Death and Glory

The prequel to The Greatest Ludus, telling the story of Mamercus Nepos, grandfather of Titus- his rise, his fall, and his return to glory.


3. Gambits

The sight of men swallowing fire and then breathing it out was certainly impressive. How they'd walked over hot coals without leaving a single mark on their bare feet was equally impressive. The crowd had been sutibly dazzled and Mamercus had to admit that he'd been amazed as well.

Not all of his attention had been on the show though.

Rutilia had held on to his arm throughout the show and the display was over she continued to walk arm in arm with him. Mamercus could not help but wonder how to convince her to return to his home for the night, though Rutilia certainly had more class than some of the women he'd bedded (if he was being accurate, she had more class than the lot of them put together). Such a woman was unlikely to shed her clothes at the first encounter, regardless of how desirable Mamercus could make himself- and that made him all the keener to bed her.

"I believe it is customary to enjoy a cup of wine after such a fine show of daring and bravery." He said, as the two walked slowly toward one of the more reputable drinking houses.

"Are you offering to part coin to bring wine to my lips?" Rutilia replied, her eyes twinkling a little as twilight settled in.

"I would be prepared to part with much coin to bring fine wine to the lips of a beautiful lady such as yourself."

She smiled, a full smile, showing off her brilliant white teeth.

"You consider me beautiful?"

"My lady, if anyone in Rome does not consider you beautiful, they do not deserve to have eyes. I have never gazed upon a sight as amazing as you." Mamercus began his charm offensive.

Rutilia smiled again. "You flatter me sir."

"Flattery suggests I am overstating in what I say. I speak simply the truth, for I can be but only honest with you."

She ran her fingers over his arm. "If your tongue is this honest before wine, what is it like after wine?"

He paused for a moment. "It is... quick-witted."

Rutilia laughed. "I can but imagine."

Mamercus flashed her a slightly evil grin. "Perhaps, should the opportunity arise, you will find out just how quick it is."

Another laugh escaped her lips. "I trust you are not quick in all things?"

"I would like to believe I can be... disciplined, where required."

Despite the descending sun the air seemed warmer. So far at least, Rutilia appeared impressed with him. Mamercus was most pleased. They strolled toward the House of Greius, a well-regarded place where more affluent Romans could spend time and coin in better company.

Sure enough, Mamercus noted the approach of several other men and women dressed in expensive attire making their way toward the establishment. He had to hide a sly smile from himself- he wasn't poor exactly, but certainly wasn't the sort of visitor to this sort of place. Imagining the horror on their faces that a common man was walking amongst them was an extra thrill.

The interior of the House of Greius was adorned with expensive tapestries portraying the victories of Roman Legions and important generals. Reds, purples, golds and silvers provided a variety of colours to the well-worn wooden and brick construction, which was regularly cleaned and polished. Greius clearly took good care of his property.

The serving girls were likewise well-looked after. They wore reasonable fine dresses and apparel, all the same matching cream shirts with a flowing royal blue gown. They all looked rather pretty, with hair that was neat and tied back, and they welcomed Mamercus and Rutilia with good grace as they entered.

The building was spacious, which was beneficial- several tables were already taken by a number of important Romans who were already enjoying the food and wine- several were already looking red-faced- clearly they were enjoying things rather immensely. Mamercus kept his eyes on the lookout for a free table- and spotted one tucked away in the corner, nice and intimate.

"My lady..." He pulled the chair out for Rutilia, who smiled and sat down.

He had barely sat down himself when one of the serving girls approached- she was a head shorter than Mamercus and had short blonde hair with big beautiful blue eyes- and he couldn't shake the feeling that she was familiar.

It struck him that she'd been one of his 'conquests'. He hoped she wouldn't recognise him.

"Ah. Mamercus is it?" She grinned widely at him. "I have not laid eyes upon you for some time." There was a sly note of playful teasing in her voice, but also a touch of annoyance. Mamercus simply smiled politely. He could not, no matter how hard he tried, recall her name.

"It has been a while." He agreed.

The lady looked from him to Rutilia, then shot Mamercus the briefest of looks, that was a cross between amusement and irritation. "What would you two desire to quench your thirst?"

"I believe two cups of fine wine would be in order." Said Mamercus. Rutilia nodded.

"Then I shall return presently with such an offering." She grinned knowingly again, then walked off.

"That young woman appears familiar with you Mamercus..." Rutilia's voice was light. "An 'acquaintance' of yours?"

"Our paths did cross, a fair march of months ago." He replied.

"I see. What else 'crossed'?" She teased. "Are you a man of many adventures Mamercus? Should I be wary of you?"

Mamercus chuckled. "I have been know to... sample many fruits. I trust this makes you uneasy?"

"Perhaps it should, yet it doesn't. A man of your appearance, taking advantage of his charm and wit for personal gain... truthfully, if I were inclined, and a young man, I may do the same. But as a woman of position, I do need to consider whether closer association is a good idea."

"Would you be considering closer association?" Mamercus asked, curious as to what she meant. He was interested in a closer physical association, though Rutilia certainly seemed pleasant company. Did she, despite only knowing him a few hours, see him as potentially more?

"It may be agreeable to me. Whether it would be agreeable to my father is another question."

Their drinks arrived. The serving girl have Mamercus another knowing look before walking away.

"I would say that I only ever sample one fruit at a time." He said.

"And how quickly do you discard the rotten fruit once you have had your fill?" There was a touch of steel about that question.

"Truthfully, it can be at times with haste. On occasion I have not been so swift. It depends upon the... 'fruit'."

"Mmm... When you look at me Mamercus, what do you see? A fruit from which you would feast often, or one you would toss out an open window once you were satisfied?" She leaned back, curious for his answer.

The question gave him pause. If he were honest to himself, he desired Rutilia in a way he had not felt before. He wasn't going to trick himself into thinking he had romantic notions of a lifetime with her, yet she was far smarter and more intriguing than the other women he had known. Somehow, it wouldn't be fair to treat her like the others.

"I see you... as a flower. A beautiful, delicate flower, that would deserve consistent committment to being watered and tended to."

Rutilia smiled, and it was a beautiful smile. "I would not regard me as delicate. You may be surprised as to my strength." She raised her cup to her lips and took a deep gulp of her wine. Mamercus' intrigue went up a notch.

"Then perhaps we should continue to enjoy each other's company after tonight, so that I may learn more."

"I would be agreeable to that."

"Would your father be so agreeable?" Mamercus asked. "You have hinted he may not see me as... appropriate."

"My father would see me never leave the house, out of fear for the slightest bruise. If he knew I was consorting with a man of your reputation, he would turn red with rage. Part of me feels guilty for betraying his trust." She said softly.

"And the other part of you?"

She grinned. "Feels excited."

"Which part will win out?" Mamercus prodded.

She looked at him, through curious and considerate eyes. "For the moment, excitement. You wish to learn more about me, and I wish to learn more about you. I must warn you though, you shall not be dining on fruit tonight."

Mamercus felt a little deflated, but at the same time strangely pleased. His desire for Rutilia grew.

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