The Greatest Ludus

The Empire of Rome is at its height. The rich and powerful grow more powerful with each day. The corrupt grow more decadent and seek to avenge even the smallest of slights.

Young Titus Nepos, his beautiful wife Etruscilla and their trusted Doctore Nimr face a plot to crush their House by an unseen foe. They must unravel the history of Nepos' family and uncover a deadly secret, or face utter ruin.

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22. Great Risk

The bloodied gladiator that staggered from the dagger embedded in his thigh was not going to live long in the memory of the House of Nepos. One of the fifteen given to him by Paulus, Nepos despaired at the man's lack of fighting skill.

His opponent was a man of the Moors, bulging with muscles and filled with fury. The net and spear were his favoured weapons and they had already done much damage to Nepos' man; now he was enjoying himself, slicing at limbs and delivering fists into his foe's stomach. The crowd cheered.

When the final blow came it was the dagger again, through the throat. Blood spurted from the dying man's neck and lips; his death marked the third of Nepos' new acquisitions to die in as many fights.

At least Praxites had proven his worth. His fight had been a short but successful affair, removing his opponent's legs with a swing of his blade and driving his sword through the man's chest. Simple but very effective.

Others of his stock had also prevailed but duels Nimr would have sauntered through were struggles for what was left of his people. Nepos did not feel confident that the next fighter would fare any better.

Yet, for all the problems in the arena, it was the problems beyond that caused Nepos the greatest worry. His friend, Nimr, was even now preparing to hunt down the very men who hunted him, and whilst Nepos had not specifically instructed Nimr to act, he could not release himself from the burden of responsibility.

The crowd cheered the victorious Moor, who had since sliced his enemy's head away and now held it aloft. Nepos barely noticed.

"You are not here." Stated Etruscilla, sitting beside him on the balcony.

"Hmm? What?" Nepos turned, to face his wife.

"You are not here. Your physical form is present, but you are not."

Nepos exhaled. "I am... distracted."

"By the news delivered today." She observed.

"Yes. It weighs heavily upon my mind."

He could see the doubt creased on her face. Somehow she sensed he was withholding important words.

"I am sure. Did you speak to your friend?" She spoke quietly, mindful of the other people upon the balcony. Yet even with soft tongue her voice held a trace of flame.

Nepos hesitated for a but a moment. "I did. I advised him to seek a new home, free of the shackles of the city." That part at least was true.

"I trust he will see immediate escape." Her voice had changed from hot to cold in an instant.

"I hope he will."

The crowd roared as the next two fighters stepped into the arena. Nepos' worries deepened, but not over the fear of losing another unworthy warrior.

****

For second time that morning someone was pounding on the doors to Lady Crispina's House. The first time had been inconvienient, for it had woken her far too early for her tastes. Now it was infuriating, for she was enjoying the tongue of a petite brunette, lapping at her most delicate regions, pushing her closer and closer to orgasm...

And she had to abandon her pleasure when she heard Stigr open the door and a deep voice demand to see her.

"Do not go anywhere my dear." She cupped the face of the maiden gently. "I shall return to finish what we started very soon."

Throwing on a typically revealing burgundy toga, She walked briskly to the door, fixing a stern gaze on the centurion that stood outside her home.

"To what do I owe this visit?" She asked stiffly.

The centurion met her fierce stare with piercing blue eyes of his own. A scar on his nose seemed to flare.

"I have orders to search these premises for a recently-escaped gladiator, known as 'Nimr'. He has fled from his master and killed several of his guards upon his escape. My men and I are to conduct searches of every home in the city."

Crispina lauged airily. "Well then, you had best get started- this is after all a rather large city. Please, do come in."

She pulled the doors open wider, and in marched the imposing centurion. His professional eyes were already scanning the rooms either side of him, currently unoccupied at the current hour.

"What's your name brave centurion?" She asked, brushing a hand down his arm.

"Of what concern to you is my name?" He replied, a little tartly. Crispina flicked her hair away and walked in front of him.

"I merely make polite conversation. Surely it is not beyond a warrior of Rome to be polite? Or should I complain to your captain about your conduct?"

The centurion harumphed. "Publius. Satisfied?"

"Mmm, that depends." She allowed her robe to 'accidently' slip a little, revealing greater cleavage. Well-trained eyes caught the flicker of Publius' eyes to her breasts, if only for a moment.

"So tell me, this man you seek, should I be worried?" She allowed a touch of anxiety into her voice.

"I do not believe so." Publius was approaching the doors to her private chambers, but turned to his right to march down the corridor instead.

"What makes you sure?"

"Because such men usually seek to flee the city's walls before all else. If he has remained, he is a fool, and I am told this man is no fool." Publius began to push open some of the doors. He saw several servants in various states of undress and in various stages of fornication, but did not see anything that would be of value to him.

"He does not appear to be hiding within these walls." He finally said, apparently satisfied with his search.

"A relief. To think such a barbarian could have chosen my home to seek shelter..." Crispina made herself shudder.

"As I said, such men usually flee. Still, it pleases me to have provided relief to such a delicate flower." Publius' tone was more gentle. He had relaxed a little.

"I am quite grateful. And perhaps..." She ran her hands over his chest armor. "I can provide you with relief when such opportunity presents itself?"

"Ah, I am betrothed to another my Lady. I am... appreciative of the consideration."

"A pity you are spoken for. Still, such is the way of things. Thank you, once again, for securing my property. Perhaps you and your beloved might seek to partake in a paired exercise one day?"

Publius actually smiled. "I will offer her suggestion." The doors were now in sight. "I offer you thanks for being so welcoming. Many have reacted poorly to these searches. It is refreshing to have different experience."

"Not at all. I hope you find the one you seek." She said, offering a gentle smile. The guard nodded in respect, then departed to return to his kin.

Stigr was there, and he hastily closed the doors. He looked as white as clean bedsheets.

"My Lady, that..."

"Was uncomfortably close. Yes, yes it was. Nimr! What are you..." He had bolted from his hiding place under the floorboards of Crispina's private room, and had pulled on a cloak from the storeroom. Now he made for the doors.

"There is no time my Lady. Publius' arrival has provided unexpected chance. Sooner or later he will return to his captain, who will lead me to Caius or Vibius. I must follow him."

"You place yourself in enormous risk Nimr!" Crispina was indignant. "I cannot allow it!"

"If Cais and Vibius die the bulk of their plot dies with them. The shadow they have cast over my friends will fall." Nimr was opening the door. "This is the only way."

Ekwueme had appeared in the hallway, his eyes full of tears. "He is right my Lady. We must let him go."

Crispina looked from Ekwueme, to Nimr, and back again. She felt the emotion in the room and knew they must have already spoken about Nimr's intentions. She could feel resignation taking over.

"Then Nimr... you must go. Remember, you will always have shelter here. Always."

"I will cherish this my Lady. Ekwu... I love you."

"And I love you. Return to me, somehow." Ekwu's voice was cracking.

A single tear fell down Nimr's cheek. "I shall. Somehow I shall." With those words, he slipped out, to stalk his prey.

****

"You knew precisely what Nimr would seek to do once you had spoken to him! Despite assuring me you would seek a bloody resolution only as a last resort!" Etruscilla's temper flared as they returned to their home. She stormed out, into the courtyard, then wheeled around to sting Nepos with her fury.

"I have not broken my word! I still hope to find a noble way out of this, but I must face the facts, our chances of finding such an option are small. You know this as well as I."

"They will accuse us of sending Nimr on this quest. The blood upon his hands will lead back to us."

"Even if such a thing is true it will rest with the authorities to prove such a plan exists. There is no record, none, to link us to Nimr's deeds.

"And if you are wrong Titus? If they can shore up their words with proof, you will have condemned us all." Etruscilla's anger had ebbed, but in its place was disappointment.

"I know." There was nothing more he could say.

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