"You are late. My partner does not like to be kept waiting." The gruff voice of Marcus Paulus seemed to rumble off the tired wooden walls and beams of the small, private room set aside at the drinking hole in one of Capua's less opulent districts. His dark blue tunic was, as always, finely pressed and carried the gold and silver trimmings that emphasised his (self) importance and wealth. Titus had only dealt with him only on a handful of occasions, and knew only a little of him. The hearsay about Paulus was not pleasant.
Nor was the man himself. He carried the weight of a man who indulged in life's finer things too many times, to the point where his stomach had ballooned and his face was permanently red from drink.
Unfortunately Titus had come to learn that a man with Paulus' connections was an invaluable ally. It was certainly better than having him as an enemy.
"Apologies..." Titus bowed his head as he took a seat opposite the older man. "My wife reminded me of pressing and urgent matters to attend to at home before I left."
Paulus harrumphed. "I am sure they were most pressing. Now, to business!" Paulus slapped his hands down on the table with a thunderclap.
"You wish to sell one of your gladiators, no?" Paulus' voice softened, switching from the rough, almost confrontational voice to a mellow tone almost instantly.
Nepos bristled inwardly. He did not want to sell. "I have need of coin, so sadly, must part with at least one of my finest warriors."
"An unfortunate turn of events. Whom do you intend to part with?"
A moment of hesitation crept into Nepos. He had several fighters he considered to be good, competent gladiators, but there was one that would reap much coin, enough to (in the short term at least) provide security for him and his wife.
"There is only one I wish to auction - Nimr."
Paulus sat back, a momentary look of surprise creasing his features, before his beady eyes refocused on Nepos. "That is quite a move. Nimr is not only one of your best, but one of Capua's finest. I trust you intend to keep these proceedings... local?" He picked up his mug and drew a large swig of his wine, but kept his eyes trained on Nepos.
"I... I am considering casting a wider net. Nimr's reputation travels well beyond the city walls."
No emotions crossed Paulus' face. "It would be unfortunate, both for this city and for you, if you were to permit one of it's greatest sons to depart."
"Perhaps." Nepos did his best to keep his voice even. "But other ludi elsewhere could potentially offer greater coin. Would it not be foolish for me to turn down such opportunity?"
A smile - an unpleasant one - emerged on Paulus' face. "Consider what would be more foolish - a little less coin, or greater tithes from the local magistrate, acting upon the urgings of disappointed locals."
"Are you suggesting I allow myself to be coerced into selling my prized gladiator to a local ludus, a rival house? Would I not lose more coin if he then carved his bloody way through my remaining fighters?"
"That my boy..." Paulus leaned forward, and his eyes hardened. "Is for you to decide. I merely deal with facts. It is a fact that many local businesses gain much trade from passers by who come to see Nimr. If he leaves, those same visitors do likewise... and less coin crosses palms here in Capua. It goes without saying..." He paused to drink more wine. "That they would not be happy at this turn of events. Some of them are powerful, not only in business but in politics. They could make life unpleasant for you."
Nepos sighed. "I am being maneuvered into one of two impossible choices."
"Such is life. You have my sympathies Titus, but you will have none if you should sell Nimr to another city, of that I am quite certain."
It was beyond frustrating, but as Nepos looked up at Paulus, he knew the older man was probably right.
"Very well, arrange a local auction. I would appreciate it if I am compensated in some way for potential loss of coin."
Paulus nodded. "I will see what I can do. A pleasure doing business with you, Master Nepos." Paulus dropped some coins on the table, stood, and smiled again, before leaving. Nepos sat there, wishing he could think of another way.