him to the family ancestors and the household gods? You must know this, for you two are, by your own words, friends. More than that, what does he look like? A name is like a ghost, but a face is real. It can be found and recognized."

Dianthe looks at her “husband” sternly, daring him to keep anything hidden from her.

"It is too late to change your mind now, Abactemus. If your friend finds out that you revealed his secrets to strangers, the next life that will be ended by his pugio is your own. So, hold nothing back. Who is the man - or woman - who hired Austerus to murder a child? Was he to retrieve something from the girl’s still warm hands - a letter perhaps? How can one find your dear friend? You wanted to collect his pugio for him, so you must have a way to contact him."

The hetaira leans against a column, showing that she has all the time in the world to ask as many questions as often as necessary before she gets the answers she demands.

"What about the Greek woman, Antikleia? I doubt she is Odysseus’ mother who came back from Hades. What do you know about her? What does she look like? Is she a woman of means? When did she come to Rome? Where from? More importantly, what is her connection to Statius Caecilius Ennodius and his wife, Bellicia? The sooner you satisfy my curiosity, the sooner Venus will reward you with her favor."



 


 
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Old Apr 2nd, 2024, 09:21 PM
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In fresh clothes and with his hair hanging in damp ringlets around his face, the newly-scrubbed Fidelis walks back through the house on his way to the sitting room, humming lightly. But he is suddenly struck by the realization that there is another youth around the place somewhere. Another student at that! His mind drifts from the task at hand, and he wonders what Dianthe's son is like and if the boy might be interesting to talk to.

He begins poking his nose here and there, hoping to find the other lad.



 


 
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Old Apr 4th, 2024, 03:41 PM
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Levian
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The tutor's answers are satisfactory after all, a surprise, but undoubtedly a positive one. The grave issue that the man represented just minutes ago is gone in a flash. That should ease some of the tension currently creasing Levian's face, but it doesn't. Instead of relief, his mind turns to resentment as he considers the circumstances of the day.

It seems, to him, that everyone is an Eagle. The slave boy by the river, and now Dianthe's son's tutor? Who next? Shall he soon learn that Ignaea is an Eagle? Or perhaps the Sinistram's true interest in young Portia is on account of her own former allegiance to the Senate. It strikes at his pride, damaging his own mental picture of himself as one of an elite few. If everyone is an Eagle, he thinks, what is the point?

Of course, this reasoning makes little sense, and the six Eagles Levian now knows of are only a few more than the four he knew before. But, nonetheless, this reasoning does not stop him from petty disgruntlement.




Levian does not participate in questioning Abactemus. Asking questions directly has never been his style, and in truth, he's not sure where he'd start. Better, he reasons, to do as he has always done: allow others to ask the questions and report their findings to him when they are finished.

 


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Old Apr 7th, 2024, 10:03 AM
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Abactemus opens up
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Abactemus

Abactemus stares at the staue of Aphrodite, a statue that he already imagines to be in his possession, that is his by right and that he can sell for ... He tears his gaze away in astonishment at the barrage of questions. He slightly lifts up his hands in a calming gesture but it's like trying to stop the unstoppable.

"yes, Paullus, seePaullus... you... you know his name?" his gesture now becomes one of defence and unbelief. Now that he passed the point of no return, he starts talking faster. "I call him my friend but I am also very afraid of him. Yes, he has many names but I like to call him pugio, it suits him. What he looks like ... well, he didn't get his nickname Austerus for nothing. The first impression is that he is grim; you'll notice it before you see his dark brown hairs. Always clean shaven so no victims can tug his moustache, piercing eyes. He's actually smaller than me and looks even smaller because he's so wiry. Wears clothes that he thinks make him inconspicuous but truthfully ... one can sense his energy with one's eyes closed.

He sometimes tells me little things because I am a close friend but if he would ever tell me the name of a person paying him, he'd be sure to give me two coins for the Charonferry man as well. I know nothing of such details. Besides, he himself might not know. That's the way a dead drop works. A letter? It might be but if he wants it to disappear, it is gone with nobody the wiser. I never look for him; I sit in the Angler's Lure and sometimes he comes but more often he does not. Honestly, I could do without his friendship; he's not bringing me any business at all."
A shocked expression flashes over his face when he realises what he has just said.

"Now Antikleia. She came here not that long ago from Macedonia. Fleeing the Dardani from what I hear. She is too rich or too prudent to borrow money from me and so far I haven't figured out whether she's a safe one for trade. Maybe later I'll... but that's not important now.

Statius"
He pauses to remember where he has heard this name before. "Isn't that some senator from the upper city? I don't know him; that's someone else's territory."

His gaze is again attracted to the statue. He'd need to bring a few men to bring it out. With his bad leg that would be quite impossible.


The young ones
In the opening of a door, Fidelis sees the face of a boy, younger than himself. It is pulled away and he hears a petulant voice. "You can not order me about, you are my slave. You must do as I say." "Hush now, master. I shall do as your mother says and right now she doesn't want her visitors to be disturbed." The voices move further into the house but the door remains at a crack.

Last edited by Dworin; Apr 7th, 2024 at 10:10 AM.
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Old Apr 8th, 2024, 01:12 AM
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Dianthe the Hetaira
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Dianthe the Hetaira
Dianthe listens attentively to Abactemus and all the information he willingly provides. It is less than she would have liked, but more than she expects. She looks at Levian and the old magister, but neither seems eager to question the man, both of them probably lost in their thoughts and plans for the future. As for Fidelis, the young man is still absent. A part of her wants to keep him as uninvolved in this case as possible. The boy has a certain innocence she doesn’t want to see gone, though she knows it’s only a matter of time.

At long last, she nods affirmatively. Abactemus has done his part. Now it’s time for her to keep her word.

"Thank you. You have given me what I asked for and in return, I will give you what you want. The statue of the goddess is yours."

She sees the excitement in the man’s eyes and knows that it will soon be succeeded by anger. It is her job to soothe these harsh feelings, make Abactemus understand that the reward she has in mind for him is more than appropriate.

"Do you know how Troy fell?", she asks innocently, while Abactemus is admiring his prize. "The city had the protection of the goddess Minerva and only by stealing the statue of Athena/MinervaPalladium, the same wooden statuexoanon that protects Rome, were the Greeks able to conquer it. It is said that it could only be taken by the goddess’ permission."

She approaches the complex of Venus and Cupid and looks at them with a devotion that is only partially faked.

"I believe it is the same with the goddess of love. I have given you, and only you, permission to carry her sacred statue away. If Venus allows it, she will no doubt make the marble feel as light as a feather. If she doesn’t, however, both of us must recognize and accept the will of the goddess."

She sees the sudden realization in Abactemus’ eyes and his rage in the ugly lines that appear on his face. Before he has a chance to speak, she places her hand on his.

"Come, Abactemus, you know that you demand too much. Even the most powerful of men have been ruined by hubris. I want us to part as friends and, if you wish it, future partners as well. I am willing to give you more silver than you know what to do with it. Or you can stake everything in Venus' favor."

She approaches him further and whispers something in his ear. A sum of denarii large enough to make happy all but the wealthiest patricians of Rome. She smiles. If Abactemus is clever, he will take his reward and be grateful to her for her generosity. If not, perhaps Levian should use his own methods to deal with him.

A fool is not someone who is likely to be of use to the Eagles in the future.



 


 
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Old Apr 8th, 2024, 07:09 PM
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Curiosity getting the better of him, Fidelis pushes the door and pokes his head in. If the boy and his caretaker are not present, he will try to follow the voices.



 


 
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Old Apr 10th, 2024, 12:52 AM
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Gaius Taurillus
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Gaius Taurillus

Gaius had returned to his seat and quietly chewed on a piece of bread and cheese and sipped at his goblet of wine and tapped his foot against the tiled floor as he listened quietly to the back and forth between Dianthe and Abactemus. His ears heard all, but he might as well have been a wall sconce or a windowpane for all the alertness he showed to his surroundings. His mind, meanwhile, was turning like a windmill in a hurricane. When the senator had briefed him, he had presented the bare-bones of the murdered orphan case as well as the names of the three agents currently following leads for it. Swept up by the unreality of his newfound situation, he’d not fully connected the dots between the names he'd been given and the acquaintances he’d already made in the past. Seeing the trio together in the street had finally made the connection click in his mind. Still, knowing who his associates were and knowing the rest of the players in the game were two entirely different things. He had been handed puzzle with only a handful of pieces; he could not hope to form a picture based on such scant details. Wisdom told him to wait for such a time when the quartet could share everything between them. In the meantime, he would wait for this vile little man, this Abactemus, to speak his piece and then depart with whatever riches he was able to wheedle out of Dianthe.

 
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Old Apr 13th, 2024, 01:20 AM
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Levian
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Levian stands by, a dark look threatening what his armor and weapon imply. In truth though, this is a bluff, one he hopes Abactemus will not call. Violence has not been one of Levian's preferred tools for many years. Long ago he tired of being the embodiment of the threat others used to enforce their power. Still, he is not blind to what others will assume when they see him, and is not above looking menacing, even if he truly has no desire to fight Abactemus, and here of all places.

 


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Old Apr 13th, 2024, 04:03 AM
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et dona ferentis
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Abactemus

Did Abactemus know how Troy fell? He might be as uneducated as they come in Rome but he didn't need education for this question. This Greek lady came with her fancy explanation while everyone knew how Troy was taken. By treacherous trickery of deceitful GreeksDanaans. Wistfully he casts a last glance at the magnificent statue, berating himself for so easily falling for the woman's words.

Partners? Pha! The days that he let that interfere with business are long gone. With disdain, he allows the hetaira to whisper a sum in his ear, a sum that falls far short of the value of his prize but which impresses him nonetheless. While some old man and that soldier type are looking at him, his calculative mind starts racing. He could try to lift the statue and leave empty-handed; he could stand on his rights and be carted off dead or he could take his loss and accept the money offered. He had to know when he was defeated.

"Rightly did Trojan priest warning against bringing the Horse with its payload of Greek warriors into the cityLaokoon warn against your kind, woman," he hisses at Dianthe, "and though I shall take your money, don't you think it can buy my friendship."


The Young Ones
When Fidelis enters into the room it at first appears empty. From outside he can hear a snippet of conversation, apparently some gossipping slaves. "...Praetor Marcus...wife...that woman...anticl", "shhh, there's young master."

A young boy walks into the room and blinks three times. When the visitor is still not gone after the third time, he addresses him without fear. "Who are you? I have never seen you before. I need to translate a dialogue in Sophokles, do you know Sophokles? I think him so dull!" The voice of the boy is the voice he had heard through the open door before.

Last edited by Dworin; Apr 13th, 2024 at 04:03 AM.
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Old Apr 13th, 2024, 03:24 PM
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Fidelis' eyes scan the room hurriedly, trying to identify the boy's caretakers. Then his gaze comes to rest on the lad himself, and he does a poor job at suppressing a smile.

His eyes widening in eager anticipation of the chance to share his knowledge, he says in exaggerated disbelief, "Sophokles..dull?"

The youth staggers into the center of the room, pretending to draw a sword and to look all about, his face a mask of fury. He shouts in pretended rage, "Where is she? His wife...no wife! His mother! Where can he find the mother earth that cropped two crops at once, himself and all his children?"

Fidelis slowly looks up toward the ceiling, and his eyes widen in horror.

"And there he saw the woman hanging by the neck, cradled high in a woven noose, spinning,
swinging back and forth."


He opens his hand to let the invisible sword fall, his mouth opening in a mute cry. Then he pantomimes untying something above his head and easing a burden to the floor, continuing slowly,

"And when he saw her, giving a low, wrenching sob that broke our hearts, slipping the halter from her throat, he eased her down, in a slow embrace he laid her down, poor thing . . ."


Fidelis looks sidelong to see if Dianthe's son is still watching and grins slightly to himself.

"Then, what came next, what horror we beheld!"

In a fluid motion, Fidelis pantomimes tearing something off an invisible corpse and then leaps toward the boy, landing right before him roaring,

"He RIPS off her brooches..the long gold pins holding her robes—and lifting them high, looking straight up into the points, he DIGS them down the sockets of his eyes!" Fidelis makes dramatic stabbing motions toward his own face, just inches from that of his audience.

Then he cries, "You, you’ll see no more the pain I suffered, all the pain I caused! Too long you looked on the ones you never should have seen, blind to the ones you longed to see, to know! Blind from this hour on! Blind in the darkness." Then one long wail, "Bliiiiiind!"

He pretends to stab his eyes further, then spreads his fingers out toward the boy as if something were spraying toward him, saying darkly, "And at each stroke blood spurts from the roots, splashing his beard, a swirl of it, nerves and clots—black hail of blood pulsing...gushing...down." At last he collapses quietly to one knee, his head bent down into his arms.

After a moment of silence, he looks up a the boy's face with a questioning grin. "Dull? I think not, son of Dianthe." He stands to full height. "I am Fidelis. I serve with...I serve your mother." He looks around the room again to see if he is in trouble with anyone before turning his attention back to the boy. "What is your name, my man?"



 


 
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Old Apr 14th, 2024, 04:21 AM
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Abactemus’ disdainful tone, more than the rejection of the hand that she offered him in peace, hits Dianthe hard. For a moment her eyes narrow and a hard line replaces her sensuous lips. But only for a moment. It doesn’t take long for the hard lines of her face to become smooth, womanly, triumphant. The man gave her what she wanted. She can’t blame him for refusing to give her his heart as well.

"I am sorry that you feel this way, Abactemus. I would have liked us to become friends", she replies sweetly, smiling at him innocently. "Laocoön was a wise man, but he provoked the ire of the gods. As you know, it didn’t turn out well for him and his sons."

The hetaira claps her hands and within moments a servant appears. She speaks softly and the middle-aged man responds with a shocked, questioning look. Dianthe nods reassuringly and the servant reluctantly leaves the room only to return a short time later, escorted by another, younger and brawnier man. The two of them carry a large, oblong wooden chest, which is obviously very heavy. With a last look at Dianthe, they place the chest on the floor, next to Abactemus.

"This gift you won’t refuse, Abactemus", the hetaira says confidently, "even though it’s from a Greek woman. You may check the contents of the chest yourself. There are no Danaans hiding inside, only helmeted Roma, eager to reward her son for services rendered."

Dianthe waits for Abactemus to open the chest and for his eyes to grow wide with wonder. She wants to see the glint of avarice in them and hear the gasp as the breath gets caught in his throat.

"There, a satisfying conclusion to our dealings", the woman declares, politely signifying that her guest’s presence is no longer welcome in her domus. "I’ll have my Nubians escort you home, Abactemus. It wouldn’t do for you to be robbed in broad daylight and to be found in an alley in a worse state than when you came to this house. It is my sincere hope that you will come to remember this day as the happiest of your life. Should your heart harbor any doubt, find solace in the words of Socrates: He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have."

With these final words of profound wisdom, Dianthe sends Abactemus off. With relief, she watches her servants carry the chest outside the domus and her unwelcome guest following them. She has managed to rid herself of this leech in the guise of a man and it has only cost her silver. Much silver, to be sure, but there is no shortage of it in the coffers of her clients.

"I wish you happiness and good luck", she says magnanimously, at the same time revealing the thorns beneath the velvety petals of the beautiful bloom that she sees herself as. "May the gods never have reason to treat you like they did wise Laocoön."

A warning and a threat. Just in case Abactemus’ greed weighs heavier than his good sense in the future.

Dianthe’s eyes meet those of Levian. "It’s done." The veteran is no doubt just as pleased to never see Abactemus’s face again.

"Now to more lofty matters", she says, trusting her fellow Eagles to understand the significance of her choice of words.

She gracefully half-reclines on a chaise lounge and signals Gaius to join her.

"You must have many questions, esteemed magister, as do we. Let us try to find answers to some of them. Young Fidelis should join us soon enough."



 


 
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Old Apr 17th, 2024, 04:14 AM
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For long moments the tired eyes of Gaius Taurillus stare vacantly at the doorway through which Abactemus and the hetaira’s Nubians have just exited from. The silence of the lady’s question hangs in the air like a noose, expectantly waiting for him to stick his head through in answer. He waits until Fidelis’s timid footfalls break the silence, and only then does he finally take a deep breath and turn to face his new companions – though his gaze meets only the piercing eyes of Dianthe.

”One evening, when I was a younger man, before the gout took hold and made each step a thing to be dreaded, I employed the services of a hetaira. She was fuller of chest than you, but she was not nearly as clever or well spoken – as evidenced by her smile, which she used to mask the nothing that was inside her head. And then there’s your smile, which I am sure hides more than I could possibly imagine. A pity. Had you met me twenty years ago, we might have been good friends. Yes, good friends, indeed.” He trails off, his eyes once again going distant, imagining a world that might have been, before eventually snapping to and returning to the bitter present.

"I say this not to be crude, but so that we might now remove our Thalia and see each other's faces for the first time. You ask if I have questions, my dear? Oh yes, many and more. But I know too few details to ask the right questions. Instead, I will speak on what little I know, then you three will share what you know. We will meet each other in the middle, and by then I will know what to ask. Until then, I might kindly ask for your patience.

"Having been awoken in the middle of the night by Lucius Naevius Iovianus, I, naturally, was curious about what the mighty Roman senate would want with a tired old magister. Sadly, once I had acceded to join his little aquiline organization, my visitor suddenly seemed to recall a prior engagement and left soon thereafter. Regarding what details I was told..."
He paused, his mind recalling the strange visit from that rainy night. "I was told the first names of the other operatives I would be working with, and that an orphan girl named Portia had been found dead. I am very curious to know how the death of a young child merits the investigation of a undercover agency fronted by a triumvirate of senators, but rather than retread ground you three have already covered, I will wait for your report on the matter. Beyond that...?" He shrugged his shoulders. "In truth, I was beginning to think the whole thing was something of a joke, though why a senator would seek an old man out in the middle of the night just for a laugh, I could not say. It seems both unlikely and cruel, and perhaps that is why I did not dismiss the possibility outright. It is not the first time my life has been marred by the cruelty of the senate." The hand not holding the walking stick clenched, and one of the old knuckles made a dusty popping sound.

"I recognize that I am little better than an acquaintance to each of you, and while I've enjoyed getting to know you separately, what you know of me is purely superficial. You see me as an old man, a magister for children of the upper crust - and slaves as well," he says, his piercing eyes twinkling in the direction of Fidelis. "But I have lived close to one life for each one of your own, and I have seen and heard much. Woe to me for not being able to forget - and woe to those who have wronged me and my family as well, for I do not forgive easily. But do not worry on my motivations. Just know that I have personal reasons for joining the organization, and trust that I will not allow those reasons to compromise the work we have been tasked with. And now, I would hear from each of you, as much or as little as you would share. Just know that it behooves you little to be withholding, for I cannot help you find the way if you do not share the map."

 
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