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.

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8. The Courtship

Mamercus slowly made his way back to his abode upon the end of his working day. The streets were busier - largely with tradesman in simple cloths and rags that yelled at their horses to pull the carts quicker and clear some room as they packed up for the night. Smells of various spices and perfumes mingled with more unpleasant odours - horse shit and urine. Mamercus had to suppress the urge to gag.

Still, his mind kept him occupied. The Senator's orders still ringing in his ears. 

I find myself falling in love with a woman who may or may not desire further relations, and now I have to pursue her, in order to ruin her father. Perhaps Tiberius does have the right idea...

Home came into sight and Mamercus stepped gratefully into his humble shelter. Almost automatically he went to his store cupboard and took a bottle of old wine from it, before grabbing an old wooden goblet. 

The first drink only reminded him that the wine was not pleasant - by the third the alcohol had started to pierce his malaise and, ironically, enabled him to think more clearly.

Siding against the Senator in any way would be folly (at least, that's what Tiberius would say), yet he could not in good conscience take action that would harm Rutilia, and he knew of her close relationship with her father. Using her to hurt him would be an act of betrayal from which there was no coming back.

There was another concern. Sextus Crispinus was not exactly lacking in powerful support of his own. The man had considerable connections across Rome, and even if Senator Metellus crushed him, there was still the chance Crispinus could order some measure of revenge against both the Senator and himself.

A fourth drink brought no answer to his dilemma, and he was about to enjoy a fifth (with a new bottle), when he heard a gentle tap at his door.

Struggling to his feet, Mamercus wasn't sure whether to feel annoyed that someone was interrupting his brooding. He was prepared to give voice to his discontent when he opened the door... but unhappiness relented to delight at the face that greeted him.

"Rutilia!"

"Shh, not so loud." She wore a dark hooded cloak and pushed past him, glancing around his Spartan home, before looking back at Mamercus as he closed the door.

"I had not expected..."

"I am aware Mamercus. I have been wrestling with indecision about whether to see you again." She stepped toward him and threw back her hood. "I have found myself intrigued by you since our first meeting, and the events of the other night did little to sate my interest. I... I know what I said of love, and pain, but I cannot help but..." She looked like she was pleading with him, but Mamercus didn't care. With one bound he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her, deeply.

When they broke away, they looked into each other's eyes. Mamercus saw something in Rutilia's... love perhaps. The thought made the Senator's request even harder to bear.

Rutilia caught the uncertainty, the worry on Mamercus' face. Her hands moved to his cheeks.

"What is wrong? Mamercus, tell me."

"I... I did not think I would see you so soon..."

She smiled radiantly at him. "You feared I would not seek to return to your arms, didn't you Mamercus?" He nodded. "Did I not say I might desire your company again, only that I did not promise you my heart?" She smiled again. "I do not love you Mamercus, not yet, but I will confess to... a warmth for you. One that I want to explore."

Mamercus took her hands in his, held them tightly for a second. "Rutilia, I..." He hesitated, not at all certain of how to warn her.

She saw the fear on his face. "Mamercus, what are you not telling me? Do you fornicate with another already?" Her voice became slightly hotter.

"No! No, nothing of the kind. I fear that you would prefer that to the truth."

"You worry me Mamercus. Please, tell what is wrong." Her eyes pleaded.

Mamercus looked up, straight into her eyes. "Senator Metellus has made a... request of me. He knows - somehow he knows - of our tryst. He seeks to have me extract valuable secrets from your father, by exploiting our relationship."

"To what end?" Asked Rutilia softly, after a moment.

"To learn if your father is a threat to his interests, and if needs be, to ruin him."

Rutilia took a step backwards. "Have you agreed to serve the Senator with this task?"

"Outwardly, yes. Even I would not be foolish enough to openly defy a Senator of Rome, least of all one with Metellus' reputation. In private, I would sooner cut off my tongue than spill secrets that would harm you and your family."

A smile, albeit a nervous one, spread over Mamercus' face. "I have no desire to obey the Senator. This will place me at much risk, but I cannot do anything to hurt you."

There was uncertainty in Rutilia's eyes. "I want to believe you Mamercus. I truly do, but can I be certain of your intent? Can I trust you?"

Mamercus now took Rutilia's hands in his. "Yes. I love you Rutilia. Thoughts of you consume my every waking hour. Somehow, I will act the part and convince Metellus my intentions toward him are honest."

Rutilia looked into his eyes, saw the sincerity within them, smiled softly, and kissed him. That kiss quickly became another, and another, and then her hands ran around his waist and she pulled him closer. She felt his hands slip to cup her buttocks and squeeze gently, and she let out a soft moan as Mamercus started to kiss at her neck. Fears of future plans melted away, and once again they enjoyed each other's bodies...

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