Twist Of Destiny
The next morning I trusted all my business in my tutor/secretary's hands - for once he could really earn his pay! - climbed on my litter, and went to visit my banker in the Zucchabar forum. I drew a huge amount of money, causing the bank's owner to look at me with great curiosity - perhaps he hoped to know what kind of business I was going to conduct with all that money - then I ordered my litter bearers to take me to the area that hosted the gladiatorial schools. The four, heavy muscled Nubian slaves gave me a strange look, but it was not because of all the road they had to cover, it was merely surprise for my planned destination. I always thought servants take a certain pride in their masters' status and social position, and they were not sure it was a good thing for a lady like me to be seen in such a place. A part of me appreciated their concern, I too had used not to judge kindly the matrons that, back in Hispania, touted their encounters with the gladiators, but today I had not the time to stop and ponder what the others might think about my behaviour. I had more pressing thoughts in my mind, such as to discover the Spaniard's owner's name and convince him to "rent" me his fighter. Rent: what a terrible word to use regarding a human being! Till that moment I had always considered slavery as a natural, necessary thing and taken it for granted, but Maximus' fate would soon teach me to look at it with different eyes, and I am now proud to say there are no slaves on our farm, but only hired servants and workers.
But let's return to that day... It is a good thing I am not easily intimidated, because the buildings hosting the various gladiator schools of the area were big and frightening looking very much like a prison. The litter stopped near an iron gate and I sent one of my slaves to enquire about whom the Spaniardís owner was and where I could find him. The Nubian returned few minutes later with positive answers: the man's name was Antonius Proximo and his school was the very first one to our right. I directed the litter there, telling the men to walk and not run, because I needed a few moments to compose myself and to put on my business face. I had to shed my concerned expression for a harder and ruthless one. I had to look like a woman in search of sexual favours, not like one wanting to see if one of Proximo's slaves was my childhood friend. The lanista would surely have refused my request if I told him so, afraid I might arrange to help his fighter escape...Which was not totally incorrect because, even if I had not the time to arrange anything specific and elaborate, I had already ordered my stable foreman to check my fastest horse and to keep it saddled and ready, just in case the Spaniard was really Maximus and he wanted to flee.
The litter came to a halt and I stepped out of it, eyeing the massive walls in front of me. A shiver ran along my spine and my stomach churned at the smell of rotten flesh pervading the area, but I resolutely suffocated the urge to turn on my heels and go away. My friend was probably locked inside, needing my help and I was resolute to give it to him. Thus I approached the gates and let my business attitude take hold of me, reaching an arm between the iron bars of the gates and beckoning one of the guards to come nearer with an imperious gesture.
Proximo opened the door of his office none too gently, still annoyed that one of his guards had called him away from a very entertaining meeting with a young, plump little maid. What in Hades could so important it could not wait an hour or so? The old lanista entered the room, throwing a look at the woman sitting in front of his desk and his marching gait faltered as he took note of her appearance.
She was without doubt the best-dressed woman he had ever seen in Zucchabar, wearing a white, gold trimmed stola and red palla that complemented her delicate complexion, chestnut hair and uncommon grey eyes. Gold bracelets and rings covered her arms and hands and a pair of elegant earrings tingled when she turned her head to follow his approach to the desk. There was no doubt for Proximo that she was a very rich lady, a true patrician, as one could see very few in that forsaken place. But what did she want from him?
"Antonius Proximo?" she said, her voice strong and determinate.
He bowed his head. "At your service, domina. What can I do for you?"
"I want to spend time with one of your gladiators." Clear, decisive and to the point. A woman who knew what she wanted and did not mince words. He quite liked it...and her. Proximo felt a brief bout of nostalgia, as he thought back to the matrons in Rome who had asked for him when he was still a gladiator, then resumed looking at the lady in front of him.
"I think it can be arranged, domina. Who do you wish to see?"
Proximo's smile fell. They would soon travel to Rome, and the Spaniard was his best and strongest chance to make some really good money. Especially now that the silent, always brooding and rebellious slave had finally understood there could be a reward for him if he stretched out his matches and entertained the crowd, instead of slaughtering his opponents as fast as he possibly could. The lanista would have not confessed it to anyone, but he was afraid of the Spaniard, and awed by him, by the anger and ferocity the man showed in the ring and by the superior, detached way he looked at his owner. Proximo knew that if the Spaniard should ever decide to try to kill him, he would do it, guards or no guards. He was dangerous and the old man did not want to cross him, so once the slave had made clear he did not wish for any kind of "companionship", he had been careful to leave him alone. He had even refused a couple of offers for the Spaniard, but it had been easy, for they were low and made by women who were not real ladies. This time it was more difficult to say "no" and he hesitated before replying to his visitor.
The woman seemed to sense his indecision and placed a leather pouch on his desk. His eyes fell on it and he noticed it was full of gold aurei. "That man excites me; I want to have him, and as you can see, the price does not matter to me."
Proximo barely heard her words and swallowed hard, as he mentally calculated how much money there was in the pouch. It was a small fortune, more than enough to cover all the expenses for the transfer of his stable back to Rome... and to allow him to rent a ship and sail it directly to Ostia, thus avoiding having to submit his needs to the schedule of a normal commercial vessel. Yes, and that would have allowed him to arrive in the Urbs early, enabling him to begin to suckle the great whore sooner than predicted. It was a very good idea, and he was sure the Spaniard would agree to it, he seemed anxious to go to Rome.
"And you will receive even more... if I am satisfied with the Spaniard, of course," the matron added, looking at him with an elusive smile and practical, serious eyes.
That resolved all his doubts; the offer was too good to be refused. "It is done, domina," he said. "But since we are leaving for the Capital in a few days, it has to happen soon."
The woman nodded. "It is perfect for me. What about tonight?"
"There is no problem, domina. Please return here when the sun begins to set; I will have the Spaniard bathed and ready by then."
"Here?" The woman frowned and shook her head. "I won't hear any of it. It will be in my villa, or nothing. I am not going to pay all that money to spend time in this...place," she gestured at the room around her with a grimace of distaste. "I want him in my house, where I can enjoy my silk cushions, soft divans and use my feather mattress. I want to discover in my bed if the Spaniard is as good with his "sword" as he is with the gladius...and I expect him to be so." The woman smiled again with intention. "Is that clear?"
Proximo nodded, a bit shocked. He had never met such an outspoken woman and he was surprised to discover it was oddly exciting. However, he was not sure if it was a good idea to let the Spaniard out of his school and into her villa. "Domina," he began slowly, "you must understand he is very valuable to me. I cannot risk he might escape..."
"He would not. My domus is surrounded by a very tall wall and guarded by my men, both inside and outside. There is no way he could escape, trust me." Proximo considered her words for a while, as an idea intruded his mind: he had never done a thing like that, but perhaps he had the perfect way to be certain the Spaniard was too busy to even think about escaping and at the same time to ensure the lady was satisfied...
He smiled and looked straight at the woman. "All right, so be it. Please tell me where your house is located, and I will have my guards take the Spaniard to you by dinnertime. Would that be agreeable for you?"
"It is perfect." Her eyes blazed, and Proximo briefly thought how much he would have liked to have a matron like her ask for him in his younger days. He sighed inwardly, and concentrated on the matter at hand.
They soon settled all the details of their business, then the Lady Claudia Flaminia was gone, leaving behind a thoughtful Proximo.
A couple of hours later, the old lanista raised his eyes from the letter he was writing when he heard someone knocking on the door of his office. "Come in!" Proximo shouted and one of his guards stepped inside the room, bowing his head in greeting. "Did you find it?"
"Yes, master," replied the other man, putting a small vial of glass on the desk.
Proximo took it and turned it in his hands, staring at the fine powder it contained. It looked like pepper, but he knew better. He returned to look at the guard and asked, "What is it?"
"I don't really know, but it is the best known "harem drug" on the market. Or so the seller told me." The guard smirked.
"Uhm-uhm. And this will be enough for a big man like the Spaniard?"
"The seller said the dose is right for an adult male. She added that too much might be poisonous and that part of its effects depends on the time it is administered."
Proximo nodded, "Good. And how will we give it to him?"
"That woman told me to dilute it in a drink- a cup of wine, which will also cover the drugís taste."
The lanista pushed the vial back in the other man's hand, and ordered, "Put this in the Spaniard's wine and have the evening meal served a bit sooner than usual. Tell the cook to add some salt to the Spaniard's food, so we will be sure he drinks all of the wine. When he has finished eating, you will take him to the bathroom for another scrub and you will also give him a clean tunic... No, wait, have him first bathe and then eat, I don't know how much time that thing takes to act. When he is done, bring him here to me and make sure the wagon is ready to depart. Is that clear?"
"Of course, master." The guard bowed his head and left the room, taking the vial with him.
Proximo stared at the closed door as a slow smile appeared on his lined face. The idea to use an aphrodisiac with the Spaniard had really been a brilliant one- not only was it going to ensure the brooding and headstrong slave's willingness to "perform", but it would also keep his mind away from any escape attempt. And also, being the prudent man he was, Proximo wanted to be sure the lady received her money's worth. Even if he had great hopes for his imminent journey to Rome, he liked to keep all the doors open here in Zucchabar, and that lady deserved his greatest consideration, as all the rich widows with a strong mind did... His smile became a wide, interested grin, as his hand slipped inside the leather pouch to caress the gold coins the woman had given to him without a second thought.
The sun had already begun its descent when the door of Proximo's office opened once again and three guards escorted the Spaniard inside. The lanista exchanged a brief look with one of his men, who promptly nodded to his unspoken question; yes, the slave had taken the drug.
Proximo smiled and walked to his fighter, who was watching him with an irritated expression. The Spaniard did not like to be disturbed in the evenings, for he was used to spending his time praying in front of a small shrine he had built in his cell, and now he was staring at his master with a look that seemed to say, "Tell me what you want and be quick; I have more important things to do."
"Well, Spaniard, I have a surprise for you. This evening you will do something different from praying." The gladiator's blue-green eyes narrowed in suspicion, but he stood silent as he waited for him to go on. "You have earned a night in town. A lady has requested the pleasure of your company and I have agreed to let you go to her house."
The Spaniard's eyes widened in shock as he understood the real meaning behind those words and he shook his head energetically. "No. I wonít go," he growled with his deep, threatening voice.
"I am afraid you don't have any choice. You will do as I say." And speaking so, Proximo gestured to the guards, who promptly moved forward and imprisoned the slaveís arms. The Spaniard rebelled, kicking and trying to free his arms, but the three other men were too strong for him and they kept him still while Proximo tied two sets of chains on him, one to his ankles and one to his wrists, and joined the two chains with a third. In that way the Spaniard could walk, but he could not kick or raise his arms. Proximo gave the keys to one of the guards, then patted the gladiator's shoulder, causing him to back away in distaste.
"Don't react so badly, Spaniard. You need to get laid; it will do you very good to relax a little bit." A grin. "You will thank me tomorrow."
"That's highly unlikely," the Spaniard snarled, trying to move forward menacingly, but the chains and the guards blocked him.
"Take him to the wagon," ordered the lanista. "And try not to harm him!" he added as an afterthought, watching the guards drag the resisting slave away.
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