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Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 10-22-01 15:10 ET (US)         

"A DISTURBING PEACE"

A MURDER MYSTERY IN THE TIME THAT FOLLOWED CIVIS ROMANUS' ADVENTURES WITH OTHERS ON THE SILK ROAD

WRITTEN BY: CIVIS ROMANUS AND MICAH ARAGORN



AUTHORS' NOTE: It is recommended that the story THE SILK ROAD , found in the C3H Story Archives, be read prior to beginning this story.

READER'S COMMENTS AND GENERAL DISCUSSION MAY BE POSTED IN THE FOLLOWING LINKED THREAD (Please do not post them in this story thread.):

READER'S COMMENTS AND DISCUSSION THREAD

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 01-11-2002 @ 09:07 PM).]

AuthorReplies:
Micah Aragorn
Pleb
posted 01-03-02 04:40 ET (US)     51 / 64       
The prefecture was quiet as most prefects were preforming their assigned tasks away. Decius Viridius looked about to see a familiar face as he had been gone for awhile. But he was unable to recognize anyone except for Lucius Paramus, the prefect leader.

Lucius had seen the prefect's arrival and was anxious to see if Decius would divulge any information on the investigation of the murders. He called to the prefect.

Decius turned and greeted Lucius," Hail Prefect Leader."

Lucius quickly returned the salute being more interested in what he could find out," How goes the investigation Decius?"

Decius replied," We are progressing well enough."

"Have you found any evidence yet to convict or disclaim the General's innocence of the murders? Of which I would say you need none when he was found kneeling over the dead servant's body with the blade used to kill her still in his hand."

Decius shook his head at the prefect leaders presumption but he made a valid point as to the innocence of Civis Romanus when you are caught with a dead body beside you and the murder weapon in your hand. But Decius chose to tread unbias ground and replied, "I cannot answer for this latest murder but their may be more to the first murder than one expected."

Lucius'facial expression changed from bewilderment to 'tell me more' as he asked Decius, "What do you mean?"

Decius answered," There is a rumor that Tiberius Publicus may have been involved with other Senators and affluent merchants of Roma in a conspiracy against Caesar and his treaties with the Parthians and the Ch'ins."

Lucius starting to laugh replied," And who is your source, the good General. Telling you this to make himself a hero of Roma once more and to set his innocence of the Senator's murder for the greater glory of the empire."

Decius frowned at the prefect leaders accusation and offered," This may go deeper than you think, sir. It is also rumored that these Senator's and merchants have spread there influence to other's in the Senate and to miltary personel such as the Praetorian Guard. Have you heard of any such rumors here at the prefecture?"

Lucius trying to look surprised and unaware of any such conspiracy answered, "No, I don't recall anyone hinting of any such conspiracy or talk among the other prefects. Do you have any names yet to go along with the faces of the conspirators."

Decius appearing smug replied, "We have names."

Lucius still chuckling at the prefects clues, "And who might that be?

"Brutus Calerus, for one." Decius said matter-of-factly.

Lucius'snikering stopped and his face suddenly became more serious. In his mind he was telling himself, "That was one name you shouldn't have said."

"What has he told you,prefect,to uphold this rumor," Lucius tried to pry more information.

Decius noticed Lucius' facial change when he mentioned the name of Brutus Calerus. And although the merchant had not really told them of anyone specific Decius wanted to see what further reaction he could get," He has told us of others and their names."

Lucius Paramus' eyes became a narrow slit as he frowned and the wrinkles of his forehead became prominant. But they quickly opened wider and the wrinkles on his forehead disappeared as if he suddenly remembered something," You know, I do think I remember a conversation between two prefects about the rumor of a conspiracy. Maybe we should talk further to them."

Decius replied, "Do you know where they are?"

"They are out on duty making their rounds. It would be faster if we rode to their location. I will get the horses."

Both men headed to their mounts when Decius stopped and said," I forgot something I will be right with you."

Lucius nodded and proceeded to his horse while Decius wrote a note telling Titus and Severus that he was pursueing a clue with Lucius Paramus. Decius was going to leave it on a table in the building but another prefect returning from his patrol entered and giving the note that Lucius did not know he wrote to the prefect instructed him to give to the Tribune and prefect upon their arrival.
____________________________________________

Decius and Lucius rode to where the prefect leader said they could find the two prefects. There was not much conversation said as they rode until.....

"Hold up Decius I think my horse may have a problem with a leg," said Lucius. "Let me look at it." He dismounted and grabbing the right leg of the horse looked to be examining it.

"It looks okay but I'm not sure. Maybe you should take a look," he said to Decius.

Decius dismounted also and bending over took the horses leg and started also to examine it while Lucius stood behind him.

Lucius looked about quickly as he knew this stretch of rode was usually deserted this time of day and from his tunic pulled a daggar.

Decius unable to see any problem with the horse started to straigthen up saying, "I can't see any prob.........

He never finished the sentence as Lucius covered the prefect's mouth with his left hand and drove the blade into Decius' back puncturing his lung. Again Lucius thrust the blade. And again. Each time the wounded prefect arched his back as the blade found its mark. His eyes wide in horror at the pain and the breath he could not take until those eyes lost their life and his dead body slumped to the ground.

Lucius wiped the blood from the daggar on Decius' tunic and then grabbing his arms dragged him to the side of the rode and behind a large rock. He thought it best not to return right away to the prefecture as if he was patroling since no one had seen him leave with the prefect or so he thought.

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 01-03-02 16:33 ET (US)     52 / 64       
Titus Tarquintius didn't bother to stop at the villa this time when he entered the estate of Civis Romanus. Instead, he directed his horse straight to the bathhouse. The two young girls he passed, the ones he and Civis surprised outside of the bathhouse days ago, waved as he rode by. Their smiles faded as the determined tribune unconsciously ignored them while he urged his horse up the hill to the place where the bathhouse stood.

In a single, swift movement he halted his horse and dismounted not even attempting to tie it to a branch or a stout bush. It was a Roman military horse. It will stay until called, he knew, because he had trained it himself. He strode into the bathhouse, hand on sword this time, not caring who was present. The bathhouse was empty. So much the better.

Titus stepped into the preparation room, the one preceeding the area containing the pools. He saw the doorways to the pool area and the one that led from the drying area (where the rear door was situated). He walked from the preparation room into the pool area and studied its layout once more. He walked across the area and through the doorway that led to the drying area. From there he completed the circle and entered the preparation room from the drying area.

"Think, Titus. Think! There is an answer here!" This he said loudly to himself as he continued to walk the circle. "Footsteps in... None out... Footsteps to the drying area... Footsteps to the pool from the preparation room... A circle... A circle... Yes! A circle!" Something fell into place in Titus' mind. "The rear door was unlocked, but Julius was walking from the house to the trees. Whoever was in the bathhouse would see that he was there and would retreat to the front entrance. But no, Flavius saw no one enter, only Julius outside and Flavius inside, by his own admission.

Titus paced back and forth working every angle he could visualize in his mind. "Motive! What's the motive? Julius had no ill will towards Civis. Never did I hear him mention anything derogatory about Civis, whether on the villa or in his cell. On the other hand, there was conflict between Flavius and Julius over Hespera. Flavius, if he knew of Julius' intentions towards Hespera, would not be favorably disposed towards his co-worker. But what motive would he have for drowning Civis? To frame Julius?" Titus face lit up as if he had discovered a new truth, then it fell again. "No... Too far fetched. But what if it were true. How could it have happened... Let's see..."

The tribune began to physically portray to himself the motions of the trio involved in the bathhouse, based upon his hypothetical merging of Civis', Flavius' and Julius' stories. "Let's see... Civis enters the bathhouse alone and prepares for his bath. He enters the heated pool below which Julius is stoking the fire. A man enters the pool area, let's say its Flavius. He shoves Civis' head and upper torso under the water."

Here Titus halts, takes a large piece of statuary and throws it into the water of the heated pool. Ripples course towards the overflow trough and out the exit pipe to the creek below. "Yes, there is the outflow of water Julius described. Next, the thump of a wood log against the floor. It would certainly echo, I've heard that before in these private bathhouses. The man is startled, he runs for the back door. Just then Julius emerges heading for the trees. Meanwhile, Civis has pulled himself part way out of the pool choking and coughing. The man cannot go out the rear door because he will be seen by Julius; and he cannot go back into the pool area as he will be discovered, or maybe recognized. He quickly walks from the rear door through the drying room and into the preparation room, completing the circle."

What next, wondered Titus. "Flavius shows up and 'saves' Civis, but he sees no one leave. Impossible! Oh yes, he saw Julius, but how? Flavius entered from the front door and stood here by the pool." Titus walked to the edge of the pool where Civis said he was positioned during his bath. He looked towards the back door. Flavius could not possibly see Julius as the angle of view was wrong. Nor could he know the the door was unlocked unless he knew it before he 'saved' Civis. Only the man attempting to escape in that direction would know that.

"So Flavius, you ingenious servant, you perceive a chance to eliminate Julius and shine the brightest light on yourself; and then, you are the only one who hears and alerts the sentries to Civis' struggle with the murderor of Hespera. How timely! Always there. Maybe, just maybe, it's because you are the one who is there! But why, Flavius? Why?!"

Titus spun on his sandals and swiftly walked out of the bathhouse. At the villa he dismounted and ran into the villa, startling Apolita in the hallway.

"Titus! I didn't know you were here. If I had known I..."

"Apolita, I am so sorry for barging in like this... I have no time, I apologize. Please Apolita, I need to know where Flavius is!"

Apolita was puzzled by the urgency in Titus' voice with regard to a servant, but answered directly. "Why I've sent him on an errand to the marketplace, Titus. He should be there about now."

"Thank you, Apolita. But one more thing. Send the children to a friend's villa, and leave this place yourself until I say it is safe to return. Keep your most trusted servants with you and arm them. You are in severe danger here, as are the children."

"Is Flavius involved? Is that why you are looking for him?"

"Yes, but that is all that I can tell you for now. Please, Apolita! Please do as I say!" Titus didn't wait to hear her agreement. He ran from the building to his horse and leaped into the saddle, simultaneously urging the horse into a gallop. A short time later he was in the proximity of the prefecture. Severus and Decius, he thought, I need them now more than ever.

Titus reined in his horse and dismounted. Inside the prefecture he found the prefects talking among themselves, strange expressions on their faces. Severus was among them and he held a small piece of paper in his hand. On a cot in the corner of the room a man's body lay wrapped in the cloak of a prefect, his face upturned and staring blankly at the ceiling with the eyes of death. It was Decius.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 01-07-2002 @ 02:56 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 01-07-02 16:04 ET (US)     53 / 64       
Titus gripped the note written by Decius tightly in his hand. He fought the instinct to crush the parchment into a small ball even as his knuckles whitened under the tension of the squeezing of his fingers and hand.

Severus expression was as grim as the tribune's. Decius was his friend. He had been selected for the job on Severus' recommendation. The surviving prefect felt as guilty for sending his friend down the path leading to his death as he was angry at the man who apparently was responsible. The other prefects in the room looked from Severus' face to the face of the tribune. They could see their thoughts plainly written on their faces. Lucius Paramus is a dead Roman they quickly concluded.

The Prefect Leader chose that moment to walk into the room. All eyes turned to him and silence fell thickly on the room. Lucius did not see the body of Decius lying on the cot as the other prefects standing about effectively screened it from his view.

"Well," Lucius said jovially. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit to my prefecture, Tribune Titus?"

Titus did not share Lucius' joviality. "Where were you these past hours, Prefect?"

Lucius smile faded noticeably. He still did not know the body of Decius was in the room as well. "Not that it is any of your business, Tribune, but I was doing my rounds."

"Were you alone?"

"Yes."

"Decius was not with you at any time?"

Lucius frowned pretending concern. "No, I have been alone this entire day. Why? Is something wrong?"

Titus motioned to the prefects to step away from the cot. "Yes, Leader, something is wrong. Decius is dead. Murdered." Lucius looked at the body of Decius, seeing it for the first time on the cot.

"I see... Such a shame. Did Civis Romanus get released from prison today? That would explain it." Lucius started to laugh at his self-appreciated joke. No one joined him. Titus' face turned red. Severus' hand gripping his sword trembled with barely contained anger. The prefects mumbled under their breath.

"Prefect Leader Lucius Paramus, you deny seeing, speaking or riding with Decius this day, is that correct?"

"Absolutely, Tribune. Never saw the man."

Titus held out his hand. "Then how do you explain this note written in Decius hand given to me by the prefect who received it from Decius that said he was accomanying you into Roma on Prefecture business."

Lucius face went pale. He held a shaking hand out to take the note from Titus. He read the note. "It's a lie. Decius made this up. He just wants to blame me for being stabbed to death. I suppose he wrote this before he died?"

"No, Leader," said the prefect, sneeringly, who had given the note to Severus. "Decius gave this to me as I entered the prefecture and before he left with you. You were outside with your horse at the time."

"LIES! All lies!" shouted Lucius. Severus could constrain himself no longer. "The only lie is yours, murderor!" The prefect drew his sword and attempted to reach Lucius, who drew his sword in response. Titus shouted, "No Severus! We need him!" The Tribune grabbed Severus arm and pulled him back before he could strike at Lucius.

The Prefect Leader saw his opportunity and tried to flee the room. His horse was thethered outside and could carry him away from the Prefecture. The other prefects pursued him, Titus calling out not to harm Lucius, that Lucius would be his prisoner.

Lucius had one foot in the stirrup and a hand on his saddle trying to gain its perch when the hands of two prefects pulled him back and onto the gravelled ground. The Leader quickly gained his feet and faced his pursuers. They had encircled him, standing between Lucius and his horse. The circle parted to permit Titus to enter. Where the circle parted, Severus took that place as Titus passed through, the Tribune's sword arm unsheathing his gladius.

"Now, Lucius. You will come with me alive or with my sword buried in your belly. The choice is yours." Lucius raised his sword and charged at Titus screaming a primal battle cry laced with Roman curses...

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 01-07-2002 @ 04:04 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 01-07-02 21:27 ET (US)     54 / 64       
The yard before the Prefecture echoed with the "CLANG" of sword blade colliding with swordblade. Desperation radiated from Lucius' eyes as he frantically fought with the tribune. Lessons learned in military training and lessons learned from friendly sessions with Civis Romanus on their trip along the Silk Road gave Titus the edge over his opponent. Prefects could deal with common rabble, but few could defend against the sword skills of trained legionnaires or even enemy soldiers fighting against Roma. Lucius Paramus, Prefect Leader, was no match for the honed skills of Tribune Titus Tarquintius.

Before long, Lucius lay in the gravel of the yard, his sword struck from his hand and lying too far from him to be retrieved. The point of Titus' sword was pointed at his throat. Lucius' fate was sealed... or so he thought.

Titus stood over the prostrate prefect. "Lucius, you have this choice. Tell me everything you know about the conspiracy against Caesar and the murder of Tiberius Publicus and live; or prepare to meet the Tree of Death."

"Do you speak for Caesar? Will he grant me pardon?" Lucius managed to feel somewhat hopeful at this unexpected boon.

"I speak for Caesar. You will be forced to leave Roma to live in Brittania, never to return once you cross the channel, provided you truthfully tell me all that you know."
Brittania or the Tree of Death? Lucius decided quickly.

Lucius sat in a chair in the prefecture with his prefects, Severus and Titus paying close attention to his words. "Yes, the two senators and the silk merchants I named, including Tiberius. The intention was to discredit Romanus, embarrass and weaken Marcus Aurelius and then encourage the Praetorians and the Legions to remove him on the promise of booty from the East."

"There are allies in the Praetorians?"

Lucius nodded. "Yes, at the highest level. The very highest level."

Titus understood the implication. "The Prefectures?"

"No. Just this one. Just me. I was to observe the comings and goings at the Romanus villa and be ready to act when ordered. Because of my position I could relay messages from Tiberius to the others as needed without suspicion."

"Anywhere else?"

"The Garrison Prison. The Commander... He's an ally of the Senators," said Lucius. Now Titus understood why Julius' story never got past the prison's walls. It would have done the conspirators no good if it had so the Commander suppressed the information.

"Who killed Tiberius Publicus?" asked Titus.

"I don't know... and that is the truth! I was as surprised as it seemed when you first arrived there. I thought it was Romanus who killed him. I still do."

"It wasn't," said Titus tersely. "The killer is most likely Romanus' servant, Flavius. We don't know why he killed Tiberius, but we think he is the one who did." At this, Severus looked at Titus with a surprised expression. Until now, Severus had not had the opportunity to learn of Titus' interview with Julius or of his discoveries on the Romanus estate. Titus continued. "We suspect he is also the murderor of Hespera and the one who tried to drown Romanus in his bathhouse pool.

"Busy man..." said Severus under his breath.

"You will be held in the prefecture gaol, Lucius, awaiting Caesar's pleasure," continued Titus. "I would suggest you be on your best behaviour among your former charges. I believe Decius was a friend to them all."

"I will not be crucified?!" said Lucius, doubt ringing in his voice.

"No, though you deserve it. I said you would be banished to Brittania if you spoke the complete truth. I am satisfied. I will convey this to Caesar." Lucius slumped in his chair drained. Brittania was no desirable place: cold, wet, barbaric; but it was better than crucifixion. That was for common criminals, not for Lucius. He did the right thing, he told himself.

Titus motioned to the prefects. "He is yours. Gaol him and keep him safe. He is under Caesar's protection now... and yours. He stays alive, understood?"

"Yes, Tribune."

"With me, Severus."
____________________________________________________________

Titus and Severus rode their horses at a gallop for Roma. The day was waning fast and little sunlight was left. There was barely time to report their findings to the Emperor before the sun would set and they and the city would be bathed in darkness.

As fate would have it, the confrontation at the Prefecture was not without witnesses. A travellor here, a citizen there. The news of the battle between Titus and Lucius reached Roma before either Titus or Severus could tie their horses to the hitching post outside of Caesar's palace. It reached the conspirators even before that. And it reached Flavius in the marketplace as fast as the boy who watched the swordfight could run and tell his parents, two Romans who ran the fruit stall where Flavius was buying fresh fruit for Cook's pantry. Flavius returned to the Romanus estate as quickly as the oxcart could carry him, but leaving well after Titus and Severus galloped by the marketplace on their way to Roma.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 01-07-2002 @ 09:37 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 01-07-02 22:26 ET (US)     55 / 64       
Food rested on platters and bowls before Caesar Marcus Aurelius, Centurian Honoratus Pellus, Tribune Titus Tarquintius and the prefect named Severus. Titus spoke continuously, sharing all of his information and speculations with Caesar.

Severus maintained his silence. It was appropriate that Titus should speak, not himself. The Centurian was there because he could be trusted and Caesar knew Titus needed a legionnaire's assistance. The Praetorians were nowhere to be seen in this chamber, a place they usually guarded. None could be trusted and so they were not allowed in Caesar's presence. Instead, legionnaires from the Garrison of Roma were positioned all around the room and palace. They stood at proper military attention, pillars of bronzed leather and crimson cloth looking on in silence.

"Even now I have begun the actions you recommended, Tribune," said Caesar. Detachments of the Garrison are finding and arresting the officers among the Praetorians. They will be questioned and the guilty dealt with. I fear some innocents may be affected as the Praetorians have put up some resistance, some because they are guilty and others due to pride in their company. Unfortunate, but a necessary sacrifice." Aurelius chewed on the remnants of a chicken's leg and tossed the denuded bone into a tray of similarly cleaned bones in the center of the table. "There are far fewer Praetorians than legionnaires in the Garrison, so I believe the action will be concluded before the night is over."

"And Civis, my Caesar? What of him?" asked Titus.

"First things first, Titus. We deal with the immediate threat and then strike at the heart of the conspiracy. I expect Civis will be released to his villa in the morning. Let him sleep this night. Then tomorrow we shall return him to his family."

____________________________________________________________

The sparse blanket that covered Civis' sweating body lay in a crumpled mass on the floor where it fell. Civis' eyes were closed, but in his tortured sleep he could see the faceless man in the hooded cloak approach him, dagger extended. Civis was frozen in place. He could not move. The hooded figure approached ever more closely.

Suddenly, the hood fell back to reveal a face that wasn't. No eyes, no mouth, no nose... nothing. The dagger rose, the letter "C" was engraved so prominently that it seemed larger than the dagger itself. Higher rose the dagger... and just before it descended, the cloak dissolved before Civis eyes to reveal the figure of a man dressed in a uniform from the Legion of the East.

The soldier's crimson cape caught an unfelt breeze and lifted. As it did, the pin clasp turned over and the letter "C" on the underside was revealed. It too was larger than the object that bore it, as if the "C" were the pin clasp and the clasp were the engraving.

"WHO ARE YOU!" screamed Civis at his assailant. "Who are you!" The dagger descended. A searing pain struck Civis in his belly. He looked up to see the dagger rise again. Then the legionnaire's face changed from a formless white sheet to one with features, familiar features. Through a fog of pain Civis looked closely at the face suddenly revealed and saw... Crassus! It was Crassus again! The Cohort Leader laughed even as the dagger descended once more and struck Civis' chest.

The face changed once more and again and again with each thrust of the dagger. First it was Crassus and then the other, then Crassus and then the other. The other... Civis barely could think... The other face... familiar... it was... it was... Flavius? No Crassus again... and then... Flavius... Crassus... Flavius... Now it was Flavius and not Crassus. The uniform was gone, just the figure of Flavius, a black cape pinned to his shoulder with the Cohort Leader's pin clasp and in his hands the dagger engraved with a "C". It plunged once more into Civis' chest and stayed there.

Flavius reached down and grasped his master by the shoulders pressing his knee on the hilt of the dagger forcing it ever deeper. "For Crassus, you die! For Crassus, Romanus! For his death at your hands! You and your family shall die!" Civis screamed at the seemingly very real touch on his shoulders of the hands of another.

"Wake up, Civis. You are dreaming. Wake up, I say!"

Civis, breathing hard, finally opened his eyes to see Titus nearby restraining his shoulders to stop Civis from thrashing about. There were legionnaires behind him, as well as a prefect he remembered named Severus.

Senses returning, Civis grasped Titus arm just below the elbow. "Flavius! The killer is Flavius! And Crassus is involved somehow. My family, Titus! They are in danger!" A man clothed in a Roman robe of state entered the chamber. All stood back to permit Marcus Aurelius passage.
"My Caesar!" gasped Civis, not expecting Aurelius to be there at that moment. He tried struggling to his feet, but Civis was held to sitting on his cot by the gently restraining hands of both Titus and Aurelius.

"It is being attended to... General Romanus. You are proven innocent and do not belong here any longer. Titus is here to set you free. This is not the right place for my Chief Military Advisor. He should be where he is needed most... at my side. Aurelius smiled. This time Civis was permitted to rise to his feet. His senses fully returned, he was able to do so with reasonable ease.

"Sir, as you command."

"Excellent, Romanus. Now listen closely to the Tribune, he has much to tell you." Caesar turned about, not waiting for a response from either of the two, and walked from the chamber. Civis saw the uniform and armor they left, that of a General of the Legions. He instinctively knew it would be his size.

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 01-09-02 16:07 ET (US)     56 / 64       
Titus' final words of explanation and his theory about the killer of Tiberius Publicus weighed heavily on Civis Romanus' reeling mind: The death of Decius, so cruel and undeserved; the death of Hespera, a naive, misled young girl; Julius in prison needlessly; an attempt on his own life that could be a precurser to attempts on Caesar's life; his family threatened in their own home...

Civis face set into an expression of determination and purpose. He shifted the scabbord for his gladius into the position at his waist that he favored. Civis picked up the gladius and as was his unconscious custom checked the weapon for feel and balance. He needn't have bothered. It was Civis' own personal sword, retrieved by Titus from the Garrison's storage chamber where it was deposited after Civis' arrest. Civis looked directly at Titus, and without glancing at his scabbord directed the point of the sword home into the scabbord so expertly Titus could hardly hear the sound of the metal blade rubbing on the scabbord's interior as the gladius slid into place. Titus smiled. The General was back to form.

"My horse?" asked Civis.

"Outside, tethered and waiting," replied Titus.

"Others?" said Civis.

"Yes. Caesar's Legion of Roma is dealing with the Praetorians. A cohort of mounted infantry, Severus and I are at your disposal."

"What of the conspirators and the Senate?"

Titus pursed his lips. "We should be getting a report at any time. We believe the Senate is embarrassed by the conspiracy that formed within its ranks and is fundamentally aligned with Caesar. A cohort or two is in the right place as insurance. Let's go outside and see to our detachment."

Civis nodded. "Lead on, Tribune; just as excellently as you have all these days. Caesar chooses good men."

Titus smiled as they strode out of prison chamber. "Yes he does, General," said Titus. And Civis knew the complement had just been returned.

____________________________________________________________

"Hurry Mistress, Tribune Titus wanted us to leave hours ago!" called out Radko, the Romanus Estates' Stablemaster.

"Patience, Radko. It takes time to collect the necessary items for three people!" replied Apolita as she ran back into the villa for a few more things to load into the oxcart.

The children were gone already. They had been taken by other trusted servants to the estate of Claudius Valorus, their good friends in the nearby valley. Despite the suddenness of the children's arrival, Apolita knew there would be no hesitation on Valorus' part over taking them in. Besides, young Septimus Valorus always seemed to appreciate visits from Apollonia, treating them as special occasions and giving to her all of the attention a 13-year old boy could generate. And Apollonia never seemed to mind.

A footstep behind Radko caught the Stablemaster's attention. He turned too late to see its source as a wooden club landed violently on his head and he fell senseless to the ground. The man wielding the club ran towards the villa's entrance, but stopped at the opening to press himself to the side so he couldn't be seen by anyone leaving. He threw the club to the ground and withdrew a dagger. Hidden and armed, he waited.

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 01-09-02 22:23 ET (US)     57 / 64       
Apolita walked into the sunlight outside the villa's doorway carrying a final basket of goods. "Alright, Radko, we can leave. This is the last... Radko?" Surprised and puzzled at seeing her stablemaster lying in the dirt at the wheel of the oxcart, Apolita stood beyond the doorway neither stepping forward nor backward.

A voice behind her growled a greeting. "So... I find the lady of the house is still at home. How fortunate." Apolita whirled about to see her servant Flavius, dagger in hand, crouched like an Africanus beast ready to strike.

"What do you want, Flavius? Why the dagger?" she said, her voice quivering despite her effort to control her fear.

"I intend its use, Lady Romanus, wife of a butcher."

"On whom?"

Flavius snickered. "Who do you think? Guess."

"I do not want to play games with you." Apolita stepped slightly to the side. Flavius responded immediately by stepping towards her, his dagger positioned to respond. Apolita halted, knowing further movement would invite an attack. She was thinking as fast as terror would permit.

"My husband?"

"Clever woman. You guessed correctly on your first try."

"But why? He's never treated you poorly, nor have I. Why, Flavius?"

"I suppose I could tell you, but then I would have to be sure my little secret stays a secret. Oh well, I guess I cannot deny the curiousity of a lovely lady." This Flavius said with a sneer.

A groan sounded from behind Apolita. It was Radko struggling to regain consciousness. For an instant Flavius eyes looked towards the source of the groan. Apolita thought she saw an opening and threw her basket of objects at Flavius with all of her might. The basket tumbled in flight and the basket and its contents slammed into the upper body and face of Flavius. The servant staggered backwards and lost his balance, falling heavily against the villa's wall and then to the ground.

Apolita lifted her gown and ran as fast as she could for the servant's cabins situated below the bathhouse. Flavius would be less inclined to follow her there she thought. She was wrong.

Flavius collected himself, regained his feet and ran after her with all of the speed he could muster. The race was no contest. His manhood and athleticism made a mockery of Apolita's attempt to flee. He caught up with her and brought her down just below the entrance to the bathhouse... but he didn't use his knife. Not yet, he thought to himself as he wrestled with the struggling woman. There would be a better time. This thought was interrupted by Apolita's balled up fists pummeling him about the shoulders, chest and face as she screamed for help. He opened his hand and slapped her hard across the face.

Stunned, Apolita ceased to struggle or to cry for help. There would have been help by now if any were still on the estate who could. She remembered too late that she had sent them away with the children or for their own protection. The unconscious Radko was the only one left. Flavius yanked her to her feet and half pulled, half dragged her to the bathhouse. "Screaming won't help you. There's no one to hear you. I made sure of that before I came calling." Flavius pushed her into the bathhouse through the entrance and into the preparation room. Her shoulder slammed painfully against the cabinet used for hanging guests' togas.

Apolita began to say silent prayers to her gods and ancestors for whatever help they might send to her. Titus, a soldier, a prefect, her husband most of all... Anyone, please gods. Anyone.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 01-09-2002 @ 10:28 PM).]

Micah Aragorn
Pleb
posted 01-10-02 03:25 ET (US)     58 / 64       
Conspiracy usually had an alarming end when discovered. You seemed to disappear. All that you were or owned disappeared with you. Although, if you didn't end up in one of Roma's galleys rowing under the lash until you died of malnutrition and loss of blood or drowning while the vessel you were chained to sank during a battle, there was always crucifiction. Neither of these were what the members of this conspiracy had thought would be their future. It had been such a well devised scheme with people placed in the right positions to take over when the time came.

As always news seemed to travel fast and the fight between Titus and Lucius was no exception. And with the fight news came news of Lucius' confession of the conspiracy and the names of the conspirators. It also reached the conspirators themselves.

Brutus Calerus had rushed immediately to the villa of Quintas Modius his co-conspirator. There he was already joined by Placus Varro who had also received the bad news.

Brutus in a nervous state and barely able to stand in one place with anticipation at the penalty for their demise addressed Quintas, "What are we to do? Where are we to go?
Where are you going?"

Quintas Modius, although just as nervous about his future in Roma, seemed much calmer on the outside and replied, "I would quickly put my affairs in order Brutus and find a quick and undetected way out of Roma. We have failed and unless you wish to stay here and find out what will become of you......"

Brutus looked at Modius and then at Placus," Where are YOU going?"

Modius replied, "Placus and I are leaving now on my merchant vessel before it can be halted. We will make our way to my home in Carthago while I still have some of my wealth still available to me. It is best we part here now and make haste to our departure plans."

Modius, who had been putting papers he needed and monies in carrying pouches as they spoke, gathered what belongings he could carry and he and Placus exited the villa with Brutus not far behind. The merchants had made good their escape. Modius and Placus had indeed set sail for Carthago and escaped a fearful fate for themselves. At least for now. Brutus also escaped by disquising himself as a member of another merchant's trading party although the price for their silence cost Brutus more than he wanted.

But the conspiring Senator's of Roma, Lucius and Gaulas, would not be as fortunate as they really had no place to run nor would anyone help them to escape....for any price!

"Halt," yelled Centurion Honoratus Pellus. And with that command the detachment of Garrison quards stopped at the entrance of the villa of Senator Lucius Vatinius. Honoratus under the circumstances did not wait to announce his arrival and as he pushed aside the house servant the Senator was busily trying to destroy any evidence of his part in the conspiracy.

"Senator Lucius Viridius," Honoratus started, "You are under arrest for conspiring against Caesar." The Centurion motioned with his arm to the guards and they formed a wall around the Senator and escorted him away to the garrison prison. Lucius Viridius offered no resistance as any would be useless and allowed himself to be taken away to his fate. He only prayed silently that the god's would be merciful and so would Caesar.

Honoratus and the remaining quard advanced to the villa of Senator Gaulus Lepidus. Once again the Centurion did not use protocul and forcefully entering the Senator's villa soon spotted a house servant.

"Where is your master," he bellowed out at the servant who pointed to the closed doors of a private room.

Honoratus with the guard behind him pushed open the doors and quickly glancing about the room discovered the prone dead body of Senator Gaulus Lepidus upon the floor. Beside him lay a cup with the contents now pooling on the same floor. A quick examination of the body found no blood nor marks made by any weapon. It was concluded that the Senator had not wished to let his fate be in the hands of another and took his own life by drinking poison.

That day the other members of the conspiracy that had been placed in certain positions were arrested and waiting their fate. Roma was once more secure. Her enemies vanquished. Caesar was safe. Roma was safe. But while other Roman citizens were rejoicing a dark cloud hung over the Romanus household.


[This message has been edited by Micah Aragorn (edited 01-10-2002 @ 02:48 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 01-10-02 12:05 ET (US)     59 / 64       
The military messenger who gave this report saluted and departed. Civis and Titus looked at each other with an expression of satisfaction on their faces. Thus ended the die cast of five foolishly ambitious Romans.

However, Civis' primary concern resurfaced and his brows knitted in worry once more. "To my villa, Titus. There is one Roman unaccounted for."

"I have already told Apolita to leave the villa and find safety with others," said Titus.

"Titus, this is my Apolita we are talking about, right?" countered Civis.

"Yes, but... Oh, I see your point." Both mounted their horses and on Civis hand wave, Titus, Severus and the mounted cohort galloped through the streets of Roma and onto the road leading to Civis' estate.
____________________________________________________________

"...So now you know my little secret," said Flavius, his dagger pointed at Apolita's unprotected belly. He sat closely to her on the preparation room's bench, very closely. He was close enough that Apolita could smell the tension of his body, feel his every movement and unmistakenly read every inflection and nuance in his voice. She tried one last, desperate measure to gain his sympathy and end his threat to her family and herself. She prayed it would work.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 01-10-2002 @ 12:09 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 01-10-02 16:21 ET (US)     60 / 64       
Despite the knot that twisted and turned in her stomach and the pounding in her chest, Apolita gently layed her head on Flavius' nearby shoulder. In as soothing a voice as she could construct she said, "I'm so sorry, Flavius. I had no idea."

Flavius' hand loosened slightly on his knife as his surprise distracted him from his thoughts and intentions. "You're sorry? What about your husband? Is he sorry?"

Apolita shifted her hips and moved a centimeter or two closer to Flavius. "He has often told me how much he regretted the incident," she said. Her natural scent wafted past Flavius' nostrils and his distraction increased. "I've always been... Well, I... I liked having you around the villa. Didn't you like being in the house with... with me?"

"I suppose your husband's regret is something; but it doesn't change what happened. And it doesn't undo the things I have done or what I must do, though maybe I find them of less interest at the moment. You surprise me, woman." Flavius, knife still pointed at Apolita, reached across and planted an unwelcome kiss on her that caused her stomach to churn in disgust. Yet, she knew she musn't resist... and so she didn't.

____________________________________________________________

Civis and the others galloped through the gate to his estate and towards the villa. He saw a man struggling to gain his feet by pulling himself up with the aid of the oxcart's bed. Radko!

"Are you hurt?!" said Civis even as he swiveled his head, looking and trying to find any trace of Apolita.

Radko's eyes focussed on the man on horseback he hadn't seen in days. "Clubbed, Master Civis. Flavius... He holds Mistress Apolita. I saw him drag her into the bathhouse before I... I... I guess I blacked out again. I'm sorry, Master, I failed... I..." Civis motioned to two of his cohort to aid the stricken stablemaster, and directed the others to follow him to the bathhouse.
____________________________________________________________

His kisses became more urgent, less gentle. The material of her gown stretched and tore from the stress of his closeness and the uncontrolled workings of his free hand. No, thought Apolita. No! NO! "NO!"

She screamed. Flavius' hearing was deafened and he leaned away, his knife pointed once again at her belly. Then the doorway to the preparation room darkened as sunlight was blocked by the figure of a man of medium heighth, strongly built shoulders and arms, with piercing blue eyes that seemed to be drilling a hole into Flavius' face from afar.

Flavius leaped to his feet yanking Apolita to her's before Civis could react. The servant's knife in Flavius' right hand moved quickly to a place close to Apolita's neck and up against her exposed and vulnerable throat. Flavius'left hand was around the woman's narrow waist holding her so that she couldn't move her body more than a centimeter without his knowing it. Civis froze in place considering his options.

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 01-10-02 23:40 ET (US)     61 / 64       
"Welcome to my little house, General Civis Romanus," said Flavius. "Guests are not permitted to wear armor in my villa... or swords. And we permit only one guest at a time."

"And if I don't comply?" said Civis.

"The lady of the house has something unfortunate happen to her," replied Flavius.

"You made your point." Civis turned to the doorway. "Titus, Flavius is in here! Stay out! He has Apolita at knifepoint!" Then Civis began to remove his armor, beginning with his helmet, then his breastplate and finally unbuckling his sword.

Titus knew not to oppose Civis' instructions, but Civis said nothing about sealing off any escape. The tribune told three of his now dismounted soldiers to cover the back door to the bathhouse and permit no escape.

Civis stood in the doorway wearing only the shirt and other garments typically worn by soldiers under their armor. "Now what, Flavius."

"I tell you a story, guests always like stories."

"Tell it, then."

"You didn't say please. I'm insulted." Flavius moved his knife closer to Apolita's throat.

"Please, Flavius. Tell me a story." It was now clear to Civis that Flavius was not just dangerous, but obviously insane.

"That's better. Alright, here's my story. Once upon a time there was a Roman who wanted to be a great soldier. He rose in rank to become a great cohort leader. He did service in the East and commanded his men in all manner of important duties. Then came a general. The great soldier was ruined by the lies told by the general. The soldier pursued the general to right a great wrong. The general trapped him inside the walls of a foreign palace and murdered him before the king who ruled there. Now the general must pay for his crime; and in the way of the East, so must his family. There is one only who has the right to exact punishment."

"Who is that, Flavius?" said Civis.

"Can't you guess? You are the great and famous General Romanus. You above all should know."

Civis stalled for time trying to think of a way to get to Flavius without seeing Apolita hurt in the process. "I guess I'm not as wise as you think, Flavius. I cannot imagine who it might be."

Flavius shook his head. "Apolita knows. Tell him. The secret doesn't matter anymore now that the general is here. Tell him..." Flavius tightened his grip around her waist as a warning.

"Civis... My husband... Flavius is the brother of Crassus, the man you fought in Vologezes' palace." The pieces of the puzzle fell into place in great rush.

"The dagger and pin clasp with the "C" engraved on them were his?" asked Civis.

"Yes."

"You killed Tiberius Publicus?"

"Yes, an annoying man. He didn't want me to kill you in his palace. That angered me, but then I saw a chance to end his annoying life and have the blame fall on you. I knew about the conspiracy. Eliminating him, you and Caesar, that Parthian pawn, would have been a fine thing. It almost worked."

"Hespera?"

"Sadly, yes. She was very entertaining, if a little too honest for her own good. She wanted to tell you about my comings and goings and apologize for the bad things she thought she had done. I couldn't let her ruin my plan, so I stopped her, though I truly regretted it at the time."

"Apolita has never harmed you. Let her go. It's me you want."

"Hmmmm. A thought, General. Maybe I'll consider it after you do me a service."

"What service is that?"

"Not sure... Let me think?" Flavius pretended to be thinking deep thoughts. Then his face brightened in the manner an actor would portray if on a stage and an audience was present.

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 01-11-02 00:04 ET (US)     62 / 64       
"Here's what you can do, General Romanus; and I just might set her free. You can walk on your knees to a place before me and kiss the ground where I stand!"

"What?!"

"YOU HEARD ME!" shouted Flavius, his voice echoing off the inner walls and rooms of the bathhouse. "I won't repeat myself! Do it! Now!"

Civis looked from Flavius to Apolita. He tried to silently communicate something to her, something only two people closely tied in life and love could hear and understand. Apolita's eyes reflected something back to him. He hoped it was understanding. Civis lowered himself to the floor, kneeling on its stone surface.

Flavius began to step backwards towards the pool area. Firmly he pulled Apolita back with him. "Walk Romanus! On your knees! Wherever I go, you follow... or she dies before your eyes!"

Flavius continued to step backwards. Civis tried bargaining one more time even as he painfully walked on hands and knees towards the backwards stepping servant. "Let her go, Flavius and I promise I and the others will not pursue you."

"Do you think me a fool? You'll find me, or one of your mindless legionaires will find me... and I will not have the revenge I seek! No, the drama ends here, Romanus. Right here, in your own bathhouse, the place where you nearly met your death at my hands once before." Civis thought to himself as he crawled forward, another mystery solved. Titus' theory was correct. It was Flavius, erstwhile hero, who attempted to drown Civis.

Two paces from the pool situated just behind him Flavius stopped his backwards progression. "Here, Romanus. Here is where you kiss the floor at my feet." Civis crawled forward and halted in front of Flavius just a little more than an arm's length away. The servant tightened his grip on Apolita's waist and pressed his knife closer to her throat as a warning to Civis. The general did not miss the warning in Flavius' movements.

Civis lowered his lips to the floor leaving exposed and unprotected the broad area of his back, creating a perfect target for a downward thrusted dagger. A gleam of triumph in his eyes, Flavius moved his dagger away from Apolita's throat and raised it to strike it home just as Civis' lips touched the stone floor.

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 01-11-02 00:54 ET (US)     63 / 64       
Apolita felt the knife leave her throat and saw it raised upwards poised to strike her husband down. There was but one thing she could do. Without hesitation, with all of her might, Apolita slammed the boney end of her elbow full into the belly of Flavius even as he began the downward thrust of the dagger.

Flavius staggered in mid-thrust, all of the air in his esophagus whooshing out. The dagger missed its target and his grip on Apolita loosened considerably. At the same time, Civis looked up and saw an advantage. Like an animal at bay, he swiftly drew his feet up under himself, planted them on the ground and leaped at Flavius. The impact carried Flavius, Civis and Apolita into the pool.

The first to reach surface was Apolita. Choking on water she propelled herself to the pool's edge then turned looking frantically for her husband. The center of the pool churned and boiled as the bodies of the two battling men thrashed about at the water's surface and at each other. Apolita screamed Titus' name. He rushed in with Severus at his side, but both knew there was nothing they could, or for that matter, should do. This was a battle between Flavius and Civis as it had been a battle between Crassus and Civis once before.

A hand wielding a knife broke the surface. Another hand gripped it trying to prevent its downward thrust. Two heads broke surface gasping for air then hands, knife and heads disappeared under the surface once more. The water churned anew like the waters of the Nile when crocodiles attacked.

Something glinted under the water and moved sideways disappearing into the white of someone's shirt. Titus couldn't tell who as both wore the same colored garments. Something red began to permeate the water. There as another flash of the shiny object. This time a gurgled scream escaped from under the waters. The pool turned redder still. Then the waters became still.

A man's head broke the surface as if he was rising from its depths and walking to the pool's edge. His eyes were full open but his jaw was slack. Apolita brought her closed hand to her mouth in horror when she saw whose face it was. The man who surfaced was Flavius.

But something was wrong with him. He moved stiffly, almost unseeing. Then slowly, very slowly his body tilted forward until he floated, face down on the surface of the crimson water. Blood flowed freely from the deep gashes in his shirted side. He moved no more.

Another head broke the surface at that instant. Civis drew deep breaths into his tortured lungs as he looked around to find and battle anew his family's tormentor. Water finally cleared from his blue eyes and he continued to breath deeply looking about until he saw Flavius' floating, lifeless body near the pool's edge.

A splashing behind him caused him to turn just as Apolita reached him and threw herself at her husband, kissing him about the face and neck again and again and again. Tears streamed down her face and she was crying unlike any time Civis had seen before. He threw his arms around her ignoring the stinging cuts on his arms and the men who now crowded around the pool calling to them, offering to help them out.

____________________________________________________________

Towels draped around them both, Civis walked with his Apolita pulled tightly to him. She could find no room to get closer, so for now she was content. Titus walked beside them.

"Civis," he said. "I have ordered Severus to remove Flavius' body from the pool. He will take care of its disposition. I'll make my report to Caesar. It will be unnecessary for you appear in Roma for the time being. Stay with your family, Civis. They need you more than does Roma... at least for the moment." Apolita looked up at Titus and smiled.

"Good advice, my Husband," said Apolita.

"Indeed," agreed Civis.

Titus continued. "The bathhouse is something of a mess. I would like to..." Civis interrupted him. "Titus, bring our children home as soon as you can. It will be good for us all to be together again. Don't worry about the bathhouse. Have a soldier or one of my servants board up its doors. I don't think we will be inclined to enter it for awhile. We'll make other arrangements for bathing."

"I understand, Civis," said Titus sympathetically. "Consider it done."

"Thank you, my friend," said Civis as he continued to hold Apolita as closely to himself as he could, walking her and himself to the villa to gain the privacy they craved and the undisturbed peace they both needed.

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 01-11-02 01:17 ET (US)     64 / 64       
EPILOGUE


Civis Romanus leaned back in his chair and reached for the goblet of wine freshly poured by Julius, back recently from one of his chores around the villa. Across from the general sat his long time friend and travelling companion, Gaius Accipiter. He too had a goblet of wine in his hand from which he had been casually sipping as Civis told him about the events of weeks past.

As was his way, Civis told Accipiter about almost every detail covering the movements of the players in his personal drama as if they were units on a battlefield. Accipter sometimes found it difficult to avoid laughing at Civis' predictability, but usually Accipiter's reserve of courtesy and sensitivity to the ways of humans held sway. So once again, Accipiter listened and did not laugh.

Civis chose to speak of everything... that is, almost everything... relating to the Flavius incident. He left out the fact that nightmares troubled him during this time. It didn't seem relevant.

Civis took a sip of freshly poured wine. "So, it ended well enough as you see, Accipiter. We are all safe once more and feeling safer every day. Uhhh... Yes, in case you are wondering, I did take the precaution of checking the records. Flavius was Crassus only brother. Both were orphaned. There are no other siblings in their bloodline."

Accipiter nodded and sipped at his wine as Civis continued to talk. "And to think, Gaius, that this was one adventure in my life where you neither accompanied me nor were involved in any way or where your 'special abilities' had any role to play." Civis laughed a little to himself and brought the wine goblet to his lips. It was that moment that Accipiter chose to end his patient silence and speak of the matter to Civis.

"Tell me, Civis. Did you dream?

The sip of wine stuck in Civis' throat just as he tried to swallow it. Down two pipes it went leaving burning chaos in its wake. It took some time for Civis to recover his control, and for a time after that he stared at Gaius Accipiter wondering just what the self-described "angel" meant by those words.


THE END

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