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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24. Traps

Their passion sated, Etruscilla lay her head down upon her husband's chest, listening to the sound of his heartbeat. He was quiet, almost unnaturally so, as they enjoyed each other's arms.

"You are troubled my love."

Nepos nodded. "I am. I am... glad to have seen sense, but worried, deeply worried, about what the future still holds. If cherished documents exist that may exonerate us, we must find them, yet they are almost certainly beyond our reach."

Etruscilla thought for a moment. Her mind whirred, as it did sometimes, seeking details, options that Nepos had missed.

"Could Paulus yet be of use to us?" She asked. "He has much knowledge, after all."

Nepos shook his head. "He would not part with it to aid us. He is friends with Vibius, and we lack the coin to loosen his tongue. Nor can we ask Lady Crispina to take further risk on our behalf."

It was Etruscilla's turn to reconsider her path. An option that she was loathe to take, but perhaps, just perhaps...

"I could loosen his tongue. I could suggest that you and I have fallen out of favour, and that I wish to be on the arm of such a wealthy, powerful man as he."

Nepos gave her an incredulous look. "You would do this?" He waved the idea away. "Paulus would suspect the timing of the move. There is also no guarantee he would part word with enough time for us to act. And... you would have to provide him with services."

Etruscilla smiled, and toyed with his chest hair. "This thought promotes jealousy."

"It promotes revulsion. The thought of a beautiful rose as you, fornicating with an ogre like him..."

She laughed. "I will confess to finding the idea quite unsavoury. At this point, I am uncertain what else to suggest."

An idea was bubbling away in Nepos' mind. His eyes widened a little.

"Perhaps Paulus does yet hold the key... My wife, I know you are against bloodshed, and see it only as a last resort, but if Paulus can be... persuaded to break words on the matter, he could see us freed from this nightmare."

She sat up, looking stern. "What sort of 'persuasion' would you suggest?"

"The blunt kind."

"I do not like this Titus. However, I am beginning to doubt our options. You are not a viscious man Titus, how do you plan to extract words from Paulus' lips?"

Nepos was silent for a moment, before gently easing Etruscilla from him. "I will commision one of our flock- Praxites perhaps- to accost Paulus at first opportunity. He will convince Paulus to break words or face painful end."

"Praxites? Do you believe him such loyal servant that he would take such risk for us?" Etruscilla sounded doubtful.

"I believe he will. He has trained with Nimr, absorbed some of the man's love for this house. He is the only one I would trust, aside Nimr, for this."

"It is a pity Nimr has almost certainly fled the city by now." Replied Etruscilla sadly. "We could assured of success if he were aiding us."

"This is true. It is also true that we must forgo thoughts of Nimr. He is lost to us now, and we must place our faith in his successor."

****

As the day gradually turned to dusk a weary, hungry Nimr approached the entrance to Lady Crispina's house. The alley way was dark, yet strangely welcoming.

It was risky to stay in the city, but at least Lady Crispina's house had the merit of having already been searched. Plus, it would mean a little more time with Ekwueme.

He quietly slipped to the door, rapped on it a couple of times, and not for the first time Stigr's eyes widened when he laid eyes upon the former gladiator-turned-fugitive. This time he did not move to fetch Crispina- he simply stood aside and allowed Nimr entrance.

The house was busy. Men and women in various states of undress and in a variety of pair-ups coul be heard behind the curtains, grunting and moaning as they performed various deeds. Stigr led Nimr quickly to the back, toward the servant quarters.

"Ekwueme is currently... performing, and I do not know when he will be free." Stigr said quickly. "In the meantime, eat!" There was the welcome sight of bread and wine, and cold meats as well.

"Thank you." Nimr gently patted Stigr on the back, before the servant scurried off to attend to the guests.

The food and drink was simple but incredible. Nevertheless, Nimr felt so tired that he did not know if he could keep his eyes open much longer. He had to stay awake long enough to see Ekwu, to part words on his exploits, and to see to it word reached Nepos of his failure.

It was however, so, so difficult, after the frantic past few days. The beds were inviting, and even as Nimr ate he felt his fatigue grow. Despite his best efforts, Nimr had to sleep. He took to one of the beds, closed his eyes, and settled into a well-earned slumber.

****

His rest did not last long, for he felt Ekwu slip into bed with me, wrapping his arms around him. The embrace was warm, soft, and it wasn't long before Nimr was asleep again.

****

"I note with displeasure that no one seems to able to predict Nimr's actions." Caius sat in his personal chamber, casting a calculating eye upon the Captain of the Guard, Marcus Paetus.

The Captain's hazel eyes and weather-worn face betrayed no sign of worry about being in the Senator's scrutiny. "It is regrettable Senator, that Nimr has so far evaded capture, but I can assure you, he has not left the city. There are centurions posted at every exit and examining every transport out of the walls. He is here."

His hat was held in his arms, his gold-plated armour shone, and the Captain looked like a man ready for war.

"If he is indeed still here, I would advise you redouble your efforts Captain. Nimr is a potentially dangerous man, highly skilled in combat, and if he is indeed seeking freedom, he will almost certainly fight hard for it, especially if cornered. It would not do for innocent blood to spill on the streets."

Paetus had his doubts that Caius truly cared about innocent blood, but fortunately his wrinkled forehead did not betray his thoughts. "My centurions are taking every measure to ensure the safety of Rome's citizens."

"Good. It is also important to ensure discretion. After all, Nimr escaped from my brother's ludus. I do not want or need my family name being embarrassed by this affair." His eyes continued to stare fiercely. Paetus continued to brush it aside.

"There shall be no such embarrassment Senator. I promise you this."

"Good. You are dismissed Captain. I wish you look in your mission."

"Thank you Senator. I shall not fail you."

****

The Captain swept from Caius' office, his centurion's robe billowing behind him. Publius fell into step beside him.

"What news sir?" He asked.

"The senator wishes us to continue our search. Personally, I believe Nimr to be long gone; he escaped our notice, perhaps escaping via one of the sewers. I dare not disappoint such a powerful family with such news, so we shall pay lip-service to search for a few days more. After that, we shall make apologies and hope the good senator is in forgiving mood."

****

Crispina poked her nose into the servant quarters, and smiled. Nimr had returned, and now slept, whilst Ekwueme slept with him. For a short while at least, all was right with the universe. She watched them for a time, before deciding to send word to Nepos of the latest development. He want to know that Nimr was still here.

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