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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:
Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 11-14-01 22:01 ET (US)     26 / 64       
The two Praetorian Guards swung wide the double doors into Caesar's meeting chamber in his palace. Civis Romanus entered, escorted by the two legionaires who had guarded him all of the way from his villa. Caesar Marcus Aurelius was seated in a chair, obviously waiting for Civis' arrival.

Civis saluted in the Roman fashion, closed fist to breastplate, and stood at military attention. Caesar noted that Civis carried no weapons and knew that he had been thoroughly searched by the Praetorians before they permitted him to enter. The legionaires were armed with gladii, but were standing at least three steps behind Civis, permitting them time enough to draw weapons and strike Civis down should he manifest any ill intentions towards the Emperor.

Caesar sat in his chair, his eyebrows knitted in a stern look of disapproving appraisal. This persisted for a time measurable in minutes. All the while, Civis stood at military attention awaiting permission to speak, wondering if it would ever come.

Suddenly, Caesar rose from his chair and approached Civis. The man was close to Civis in age, somewhat more slender in build and somewhat taller, but by no means able to tower over Civis. Their relationship began when Marcus Aurelius was named Caesar and called upon Civis to journey eastward along the Silk Road. In the course of this adventure eastward, Civis completed the tasks set for him by Aurelius: 1) Assess the military strength of the Parthians and determine if they were capable of defense against Roman Legions; 2) Establish positive relations with the Emperor of the Ch'in and gain "most favored nation" pricing for westward bound silk; and 3)Negotiate a reduction or elimination of the fees being charged by the Parthians to transport silk across the Parthian Empire.

Unfortunately, the intransigence of the Parthians and the acts of their scheming king, Vologezes, resulted in it being necessary for Civis to lead the Legions against the Parthians and deal them the first military defeat by Roma in the history of the two empires. The defeat was made possible by Civis' secret arrangements with Seleucid rebels in Parthia, who turned in the midst of the battle and attacked their Parthian overlords instead of Roma's legionaires. The Seleucids turned out to be less than reliable in all matters... But in Civis' mind and in Aurelius' mind, that was a problem for another day.

Aurelius took a few more steps towards Civis and then raised an accusatory finger towards his Chief Military Advisor. "Romanus... Did you murder Senator Tiberius Publicus in his villa by your own hand or by the hand of another?" Civis uncaged his eyes to see the hard expression on Caesar's face and the finger pointing straight at him. He did not flinch or squirm. His brow was no more moistened than when he entered the Palace. Calmly, yet firmly, he responded.

"On the eternal spirits of my ancestors, I did not do any of the things of which I am accused."

Caesar looked at him for about a fraction of a second and then to the amazement of the legionaires, Aurelius dropped his accusatory stance and stern expression, and broke out into a large unexpected smile. "At ease, General Romanus. Your word is as good as gold to me. But it seems you have bought yourself a whole granary full of trouble with your visit to that obese hog of a Senator the other night." Caesar looked at the legionaires. "Go. You may leave us now." The legionaires hesitated. "I said go now. Caesar commands you to leave us alone." The legionaires saluted and left the chamber.

Civis was at a loss for words at least for the moment, so Aurelius filled the silence for him. "It looks like we'll have to get you some help to prove once and finally that someone else is the culprit. Oh, by the way, how is the head? I was told it was a rather nasty blow. Hmmmm... Yes, vibrantly colored if I do say so myself. You seem to do things in a big way, General. Even your bruises are spectacular."

Civis managed a smile. "Sire, If I could have it otherwise, I would. This peace we've wrought from the Parthians has been more disturbing to me than I ever expected." Caesar grunted. "Disturbing to us both it appears; but I expect matters will become calmer and those who rail against it will finally see its benefits and adapt. But first we must attend to your personal dilemna hadn't we?"

"If you so command, Caesar."

"I do command it, General Romanus. And I would like to introduce to you the Roman who will be the one to help you prove your innocence. Now, Tribune, if you please!" Aurelius elevated his voice so that someone in the next room could hear him call. The door to the next chamber swung open and into Caesar's meeting chamber strode the Tribune, Titus Tarquintius, smiling from ear to ear. He held his arm out to grasp Civis' arm, Roman fashion, continuing to smile.

"Don't be so surprised, General," said Titus. "You asked me once before to look after your family. I don't consider the task finished yet; and it appears I have to look after you as part of the job."

Caesar laughed as well. "He may have a much bigger task ahead of him than he bargained for, don't you think, Romanus?"

"Most likely so, Sire," said Civis.

Caesar's face became serious once more. "Civis, I can grant you and Titus this time only because the Senators are too disorganized to respond for the moment. You must work quickly and efficiently, Tribune, if you expect to prove what must be proven on the General's behalf. I feel there is more than meets the eye in these events, but I don't know exactly what. That will be for you both to uncover, assuming you, Titus, can keep the General from an appointment with the Tree."

The pace of Caesar's comments picked up as he gave the men their instructions. There was no more light banter. It was all business. Finally, he called for the legionaires to enter the room. "General Romanus shall not require legionaires guarding him away from his villa so long as he is in the company of Tribune Tarquintius or any of his associates. The Tribune will advise you of their identities at a later time. The General will be in the company of the Tribune this day. You may return to the Romanus villa and await the General's return. You will continue to perform sentry duty at the villa as before. These are Caesar's orders."

"Yes, Caesar," they said, then saluted and departed his meeting chamber.

"Go now, General Romanus," said Caesar. "And may the gods be with you."

"Thank you, Sire... for your trust," said Civis as both he and Titus saluted their Emperor. They turned about and exited through the double doors that led into the hallways of the Palace.

Micah Aragorn
Pleb
posted 11-19-01 05:20 ET (US)     27 / 64       
Together Titus and Civis rode through the streets of Roma. It's citizens staring and whispering among themselves as the two past them by. Titus thought to himself,"Had it been that long ago that these same people would have bowed in respect to Caesar's Chief Military Advisor?"

Titus turned to Civis and said,"Look at them, Civis, look at their faces. They range from disbelief to confusion to even anger. Some even look to be scared of you. Do they so soon forget who you are and what you have done?"

"Titus, you can't blame them. Their seemingly secure world has been tilted slightly and they don't know what to make of it."

Titus could say nothing further but shook his head in his own disbelief at the unfaithfulness of the roman citizens.
As they rode to Civis villa Titus felt this would be a good opportunity to get a more comprehensive detail of that night and the conversation Civis had with Tiberius Publicus.

The Tribune began,"Civis, I need to know why Tiberius had you go alone that night to his villa."

"So that no one else could hear his proposal.",replied Civis.

"Proposal! What proposal?",Titus was definately interested in a proposal a Senator might have with the Emporer's Chief Military Advisor.

"It seems that the good Senator was acting on behalf of other merchants like himself to make me an offer he was sure I would not turn down. These merchants were unhappy at the new trade routes from the East and the lowering profits that such accessability was causing. They wanted me to discredit the treaties we had made with the Parthians and the Ch'in."

Titus face formed a frown at the last thing Civis had told him. Remembering the conversation yesterday with his father and fearing his own father may be somehow mixed into this proposal he asked, "Were any names mentioned.?"

Civis replied,"No, he would not mention anything other than himself and certain other merchants being unhappy. It seems these high profits were being diminished and that was causing problems for other purposes the money was being used for."

Still curious Titus continued the questioning,"What purposes?"

"I asked Tiberius that same question and was told I would find out later if I agreed to the terms of the proposal."

"What terms were those,Civis?"

With a slight smirk on his face and the hint of a smile Civis replied,"To make me very wealthy and wanting for nothing."

"And if you refused?"

"Then no matter how long it took I would join the ranks of our citizens that sought daily help for their substanence. That was if I or my family were alive to even do that."

Titus replied,"He must have been pretty confident of your answer to allow you to enter his home wearing your sword and dagger?"

"To a point he did. What you couldn't see was that he had me remove them as a precaution before the conversation began."

"You never had them on while this conversation took place?"

"No! I was told to place them on a table near the door I had entered the room by."

"You never had them.......Oh! This may be of interest. When you went in and just a few minutes before the discovery of the body Radko and myself saw a mysterious hooded person listening by the side door to the room you were in and then he went inside."

"What do you mean Radko and you saw someone? You followed me there against my wishes and Tiberius Publicus instructions?"

Answering back as a child would after being caught doing something wrong,"Yes we did. But don't blame Radko I talked him into it and besides I had made a promise to someone to help you. And I would not want to dissapoint that person any more than you."

Civis needed no further clue as to the originator of that promise......Apolita. But for the hooded person...."That must be the shadow I saw just before I attained this knot on my head and the headache I am getting."

They arrived at the villa where Apolita greeted Civis and Titus relinquished custody of the General to the guards. He told Civis he was going to seek out the assistants he needed and would be back soon.

[This message has been edited by Micah Aragorn (edited 11-19-2001 @ 04:51 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 11-19-01 21:02 ET (US)     28 / 64       
Civis reluctantly disengaged himself from Apolita's hug. "Here I am, safe and sound. You needn't have worried, Apolita."

"Sure... Accused of murder and appearing before Caesar, escorted by four legionaires and you being unarmed. No, nothing to worry about, Civis," said Apolita, her voice mirroring the sarcasm her words conveyed.

Civis scraped the tiled floor with his right sandal. "Well, okay. I see how it could have looked... But I have news, Apolita," Civis decided to change the direction of the conversation as quickly as he could.

"What news?"

"Titus is assigned to investigate the crime and Caesar wants him to find the real killer. Right now, Titus is selecting his assistants."

"Do you know who they will be?"

"No, not yet. But he'll bring them by, I'm sure, as soon as he is ready."

Apolita nodded her head. "Come Civis, Cook has left overs from today's dinner. Let's talk while she puts a little together to carry you through to supper."

"I'll be there as soon as I clean up..." Civis hesitated before looking for a bowl and pitcher of water. He looked at Apolita, his piercing blue eyes focussed only on her hazel eyes. "It makes me feel very good to have you care so much, Apolita. I don't know that I'm worthy of it."

The expression on Apolita's face softened. She closed the distance between them in two quick steps and hugged and kissed him once more. Cook waited a little longer than she expected to before serving Civis his belated dinner on the small table in the galley.

____________________________________________________________

The two teenage boys had arrived a little early for their lesson on shepherding a flock of sheep. Both boys heard the two voices and the sharp, angry exchanges, but they never saw the face of the man whose voice they heard. They only heard the young woman's protestations, the man's angry retort; and then they heard the slap of a hand on a face.

The boys stood there not knowing what to do as Hespera emerged running from a heavily overgrown bushy area at the edge of the pasture, her hands held to one side of her face. Tears were trickling down her cheeks and between the fingers of her hands. She stopped abruptly when she saw the boys and turned around so as to hide her face.

Hespera quickly wiped her eyes and did her best to look as normal as she would on any such day, but as she turned about and began to walk to them, they could see the hurt still in her eyes. They could also see the pink shine on one side of her face, apparently the place where she had been struck.

"Ready for your lessons, boys?" she called out in as merry a voice as she could muster.

"Yes, Hespera," said the older of the two teenagers. "Are you alright?"

"Why yes, I'm fine. Why do you ask?"

"We heard someone with you. Were you slapped? Who was it, Hespera?"

"Nothing for you to be concerned with, either of you," she said, a testy edge to her voice. "Do you want a lesson or not?"

"Yes, please, Hespera," said the younger teenager. "Yes," said the other boy at almost the same time.

"Then let's begin..."

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-19-2001 @ 09:16 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 11-21-01 16:16 ET (US)     29 / 64       
Tribune Titus Tarquintius did not return that day, or that night as well. Civis went about his day aware that some relaxing of the guard had been ordered by Caesar, but Civis was fully aware that he still was considered a suspect and would continue to be under observation.

____________________________________________________________

IN AN INSULAE IN ROMA:

Five men sat on chairs, couches and other pieces of furniture in the small room of the Senator's insulae in Roma. The servants were prohibited from entering the room whenever these five men gathered for discussion.

There had been six at one time; but the sixth member now lay in his family tomb outside of Roma, a knife with the inscription "CR" having caused him to be placed there.

"Are you sure it wasn't Romanus who did it?" asked the shortest among the five. He was a silk merchant, one of the most prominent purveyors of fine silk to the westernmost provinces of the Empire. He was balding, and somewhat stockily built. His slender legs gave him the startling look of being a barrel on short stilts. He wore a long toga to hide this imperfection from others. However, long for him was short for the others, most of whom stood about a foot taller than this silk merchant.

A deeply resonant voice, possessed by the oldest man in the room, gave the response. "No, I have seen the reports. Though the Senate will press the issue on Romanus, I do not believe he actually did it. No, I'm inclined to believe it was someone else. And now with what happened to Lucius on the street yesterday, I'm sure it was another." As he said this, the older man pointed to a moderately tall, slenderly built man. He was the very same man who was approached by the hooded figure and given the message demanding 500 dinarii.

Lucius, Senator of Roma, acknowledged the fact. "I think he's right. I am most concerned that it may be the agent hired by Tiberius Publicus who is involved in the Senator's death and is trying to make the most of his knowledge about us. What little I know about the agent is that he was specifically recruited to handle the Romanus affair depending on the outcome of negotiations with the General. It should concern us, I think, that he probably knows far more about us than we do about him."

One of the heretofore silent men, average heighth, darker complected, a silk merchant from Carthago, now spoke. "Do we know the identity of this agent of Tiberius?"

The older man answered. "No. Tiberius deliberately kept it his secret so that it would stay a secret, or so he said to me once when I asked the agent's identity. All I can tell you is that Tiberius felt the agent was well motivated and properly placed to act. Tiberius seemed quite pleased with the arrangement."

The fifth member of the group shifted his position on his chair and lifted his head off of the palm of his hand. This permitted him to lower his arm to the table where his elbow had been the only part of his body touching it before. "My colleagues in the Senate intend to pursue the Romanus conviction as quickly as possible. Aurelius is the major obstacle. He's convinced Romanus is innocent and has put a young special investigator onto the case." He said the words 'special investigator' in such a way as to convey his contempt for either the concept or the person selected.

"Who is it?" asked the older man.

"I'm surprised you don't know already, Senator," said the fifth member to the older man, a note of self-satisfaction in his voice for knowing something the other didn't. "It's Titus... The Tribune Titus. You know him don't you, Senator?"

"You, Placus, as well as the others, are very aware that I know him," replied the older man. "I don't like being toyed with. When you know something, out with it, so that we all will know."

Placus laughed. "My apologies, Senator. I meant no harm. Just thought we could add a little more mystery to the atmosphere."

"At my expense apparently," retorted the elderly Senator. "Better we worry about the upstart who is threatening us than Titus, I say. I can... I mean, we can deal with Titus later."

"As you say Senator. I wonder what Tiberius Publicus would have said to that?"

"He's dead. He has no more to say. Now, let's get down to business."

Words like praetorians, prefects, payment and allies floated almost indecipherably down the stairwell as the slave mounted the stairs to the upper room where the five men had gathered. He carried a message given to him by a hooded person. He was told he must take it upstairs immediately or risk severe punishment. The slave understood the implication and decided it would be better to be punished for breaking the rule of noninterruption than risk punishment for not interrupting when the matter was urgent.

"Placus, here's what you should..." The elderly Senator was interrupted in midstatement by the slave's knocking on the door. He strode to the door and opened it wide only to see the trembling slave standing there, a small scroll in his hand. "I told you never to interrupt me up here!" bellowed the Senator.

The slave quaked, but held the scroll out in a shaking hand to the Senator. "For...gi...giv...give me, Sir. The man said this was urgent. Th...th...that I would be punished if I didn't give it to you right away." The Senator took the scroll, all the while frowning ferociously at the slave.

"Get out of here. I'll deal with you later," said the elderly Senator.

"Y...y...y...yes, Master." The Senator slammed the door behind the slave, the door nearly striking the man before he began his flight down the stairs. The Senator unrolled the scroll reading its content. He handed the scroll to Lucius without further word.

Lucius read the scroll. "It's the same handwriting as I saw on the other message. It's the same man, alright." Lucius turned to the others. "Tomorrow, the scoundrel wants us to place a satchel containing 500 dinarii inside of a carved out melon. He wants us to go to a marketplace on the edge of town, on the road to Tiberius' estate, and give the melon to a woman wearing a crimson sash and carrying a basket filled only with melons. The time is mid day. If we fail to do so, he says, he will reveal what he knows about us."

They looked at each other. "So what do we do?" said the short merchant.

"What we do, Brutus," said the elderly Senator, "is pay him... Just once... Then we hunt him down and eliminate him and his female accomplice." The others nodded their heads in agreement, murmuring among themselves about how soon they would like to see the blackmailer and the woman dead.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-22-2001 @ 12:15 PM).]

Micah Aragorn
Pleb
posted 11-22-01 04:07 ET (US)     30 / 64       
Even as Titus told Civis he would return that day he knew the hour was getting late and that he needed to seek the help Caesar had instructed him to get. He decided as he rode that he would return in the morning with the associates he needed.Long and hard Titus thought to himself of the trusted people he knew. Most of the military personel who were loyal were still in Egypt. The others that rode with them to the East were in other provinces too far a distance to help Civis. To have Marcus here would make a formidable defense in Civis behalf. But it would not be...........a clear thought came to him. Remembering the night of the murder and the Prefect that could not believe the General capable of the crime he tried to remember his name. Talking to himself as he neared the prefect station for the area, "What was his name again? Sever.....Severus.....Severus Antoninus! That's it! Yes, Severus Antoninus.

As Titus dismounted his horse the Prefect leader, Lucius Paramus, stood in the doorway of the Guard Station and knowing who the rider was gave a quick, half-hearted salute. Which Titus returned staring into the face of the Leader all the while.

"What brings the young Tribune to us this night?"said Lucius Paramus in a sarcastic tone.

"Where is the Prefect Severus Antoninus?", replied Titus.

"He is making his rounds and should arrive within the moment. But what business would you have with my Prefect?"

Titus was becoming agitated at the constant lack of respect his title bore towards certain military courtesy that this Prefect Leader was lacking or purposely refused to give him, "My business with him doesn't concern you, Prefect."

"As leader of this Prefecture it does concern me," Lucius taking a more aggresive stance in the doorway.

Titus had had enough of the insolence and taking one step forward being what seemed inches away from the face of Lucius Paramus said in a stern commanding voice," You will address me as Tribune and reply 'Yes sir or No sir' to my questions. Is that clear, Prefect? Should you continue to disregard my rank I am quite sure I can find you another position within the military more suited to your disposition. Am I clear,Prefect?"

Lucius Paramus quite quickly changed his stance to military attention. He had not expected this response from the Tribune and not wishing to jepordize his appointment answered Titus,"Yes Tribune".

Prefect Severus Antoninus had just finished his rounds and as he returned to the Station overheard the last remarks made from Titus to Lucius and to himself said, "It's about time someone put him in his place."

Prefect and Tribune saluted each other as Titus explained that Severus was now being commanded to aid in the finding of clues that would either release or condemn Civis Romanus.

"We will start fresh in the morning", said Titus to Severus. "Also I feel in order to cover more ground more quickly I will need the assistance of still another. Is there someone you know that is loyal to Romanus and would be willing and able to help us.?"

"Yes Tribune! Another prefect stationed here has that same loyalty and would definately aid us.....Decius Viridius."

"Good, let's recruit him and in the morning we will start again. We must work fast but accurately in our search for clues."

As Titus and Severus walked away, Lucius was vowing to himself that this young Tribune would never grow old.


[This message has been edited by Micah Aragorn (edited 11-22-2001 @ 04:10 AM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 11-23-01 13:50 ET (US)     31 / 64       
Civis wandered around the villa that morning a confused expression on his face until he entered a hallway at the same time as Apolita. They met halfway between the twin portals that marked the beginning and end of the hallway.

"I called for Julius, but he seems to be ignoring me this morning," complained Civis. "I was considering a bath but the fires are not even started. And Hespera and the other new servant seem to be absent as well."

"Of course they haven't answered your call, Love. They are away from the villa on errands. They all have regular chores on this day that take them off the estate. Don't you remember?" Apolita flashed that "If you spent less time sharpening your sword" look that always reduced Civis to a much lower rank in his mind than that given to him by Caesar.

"Oh."

"Anyway," continued Apolita. "There are others who can stoke a fire under the bathhouse while you do something important."

"Like what, Apolita."

"Like giving some time and attention to your children, for one thing. Their morning tutoring is over and they are free for the rest of the day."

"Sorry, I've been a little distracted lately," was the only reply Civis could muster, and a weak one at that he realized. But Apolita was not one to press home a point to create a bigger hurt than necessary. She disregarded commenting on the source of the distraction and instead tilted her head in the way that Civis associated with no one else and said, "They haven't been fishing in a long while, and you know how much they enjoyed it before your trip on the Silk Road." Civis knew a direct order when he heard one.

____________________________________________________________

Apollonia was growing up very fast and almost so right before Civis' very eyes. The girl who was only elbow high to Apolita when Civis left for duty on the Silk Road was now nearly as tall as her mother.

Apollonia's face retained the childlike look of a very young girl, but her 12 year old body was beginning to display the signs of coming maturity. Lace ties crossed at her bosom now hinted at blossoming femininity where before her appearances had been boyish at most. And her long gowns no longer hanged straight down from her waist. Instead, a gentle indentation at the waist was disturbed farther down by a stronger hint of outward rounding at the hips. Nonetheless, despite her subtle change in appearance, Apollonia still seemed the child Civis had known for these 12 years, that Civis regretted like any father, would too soon become the grown woman he knew was inevitable.

"Eeeoooooo! I still hate it when these things wiggle and squirm!" he heard his daughter say.

"Well, just close your eyes, Appy, and stick it on the hook!"

"This one's too wiggly, Civi. You do it!" protested Apollonia.

"Awww, Appy. Caesar's throne! It's not that hard!" Civi, Civis Romanus' son and the younger of the two children, put his fishing stick down on the edge of the pond, its worm-baited hook still in the water. He walked over to Apollonia and took her fising stick from her laying it down on the grassy ground. He reached up for the worm, but found that Apollonia was not where she was standing before. In fact, she adeptly had stepped behind Civi while he was squatting to place the stick on the ground and the hook at the end of the line in just the right position to receive the worm.

Civis, looking on, caught the barest hint of a mischevious smile on the girl's face and guessed immediately what was coming next. He shook his head. Civi, he thought in the few seconds before it happened, you'll never make a good general if you cannot anticipate the enemy better than that.
A long memory is especially helpful, child.

Apollonia reached for the back of Civi's shirt, quickly pulled it back, and dropped the worm down the opening. It took Civi less than a second to realize the cold, wiggling thing near his backbone didn't really belong there at all.

"APPY! YOU BRAT!" Dancing around the boy pulled at his shirt yanking it over his head. This left him half naked wearing only the wrapping around his waist and lower torso that Romans' secured with a belt. In this case, the belt barely did its job as Civi chased his staggering, nearly helplessly giggling sister around the pond and nearby scattered cypress trees. It was Apollonia's much longer legs that saved her from his grasp.

Civi reached down on numerous occasions to keep the wrapping from falling off. It reminded Civis of the time in Egypt when he watch a Roman scientist unravel a mummy to learn its preservation secrets, or search for gems more likely, something more characteristically Roman.

Civis laughed quietly enough so that Apollonia would not be further encouraged, nor Civi to be further enraged. The two were running back now in Civis's direction. A movement out of the corner of his eye attracted Civis. It was Civi's fishing stick being jerked a little bit each time towards the water of the pond, no doubt, because a fish had taken the bait.

"Civi! Your fishing stick! You've caught a fish!" cried out his father. All thought of catching and pulverizing his sister escaped Civi's mind in an instant. He single mindedly dashed for his pole and grasped it just as the fish on the end of the line decided it was time to run for the center of the pond. Apollonia took up a position near her father for the protection she thought she might need sooner or later.

Civi had two hands on the stick, holding it upwards and struggling with it as he stepped backwards to draw the fish onto the bank of the pond. He left behind him, with every step, an inch or two of wrapping the belt unsuccessfully was holding. Finally, the fish was out of the water and lying on the bank flopping around, gasping for air. There too was most of Civi's wrapping.

Apollonia and Civis were so focussed on the end of the fishing line and what the catch might be that they realized only afterwards, when Civi turned to show them his catch, that little was left of his wrapping. Apollonia noticed first, gasped and brought her hand to her mouth. At the same time she turned and looked completely the other way.

A puzzled look crossed Civi's face, wondering why his catch would be so dishonored. His father said nothing but pointed downwards to the affected area. Civi looked down.

"EEEeeeee!" Civi scrambled to gather up the material and place it properly around himself, the fish dropped to the ground and quickly forgotten. In a short while, Civi was wrapped and shirted properly once more.

Apollonia saw the look in her father's eye. Better not say a thing, young lady, was the well communicated message. Though she obeyed implicitly, nonetheless, there were moments when she broke out into laughter during the walk back to the villa. "What's so funny?" protested Civi. Apollonia never answered, but Civis knew the answer and shook his head. Would that they never got older or days like this end, he thought.

He walked towards the entrance to the villa and took note that three additional horses were tied to the horsepost. One he recognized. Two he did not.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-23-2001 @ 02:38 PM).]

Micah Aragorn
Pleb
posted 11-24-01 02:47 ET (US)     32 / 64       
Civis and his children entered the villa from their fishing excursion. As they passed the foyer Civis stopped at the doorway to the room where he conducted his personal business. There, coming to attention and saluting the General, were Titus and his assisitants. Young Civis also saw who was standing there and with his freshly caught fish ran to Titus exclaiming, "Titus, look what I caught. Isn't it a big one." By this time the fish had been swung around and was slapping Titus on his armor and his tunic. Titus politely backing away to stop the fish from further soiling his uniform smiled at the young boy answering," That's a great catch Civi. You did well."

"I almost lost it.", the young boy said as he turned to his father once again hitting the Tribune's tunic with the smelly fish, "Isn't that right Father."

Before Civis could answer Apollonia was quick to remark, "That's not all he almost or did lose!" She covered her wide grin with her hand trying to hide the humorous memory of her brother's fishing demise.

"That's not funny.....nothing happened.....Father! Make her stop. You'll be sorry Appy!'

Trying not to let the embarassment continue Civis said, "Alright you two that's enough. Civi, bring the fish to Cook to prepare for our lunch." Civis put his hands on Civi's shoulders and guided him from the room in the direction of the galley. He then turned to Apollonia with a look that silently said 'I thought I told you'

Seeing his look she answered, "Sorry Father". She turned to Titus and before leaving the room gave him a smile.

Titus tried to wipe the slime and smell off his uniform but to no avail. In the meantime he caught both Severus and Decius glancing at each other with grins forming on there faces. Titus quickly stood up straight and glancing first at Severus and then at Decius quickly saw their smirks disappear and a more somber look graced their faces.

The Tribune once again turned his attention to Civis and began to introduce his assistants. Turning to his right he said, "You remember the prefect Severus Antoninus from that dreadful night." Severus once again saluted the General.

"Things are still a bit hazy but yes I do remember him. Thank you once again for your kind words Prefect."

Severus bowing his head answered, "I am at your command General. I hope you are feeling much better?"

Civis replied, "An occasional headache but much better."

Titus then turned to his left, " And this is Decius Viridius. Another trusted and loyal Prefect."

Decius also saluted Civis military fashion.

Civis suddenly felt fatigued as the head injury still caused some pain and discomfort. He asked, "Have you thought of how you will proceed with the investigation?"

"Yes General",replied Titus, "I'm going back to talk to my father about the other merchants that felt the treaties were disrupting their share of profits and get names to that fact. Severus will go to the villa of Tiberius Publicus and further interogate the household servants of any strangers they may have seen talking to the Senator prior to your meeting. And Decius will go to the Harbor to see if anyone has booked passage on any outgoing vessels."

Civis seemed pleased at the plan of action Titus had developed and added though, Wouldn't the murderor have already left Roma by now."

The Tribune answered, "Possibly. But I think he is still here waiting to see what actually happens and has possibly made arrangements to leave at a later date to witness his handy work."

Civis slightly nodded his head in agreement and as Titus and his assistants saluted the General once again and left the room he sat down feeling the beginnings of a headache and closed his eyes to rest a moment.


[This message has been edited by Micah Aragorn (edited 11-27-2001 @ 03:10 AM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 11-24-01 10:34 ET (US)     33 / 64       
The doctor, an Egyptian from Alexandria, told Civis that he would experience times like this. He called the injury a 'mild concussion'. There would be some temporary amnesia and fogginess, possibly strange dreams, and sudden sharp headaches accompanied by tiredness or lethargy. The doctor was correct. However, the incidence of these symptoms was declining with each passing day. This was the first time in two days he had experienced the onset of any of the symptoms of his concussion.

A bath would be wonderful right now. Confound it! What a time for the servants to be missing. Civis resolved to find someone else who might be available, or do the job himself. Why not, he was a General. He could do anything. The irony of the words sank in and he gave a little laugh at the thought, then stopped when his chuckle set his head to hurting a little more than he wanted.

____________________________________________________________

"Do you see her yet?" asked Brutus. "No," said Placus, matter-of-factly. Impulsively Placus looked down at his shorter associate just to make sure once more that the merchant had the melon firmly in grasp. Placus could see the faint line circling the top of the melon where it had been opened so that it could be gutted and filled with 500 dinarii.

Placus nearly laughed, but choked it back at the last minute as the thought of a melon carrying a melon crossed his mind. Idle thoughts, Placus, he said to himself. Save it for a more public moment, like one of their insulae meetings when it can be enjoyed by more than just one. Such was the way Placus viewed the occupants of his surroundings.

A young woman sporting a crimson sash and carrying a small basket of melons exited from deep within the marketplace. The two men became tense with anticipation. She stopped walking just outside of the marketplace and at the edge of the road. She was looking around as if expecting to see someone.

Brutus and Placus looked around to see if they could see anyone who might be watching the girl other than themselves. More than likely there was, but the clever dog was well hidden. Placus gave Brutus a push to indicate it was time to do what they planned.

As they crossed the road, the woman's attention fell on them. They saw her eyes scan for a melon in the hands of one of them and come to rest on the object in Brutus' hands. The woman's eyes darted back and forth nervously, but she said nothing.

Brutus spoke to her first. "I have a melon here, filled with sweet fruit meat. Your 'friend' will enjoy its taste. Would you like it?"

"Yes," said the woman with an accent distinctly not Roman.

Placus spoke next. "Take it then. And tell your 'friend' that it is the last melon of its kind. We do not grow this variety anymore and will not supply its like ever again. Is this understood?"

"Yes. I will tell him," replied the young woman. Brutus placed the melon in her basket. There was plenty of room in its depths for the added fruit. Placus made no signal, but the three men pretending to be shopping around the marketplace knew their task: Follow the woman. See where she goes. See who she meets.

The woman returned to the marketplace and began to negotiate the purchases of other fresh items. These she placed over the melons already in her basket. Two small boys helped her with additional baskets of foods, all of which she added to other content in a small oxcart driven by a man who was obviously a servant. One watched while the other two ran for their horses. They would follow at a very discrete distance to see where the oxcart would take the foods and the fruit. These men had no idea why fruit was so important to their masters, but they would do as they were told. To not obey was to seek an early death.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-24-2001 @ 10:59 AM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 11-26-01 16:09 ET (US)     34 / 64       
"Heeyah, ox; heeyah!" cried out Julius as he snapped the reins on the beast to get the heavy footed animal to move. The ox decided it didn't like the sound or the feel of the snapping straps and it lifted first one hoof and then another to propel itself away from its discomfort. It was content with this, for no sooner did it begin to walk slowly forward than the stinging of the straps ended.

"Now are you sure you have everything, Hespera," said Julius matter-of-factly. "There is nothing more we must collect, like melons?"

"No. I have everything, including melons," said Hespera as she removed the crimson sash from around her waist.

Julius smiled at her. "Good," he said. "It's time to return to the villa."

"Yes, it is time."

The oxcart and its content rumbled on its round wooden cartwheels on the road to Civis' villa. Two riders hidden off the road watched the cart's progress all of the way to the villa's maingate. When the cart turned into the gate and proceeded towards the villa, the two riders looked at each other with expressions of satisfaction and surprise. They were satisfied that they now knew the destination of the cart, and they were surprised because of all of the possible villas, the one they least expected to be led to was the villa of Civis Romanus.

The two men wheeled their horses around and swiftly galloped their way to the insulae of their master.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-26-2001 @ 08:26 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 11-26-01 21:03 ET (US)     35 / 64       
"ROMANUS?! You say it was to Romanus's villa that the two of them brought the oxcart?!" The elderly Senator stood dumbfounded. "Go," he said summarily to his slaves. "You have done what I asked. Go now!"

The slaves bowed and left the room of the Senator. Placus and Brutus were there and heard the slaves' report as well. "Not at all what I expected to hear," commented Placus.

"Is this another of that wily Romanus's schemes or something? How could he know about us? Did he fake his own injury and kill Publicus as a warning just to set this up? Somebody, say something!" Brutus seemed to have a little panic in his voice.

The elderly Senator raised his hand. "No. I think you give the General too much credit. It might be that this is happening right under his Roman nose."

"So what do we do, Senator?" said Brutus, not at all soothed by the Senator's contrary opinion.

"We watch the villa and its people, Brutus. That's what we do. Around the clock, one of our's will be there watching, starting this very moment. I'll see to it."

Placus yawned. "Sooo... What are we watching for, hmmm?"

The Senator frowned at his overly unconcerned associate. "For the right opportunity, Placus. To take out two with one blow: the parasite and Romanus."

"That should be entertaining." Placus, having said this, opened the door and walked out of the room.

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 11-29-01 15:58 ET (US)     36 / 64       
"No! Not again! I will not do it again!" The woman's voice carried faintly on the wind from the sheltered area afforded by heavy underbrush. A man's voice replied. "You are already part of this. You have no choice, I tell you. It must be done."

The woman's voice began to tremble. "But you said only this time and no more. That this would be enough money for us both to marry and buy our own living place."

The man's voice was deliberately made to be soothing and his words apologetic. "I'm sorry. I miscalculated. Things are more expensive than I thought," said the man. "You can't stop now. This is for us, for our future. If you love me, you'll do what I say."

"I do love you, but this just doesn't seem right. I mean... I mean... It's stealing. And another thing... Why did you have to hurt the Master? He's never been unkind to either of us. Now he is in serious trouble."

"I didn't hurt him."

"Yes you did. You told me you were going to Tiberius' villa to arrange for money and that I was to say you were with me if anyone asked. Tiberius was killed and the Master clubbed while you were away. Some say the Master didn't do it. And why would he club himself? I think it was you. Why?"

"I have my reasons."

"Is a reason really "us" like you have told me? If it is, I don't want to be any part of hurting the Master. If it isn't, I want to know why you are doing these things."

"You ask too many questions, woman."

"I have a right! We are to be married!" she cried.

In a voice dripping with scorn the man said, "Maybe not. You don't seem to be the right woman for me. Maybe we shouldn't be married. There are others." He turned and walked away leaving Hespera standing there, tears pouring down both cheeks. She watched him walk away, her impulses torn between begging his forgiveness and shouting out her defiance. She did neither. She decided to bide her time and learn on her own why he was doing these things.

____________________________________________________________

Meanwhile that day, Titus was pursuing what information and clues he and his associates could find.

Micah Aragorn
Pleb
posted 11-30-01 19:13 ET (US)     37 / 64       
At the home of Titus parents.....

"I'm very busy right now Titus. Can't this wait till later", said Lucius Tarquintius with a perplexed look on his face.

"No Father! It can't", replied an urgent Titus.

His annoyed Father answered," All right ask me your questions."

Lucius laid down on a couch as Titus paced thinking of the questions to ask." Come son. I haven't got all day."

Titus started," When last we spoke you mentioned that certain merchants were upset at the treaties that had been made with the Parthians and especially the Ch'in. That these merchants were upset at the loss of profits because of the influx of product coming from the East."

"Yes,yes I did." replied his father

"I need the names of these merchants, Father."

"For what purpose,Titus. They are only merchants who see their purse dwindling and are complaining about it. This happens all the time."

Titus stared back at his father and with conviction in his voice replied," Not when murder is involved and the name of one of Roma's most trusted officials is involved."

"Who? Romanus! Since when does a man's position put him above the laws of Roma. If the evidence proves him guilty then he most assuredly is."

Titus answered back," The evidence is not full proof Father. And Caesar himself has appointed me to find the true facts. Wether this be in the Chief Military Advisor's favor or not."

"I still don't understand why you need the names of these merchants. What bearing do they have on this."

Titus hesitated a moment deciding if he should reveal what Civis had told him upon his visit with Tiberius Publicus. But if it would make his Father relinguish the names then he had to at least try.

"Tiberius Publicus may have been involved in some sort of conspiracy. He would not be alone in this. The names of the other merchants may help to bring forward his accomplices."

With a surprised look on his face Lucius Tarquintius replied, "Conspiracy? What kind of conspiracy?"

"That is all I can tell you, Father. Please the names of the merchants."

Lucius sat quietly for a moment looking down at the floor in front of him and then raised his head, "Brutus Calerus.
This is the only other merchant I have talked to. He has told me that other merchants were unhappy but didn't give any other names."

Although Titus expected more he was grateful for the one name. It was at least a start. "Thank you,Father."

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 12-06-01 16:12 ET (US)     38 / 64       
Each slave stayed hidden and undetected in the perimeter around Civis' villa watching the comings and goings of Hespera and any she associated with. Then after spending the time they were supposed to, each reported what he had seen to the old Senator.

"Hespera seems to associate with four on a regular basis. One servant is named Julius. The other servant is Flavius. There are two boys, sheep herders. She spends long hours with them, but seems to be teaching them about shepherding. That's all." The Senator dismissed them following their reports.

The Senator sat on his chair at the table in his study, a goblet of wine in his hand. No, the boys could not be the one they seek. Maybe its the one called Flavius. No... One of them told me that on the day in question the servant called Julius took her from the marketplace to the villa in the oxcart. Maybe this Julius is the parasite? He bears watching...

The Senator took another sip of wine and then picked up a scroll to read its content.

____________________________________________________________

Civis layed back in the warm water of the central pool of his bathhouse. He closed his eyes and began to idly think of anything that entered his mind. He was half asleep when he heard a noise somewhere behind him. He opened his eyes to see if there was anything to associate with the noise. Nothing. Civis slid down into the water once more and closed his eyes. Small as the bathhouse was, anything or anyone making a noise would be immediately visible.

Two hands grasped him. One shoved his shoulder down, the other pushed his head under the water and held it there. Civis struggled as best he could, but surprise and shock combined with no air to breathe limited the effectiveness of his attempts to counter the hands that grasped him.

Suddenly, just on the verge of unconsciousness, Civis was freed. Weak, gasping for air, blinded by the water in his eyes and coursing down his face, Civis pushed himself to the surface of the pool, turned to lay his head and upper torso on surface of the floor at the pool's edge. His senses detected only the sound of sandals slapping quickly on the bathhouse floor as if the wearer were running from him. A door closed somewhere.

There was a cry from the dressing room. "Master! Are you well?! Is something wrong?!" A man ran into the bathhouse pool area and knelt down on one knee near Civis.

"Some... one... tried... tried (choke, gasp)... to drown (cough) me."

"But why, master?" he said as he helped Civis to leave the pool completely.

"I don't know..." Civis looked up to see who it was helping him... "Flavius. I just don't know." Flavius, having pulled Civis from the pool, stood up quickly and hurried to find his master a robe and returned, robe in hand.

Civis, in his robe and sitting on a bench, shivered more from the effects of the near drowning than from any effects of a cool breeze or other chilling influence. "Thank you, Flavius. You arrived in time, it seems, to have scared away whoever it was trying to drown me. Did you see anyone?"

"No master, I... ummm... Just Julius. He seemed to have just finished a chore near the bathhouse when I came in. He was around back."

"I had asked him to put a few extra logs on the bathhouse fire before I entered," noted Civis.

"I did not see wood in his hands, Master Civis. He was walking away from the bathhouse." Civis looked towards the back of the small, private bathhouse and noted a door to the outside at its back that was built similarly to the front door. The backdoor's inside latch was unbolted.

Civis said nothing but these circumstances did not escape his unclouding mind. Then he said to Flavius, "I envisioned I would either die on a battlefield or as an old man in my bed. Never did I think I might end up stiff as a length of wood floating face down in a bathhouse pool." Civis laughed, if anything, to relieve the tenseness his near death had brought.

"It won't be the pool this day, Master," observed Flavius.

"Yes, thanks to you. I am grateful," said Civis.

Flavius nodded, acknowledging Civis' gratitude. He offered an arm to help the still somewhat shaken General to the dressing room and back to the villa.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 12-07-2001 @ 03:07 PM).]

Micah Aragorn
Pleb
posted 12-07-01 04:53 ET (US)     39 / 64       
There was a definitive quiet about the villa of the deceased Tiberius Publicus. It assuredly was not in the same turmoil as it had been that first night Severus Antoninus had walked into at an urgent plea from one of the servants. The villa was quiet and subdued. Very little was going on in the house or outside. The rooms had been stripped down and cloth covered most furniture. Tiberius never really married, forgoing ritual fashions for the sake of indulgence to increase his wealth with nobody to share it with. Yet he was not without companionship as several female servants had young ones about them but no one to call husband.

"I answered your questions on the night the Master was murdered," the male servant replied to the Severus' questioning.

"Yes you did but maybe there was something you forgot, considering the turmoil that accompanied that night's unfortunate circumstance."

Severus continued to question the servant," Had there been any visitors previous to Civis Romanus' arrival that evening?"

The servant was lost in thought for a moment then replied, "I do recall that Senator Tiberius did have visitors earlier in the day."

Severus tried not to show the anticipation of the name of the people that had been here that day, "Do you remember the names of those visitors!"

"One I know perfectly well since he was always a frequent visitor of the Senator's. But the other I'm not quite sure since his visits were quite far in between and only for short term. He is another Senator though. That much I do know. An older man."

Severus was not surprised at the people that visited that day since Tiberius had numerous allies in the business world as well in the political world. But he needed names to be attached to those visitors so he asked, "What was the name of the frequent visitor?"

"Well that would be one of the wealthiest merchants in all of Roma, Quintas Modius!"

"The silk merchant?", Severus had to make sure it was really him.

"Why yes sir. I am certain." replied the servant.

"And the other visitor's name," asked Severus.

"That one is hard since I nor the other servants leave the villa for any length of time. And when this Senator would visit we were not allowed to be within any listening distance. The Master made sure we understood this under penalty of painful punishment. But I recall that that particular day their conversation was becoming heated and loud and I thought the Master called the other .......started with a G........Gauis....no.....Galtus..no......Gallus.....I'm sorry I can't remember."

This gained even more of Severus attention. The name Gallus was not what he had expected even if the servant was not sure. This would not sit well with Titus.

"One more question", Severus needed to end this to get his findings back to the Tribune.

The servant looked annoyed and tired of the questioning but stood waiting for the last one to be asked.

"Had there been any mysterious or unknown visitors at the villa in the days before the Senator's death?"

"No not really. Except the Master always took a short walk behind the villa. Usually at the same time of day. Except this week he would break his routine and walk at different times. And although I couldn't see anyone I swear he was talking to someone behind the brush.

"When did this happen?"

The servant replied,"the same day as his murder, early afternoon."

With the last question asked, Severus Antoninus thanked the servant for his help and mounted his horse to return to the Tribune. He thought about how to tell Titus of his grandfather's name possibly being involved but he knew there would be no easy way....just tell him.

Micah Aragorn
Pleb
posted 12-07-01 06:02 ET (US)     40 / 64       
The smell of the Harbor was only suited for those that sailed on the merchant vessels or sold the fish that were being pulled from the fishing boats. The mixture of the salt air with fish was an annoyance that Decius Viridius hoped would soon be over. He would do his job with haste to aleve his sensitive smell.

Decius went about his questioning with all the merchants that would carry cargo or passengers to other parts of the Roman empire. But to little avail. The answer was always the same.......No passengers, only cargo.

"Titus may be right," he thought to himself," maybe the murderor is still here waiting to see what happens or the end of his handy work."

Just for a short moment Decius got a chill that ran down the back of his neck and made the hair stand up. He felt someone was staring at him. Studying him. Watching where he was going and where he had been.

From the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of a figure that seemed to back away from the light of day and disappear down the alleyway between two merchants. The alleyway was not that long and actually lead to a wherehouse were the fish were stored.

Decius had pulled his gladius from its sheath and was slowly walking down the narrow alley. His neck hair still standing and his feeling was that the shadowy figure was still around.

The wooden door creaked with age and was the only sound Decius heard as he entered the wherehouse. Closing the door behind him to cut off any escape the old door creaked some more and except for a dull din from the outside there was nobody inside to make noise.

Decius moved forward, his sword ready to strike should he need to. His hands became a bit moist and perspiration started to bead under his helmet. His mouth was dry and his eyes and ears looked or tried to hear for the slightest of movements. He knew the figure was still there.

Crates lined one wall while barrels containing a days catch were lined along the other wall. There were no windows to let the light in and the only light available seeped its way in through the porous gaps between the wooden walls.
Decius moved to the crates first since they were the closest. With his back up against the crates, Decius inched his way around first one than another of the crates anticipating the mysterious figure to emerge and begin a deadly round of combat that might possibly have only one survivor. His hands were now even wetter and he was taking short breaths as his heart beat quickened. Every beat was felt in the arteries that ran through his neck.

Finally he rounded the last crate slowly and found no one. His breathing seemed to change from quick gasps to slower breathing and a comfort was taking over his nervous body...
....'Clink'....from the barrels of fish something moved.
Decius heart raced back again and he gripped his sword even tighter. Moving towards the barrels his eyes searched hard for any kind of movement. The barrels were stacked in a way that would allow two bottom barrels to hold a third above it if placed partially over the two. Decius moved to the barrels and caught a glimpse of a shadow at the very end one. Sword prepared to strike and getting ready to force his culprit into the open Decius took one more step.


But that step never was completed, for above him the top barrel loaded with fish fell on him and knocked him to the ground. Meanwhile the shadowed figure made his escape back out the door leaving Decius slimey and fragrant from the fish and rather heated though releived he was still alive. Because it was still too dark Decius was unable to see who he had been pursueing. He got himself up and taking straw that was the floor covering wiped most of the slime from himself but the odor would be more difficult and he needed to report back to the Tribune and try and explain his appearance.

[This message has been edited by Micah Aragorn (edited 12-07-2001 @ 06:04 AM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 12-07-01 16:03 ET (US)     41 / 64       
Brutus Calerus pushed his barrel-shaped body through the door and into the Senator's presence without ceremony. "Did you hear the news about Romanus?!" Brutus exclaimed excitedly.

"What news?"

"An attempt was made on his life! Someone tried to drown him in his private bathhouse!"

"And?"

"And what?" Brutus couldn't think of what he had left out.

"Well, did he survive? Did they catch the criminal?" The Senator waited patiently for the answer.

"Uhhh... Yes, he survived. And they arrested one of his servants... The one named Julius, I believe."

"Unfortunate. We might have been rid of both Romanus and the parasite if this Julius had done his work correctly. The one drowned and the other crucified. Oh well, I guess we'll have to deal with Romanus later."

Brutus stared at the Senator wondering what dealing with Romanus later might mean.

____________________________________________________________

Hespera searched the servant's quarters for the object she sought. She knew it was in his room. He had shown it to her before on some of the many occasions she had visited. He was exceptionally attached to it and spoke a lot to her about what it was, where it came from and what it meant to him. She hadn't connected the object with the troubles her master faced until now. Everything was clear to her... but only now.

Yes, there's the small wood box. She picked up the box and pushed open its lid. From inside she withdrew a shiny inscribed object, a legionaire's pin used to hold the crimson cape in place, and placed it in a pocket of her apron. She closed the lid and returned the box to its place in the room.

Silently she opened the door a crack to see if anyone was in the dark hallway. It seemed clear. She stepped from the servant's room into the hallway and closed the door behind her. Once more she squinted into the dark to see if anyone was there. It seemed quiet. She turned in the direction that would take her to the place where the master might be.

From a dark place under the stairs a pair of eyes watched her as she walked the hallway. These eyes had followed her when Hespera made an unexpected turn into a part of the servant's quarters she never entered unless visiting the owner of the pin. To avoid detection after she exited the servant's room, the person hid under the stairs to observe her departure and the direction she took. She certainly was up to no good, the person thought as eyes watched Hespera head towards the main living area of the owners of the vila.

If she was thinking about doing what the person suspected of her, something would have to be done about Hespera. It would have to be sooner rather than later.

____________________________________________________________

"I must speak with you Master, tonight and alone," whispered Hespera to Civis as she poured wine into his goblet."

"Why, Hespera? What is the matter?" said Civis, surprised at being so addressed.

"I can't speak of it now. Tonight, Master. After everyone has gone to bed. Here, in your study."

"But Hespera..."

"Please, Master. It is important. I have something for you. I know why these things have been happening to you and why Tiberius was killed. I cannot speak now. There are too many ears." Hespera hurried from the room, into the hallway and back towards the galley.

Indeed, ears were present. It was the pair of ears associated with the eyes that had followed her from the servant's room to the galley and to Civis' study and had been listening outside to her whispered arrangement for that night to meet with Civis. Yes, something would have to be done, before it became too late... TONIGHT!

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 12-10-01 21:02 ET (US)     42 / 64       
Apolita was asleep. The children were in their sleeping rooms. Civis was still awake.

Civis saw that Apolita was asleep so he stepped into night sandals, put on a house toga and quietly slipped into the hallway leading to his study. Hespera should be there by now waiting for him.

Now in the hallway to the study, Civis heard constrained, angry voices coming from his study: one a man's, the other a woman's. There was a muffled scream of pain, once and then again. He picked up his pace and arrived at the door to his study just as it flew open and a hooded figure ran out. In the figure's hand was a bloodied knife.

The figure turned its hidden head to see Civis running down the hallway. It raised the knife to strike him, but years of combat training caused Civis to instinctively move in just the right way to ward off the impact of the knife. With his left hand he captured the figure's arm and with his right he delivered a blow to the figure's solar plexus.

Air whooshed out of the figure. It staggered back, dropping the knife. Civis quickly bent down to pick up the knife, but the attacker surprised him with a kick that just barely missed Civis' chin and hit his shoulder instead, spinning the general around and knocking him to the floor.

The figure turned on its heels, still hacking and coughing from Civis' blow, and ran down the hallway and away from Civis. Civis did not pursue the figure. Instead he reached for the knife and opened the door to his study only to find the body of a woman lying on the floor, blood spreading across the stone floor from two stab wounds in her chest.

Civis knelt down beside the body holding the knife in his left hand. A bit of material from her clothing obscurred her face, but Civis knew perfectly well who it would be. When he pulled back the material he found he was not mistaken. He was looking into the face of Hespera. She was still alive, though barely.

"M..a...ster," she breathed laboriously. "I'm so... sorry."

"For what, Hespera? What could you possibly have done?"

"For your... troubles. I could... have... pre...vented... them. Forgive... me." A gurgling sound accompanied the words. Civis knew she was beyond saving. Comfort was all he could offer.

"Of course I forgive you, Hespera, though I don't know for what."

"The... pin clasp... Master... Ci... vis." She coughed; blood welled from her mouth and down her face. "The answer is... in... the pin... clasp... My... hand..." She coughed once more, drew in a labored breath that gurgled and rattled in her throat and chest. Then her eyes ceased to see and she lay still. Her hand opened and a metal clasp pin fell to the floor.

Civis reached for the pin, recognizing it immediately. It was the uniform pin of the Legion of the East, used to clasp the crimson cape to the shoulders of Legionnaires. It was engraved with notations indicating the Legion and bore the initial "C". Where had he seen that before? The knife!

Civis looked at the handle of the knife and saw that it too was engraved with the letter "C". A disturbance in the hallway interrupted him. Two of the sentrys posted on the villa rushed into the room swords drawn. They looked at Civis, the body of Hespera lying in its own blood and the bloody knife in Civis' hand, with the letter "C" clearly visible on it.

Their conclusion was swift and immediately arrived at. Another murder had been committed, and this time Civis Romanus was caught in the very act...

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 12-10-2001 @ 09:04 PM).]

Micah Aragorn
Pleb
posted 12-11-01 04:53 ET (US)     43 / 64       
"It could not have been my Grandfather's name the servant spoke", a confused and irrated Titus answered to the news that Severus had brung to him.

"It is as I said Tribune", replied Severus Antoninus," The servant was not sure but he knew he was a Senator. He spoke names that resulted in Gallus being said."

Titus was silent in deep thought. His eyes wandered from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling. His eyes squinting at the perplexity of the level of the conspiracy. It just could not be. Not his Grandfather. His thoughts were only broken by the entrance of Decius Viridius. And what an entrance it was!

As the prefect approached the Tribune the scent of the sea and its inhabitants preceeded him. Both Titus and Severus backed away grabbing noses and tilting their heads away at the stench.

Decius seeing their discomfort stopped and backed away," I have come to give my report on the findings at the Harbor."

"It seems you have brought the Harbor back with you.", Severus was quick to note to his companion.

"I can explain that in my report."

Titus releasing the fingers from his nose quickly replied, "I hope you surely can Prefect. But make it hasty as I don't know how much longer I can resist your fragrance."

Decius Viridius started his report," My questioning of the merchant vessels or any I felt might take passengers resulted in the same answer...no passengers booked now or in the near future."

Titus' face showed the disappointment at losing yet another possible source for a clue.

"But sir," Decius furthered his report," The reason for my stench is from the pursuit of someone who I feel was watching my every movement today. I followed the figure to a fish storage wherehouse where I almost captured the person if it weren't for a barrel of fish getting in my way and the culprit making good his getaway. I was unable to get a look at the mysterious person because of very little light."

"Maybe you are right after all that the murderor has not left Roma yet", Severus Antoninus quipped.

"Which makes it even more desirable that we catch him before too long to deny him any chance of escape," Titus said with conviction.

"We cannot stop nor sleep yet until we have drained every possibility," the Tribune said as he turned to Severus and Decius. "Clean yourself up Decius. You and Severus will seek out the merchant, Brutus Calerus, for questioning or arrest. We need the names of the other merchants he says are of the same mind about the new trade routes." Titus face grew even more concerned, " I will go to speak to my grandfather and hopefully get the right answers. Let's get started."

Titus and the two prefects turned to head to the door and begin their assigned tasks. But before they could reach the doorway one of the household servants came to them.

"I am sorry to disturb you young Master Tarquintius but there seems to be a Centurion from the City Garrison at the villa entrance asking for you."

"Thank you Solodius! You may go." replied Titus.

The three looked at each other then proceeded to the entrance where stood the Centurion, Honoratus Pellus.

The Centurion saluted the Tribune and said,"There has been another murder, Tribune. This time in the Romanus villa."

Titus felt his heart leap to his throat and a quivering in his stomach as the words barely came out, "Is it the General, Honoratus?"

"No! He is unharmed."

The feelings inside him quickly disappeared at the Centurion's answer but would quickly return at the Centurion's next words.

"But I'm sorry to say that the General may have sealed his fate. He was found kneeling above one of the household servants, a knife bearing his initial in his bloodied hand.The servant had died from wounds inflicted by that same knife. I think you had better come with me Tribune we are about to take the General to the city prison to await trial for the murder of the servant."

Titus could do no more than node his head at the Centurion's suggestion. The shock had not worn off yet but in a dazed voice Titus turned to the two prefects and said, "We must go to the General. We will find the truth. This will not stop the investigation."

Titus now had doubts as to the General's innocence for the first time. He disliked these feelings. Could his friendship hold up through this? Could he continue the investigation in an unbias mind? These questions he pondered as he and the others rode to the Romanus villa once more.......


[This message has been edited by Micah Aragorn (edited 12-11-2001 @ 05:03 AM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 12-13-01 15:52 ET (US)     44 / 64       
Titus, Severus and Decius were greeted at the villa's portico by a very worried Apolita. She promptly brought the trio to Civis' study, but she would not enter as she knew what the view would be should she enter.

The Tribune and his assistants walked into the study. It was a shock to Titus to see the young woman named Hespera lying on the floor in a pool of her own blood, who only a few days before during his visit was so cheerfully bringing beverages to him.

Civis Romanus was in a nearby room sitting in a chair placed against a wall equidistant from the room's window and its door. Two sentries guarded the inside of the room. A third sentry outside of the door and in the hallway snapped to attention when Tribune Titus approached.

"In here, Tribune," said the sentry without being asked. He pointed to the door leading into the room where Civis was being held.

Civis looked up with a doleful expression when Titus entered and then lowered his head giving forth a dispirited, "Greetings, Tribune Titus."

"Greetings, General," Titus responded. He spoke to one of the sentries. "I understand there were two objects found with the suspect? May I see them, please."

The sentry near the door walked to a table and picked up the knife engraved with the letter "C" and the Legion of the East pin clasp. He gave them to Titus and returned to his post. Titus turned the objects over in his hand. The pin clasp he quickly recognized. He had seen hundreds, maybe thousands of them worn by the legionnaires who defeated the Parthians in their last encounter. The knife, well... The knife was something different. He did not remember seeing it before. It did not look at all like the weapon engraved with "CR" found in the chest of Tiberius Publicus.

"General Romanus," began Titus. "Please describe for me your whereabouts and actions up to and including the murder of your servant girl." Civis elevated his head to look at Titus. Thank you, Titus, he said to himself silently. Thank you for not saying "your" murder of your servant girl. Civis relayed the details of the day exactly as he remembered them.

"Was the dagger used to kill Tiberius yours?" asked Titus purposefully eventhough he knew what the answer would be.

"Yes," said Civis unhesitatingly.

"Is this dagger I'm holding yours? Have you ever seen it before?"

"No is the answer to both questions, Tribune," said Civis.

"Since you commanded the Legion of the East and would wear this pin clasp, is this pin clasp yours, General?"

"No. My pin clasp is in my military chest. Apolita can show you where I keep it." Titus nodded to Severus who promptly exited the room to find Apolita to ask her to show him Civis' legionnaire pin clasp.

Titus paced awhile waiting for Severus to return. There was a question he nearly forgot to ask. "General Romanus, you say this hooded person kicked you in the shoulder. Would you show me the effect of his kick... I assume his foot did make contact with your shoulder."

"Yes it did. As I said, it spun me around and gave Hespera's killer the chance to escape, though he left his weapon behind for me to pick up." Civis undraped a portion of his toga to reveal a reddened area on his shoulder that surely was on its way to becoming a dark bruise. It was somewhat crescent shaped with three or four darker points suggesting toes that might have struck and buried themselves deeply into his flesh.

Titus stared at Civis for a brief moment. "You said 'he', General. Why do you think it to be a man?"

"I wrestled briefly with him when he struck at me with the dagger. He had the strength of a man, but no combat skill. He voice sounded masculine even as I drove the air out of him with the strike of my fist. A woman would have collapsed on the spot. He did not. Instead, he kicked me and ran away."

"Hespera might have been the one who kicked you," countered Titus.

"Yes, but she did not. She was lying on the floor when I found her. She could barely speak let alone even try to kick me." Civis could not have added anything else as Severus entered the room, an object in his hand. It was a pin clasp bearing the symbols of the Legion of the East. He handed it to Titus. Titus turned it around in his hand. The letters "CR" were engraved on its underside. "Is this your pin clasp, General?"

Civis looked at the device. "Yes, Tribune, that is my pin clasp."

Centurian Honoratus Pellus entered the room. "Tribune, I have come with the morticians to pick up the body of the servant. Is there anything else there you wish to examine?"

"No Centurian. Proceed."

"Have you spoken to the prison... to General Romanus, Sir?"

"Yes. I think there is reason to doubt that he is the murderor."

The Centurian looked down at the floor once before looking again at Titus. "I have other orders, Sir."

"They are?"

"I am ordered to arrest and take General Romanus to the Garrison prison."

"But I do not believe he should..." Titus was interrupted by the look on the Centurian's face.

"I have no choice, nor do you, Tribune. The order comes from Caesar himself." Titus turned his head to look at Civis. The General looked from one to the other and then at the floor.

Apolita and the children watched tearfully as Civis was bound and placed on horse and taken away from them to the Garrison Prison of Roma by Honoratus Pellus and the sentries. The remaining sentries broke their camp and they too left the villa behind. Only Titus, Severus and Decius were left on the villa... And Titus could find no words of comfort to offer to the Romanus family after the events of this day.

Flavius went about his daily chores in his usual efficient manner. A number of chores fell to him that Hespera had performed in the past. One was to obtain fresh foods in the nearby marketplace. The two teenage boys attended the sheep by themselves that day. Both were embarrassed by their own tears, but neither could prevent them from flowing whenever they thought of young Hespera and what had happened to her.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 12-13-2001 @ 03:52 PM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 12-14-01 21:46 ET (US)     45 / 64       
Just as Titus and his two assistants, leaving Civis' villa behind, neared the gate that led to the road, a rustling in the bushes caught their attention. Titus motioned to Decius to circle back and enter the vegetation from behind. The tactic worked, for as Decius closed the distance between himself and the others, with the vegetation between them, a man burst from the bushes and tried to make his escape over the stone wall.

Severus leaped at him from his horse and managed to bring him down before he could fully scale the wall. Severus held him by the scruff of the neck as he brought the smaller man to Titus. Decius exited the vegetation and rejoined the other two and their captured man.

Titus studied the man. A slave or a servant, he concluded. "Who are you?" asked Titus.

"I work here," said the man, his eyes refusing to meet Titus's eyes. "I'm just a worker in the fields."

"Why did you run away?"

"You frightened me. There've been bad things happening on this estate."

"Are you a servant to Romanus? A slave, maybe?"

The man felt safe in answering. He could say what he was. It should cause no concern to this Roman. "A slave, yes."

Titus clenched his teeth and narrowed his eyes. "You are a liar. You do not serve the Romanus estate. The General owns no slaves! Now tell me truthfully, why are you here and who is your owner. You know what happens to runaway slaves!" Indeed the slave knew exactly what would happen to him.

"Tribune, I am indeed a slave. And I am not a runaway. I am here on my Master's business. That is the truth."

Titus was about to ask another question when Decius motioned to him. Severus held the man in place while Titus approached the gesturing Roman. "What is it, Decius?"

"Don't you smell it?"

"Smell what?"

"The fish. The smell of the fish market. It's all over him."

"I guess I got used to it awhile ago," said Titus. Decius caught the implication but ignored it anyway.

"Let's find out who his owner is. It may be important."

"Just what I was about to do, Decius," said Titus. The Tribune approached the slave.

"Who is your master?"

The slave knew he could not avoid the question, nor answer it any other way. "Brutus Calerus, Tribune. I am the slave of Brutus Calerus."

"Why are you on the estate of General Romanus." This time Titus moved his hand to his sword, a gesture the slave did not miss. He gulped and said, "To observe the comings and goings of the servants."

"Why?"

"I don't know why. My master said to watch for two servants in particular, one named Flavius and the other named Julius. See who the girl servant meets."

"She won't be meeting anyone again, slave," commented Titus.

"That is what I wanted to tell my master, that the girl is dead. Murdered by Romanus. That's what I heard some of the servants say." Titus bristled slightly but decided to keep his thoughts to himself.

"Fine. Then we shall make the task easy for you by accompanying you to your master's villa and telling him ourselves. Lead the way, slave. You will ride with Prefect Decius. You seem to have met before." The slave took on a sheepish look, but said nothing in response.

The four of them rode off towards Brutus' villa.

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 12-17-01 16:11 ET (US)     46 / 64       
Brutus Calerus sat down hard on the chair, the pink flush of embarrassment barely hiding the emotions running through his mind. "I... I... had nothing to do with the girl's death."

Titus frowned. "No one said you did or even accused you of it. I merely told you the servant girl named Hespera is dead and that your slave was found on the Romanus estate."

"Uhh. Yes, of course. You didn't. That's true," said Brutus, with hesitancy. "You may have the slave, Tribune, if justice demands it."

"So quick to surrender him to us? He too is not accused... It is Romanus himself who stands accused. What troubles you, merchant? You behave as if you expect me to arrest one or the other of you? Do you know more about this than you let on?"

"I know nothing, I tell you! Ask your grandfather... or your father! They've known me for years. They'll vouch for me! I'm a simple silk merchant. That's what I do. Just business, no conspiracies, just business!"

"Conspiracies? Who said anything about conspiracies?" said Titus, stunned by the man's flow of unexpected comments. Brutus finally gained control over his rampaging insecurities and loose tongue.

"Conspiracies? Did I say that? Mere speculation. Just mirroring the talk around Roma. Why, everyone is talking about it... Conspiracy, I mean... What is Roma these days without a little rumoring about conspiracies?"

"Yes, indeed," observed Titus. "So tell me about this rumor, Brutus."

"Uhh, well, uhh."

"Quit stammering, man! Tell me about these rumors!" Titus exploded.

Brutus shrunk back into his toga and emerged frightened enough to answer. "Well, the rumor, Tribune, is that there is a conspiracy among Senators, Praetorians and Prefects (Decius and Severus looked at each other in surprise) to remove Caesar Marcus Aurelius because of dissatisfaction with the Parthian treaty. Romanus is at blame as well, or so the rumor goes. Now that's only what I heard, Tribune. I don't know anything about it first hand. You see, I answered your question and cooperated with the information, just as you asked. Remember, Brutus Calerus, silk merchant of Roma, helped you when you asked. Didn't I?"

Titus looked at Brutus with a steady stare. "You certainly did. More than you might know. Keep your slave, he is not accused. But he is never to be found anywhere on or near the Romanus estate again. Is it understood, Brutus?"

"Yes, Tribune. It is understood."

"One more thing... Nothing untoward is to happen to him, either. Is that understood, as well?"

"Yes."

"Good day, Brutus." Titus motioned to the two prefects and they followed him out of the elaborate Insulae lived in by Brutus Calerus, self-proclaimed silk merchant of Roma. They mounted their horses and rode away.

Out of sight of the windows of Brutus's insulae, Titus called a halt and turned to Decius. "Return to your prefecture and follow up on the rumors. See if anyone at the prefecture heard anything about a conspiracy." Next Titus turned to Severus. "Here's some dinarii. Buy something to cover your prefect's uniform then hurry back to Brutus's insulae. Watch him. Follow him everywhere. When he retires, return to your prefecture. Share with Decius what you learn. I will find you there. I think the squirrel will leave his burrow as fast as he can to tell the owl what he has learned."

"And yourself, Tribune?" asked Severus.

"I must see the General... And maybe, Caesar himself."

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 12-17-01 21:59 ET (US)     47 / 64       
Rocks rebounded off the walls of the Garrison Prison. Civis sat on his modest woven-seated chair and listened to the ugly sounds coming from outside. His cell was too high for any rock to make its way through the bars in his window, but that didn't seem to keep the unruly mob below from trying anyway.

A few months before he was hailed as a hero... a conqueror. He was praised from one end of the empire to the other. He rode his chariot to the center of Roma with a servant behind him holding a crown of olive leaves over his head whispering a reminder that fame is fleeting.

How true those words were, thought Civis.

Now he is reviled by elements among the citizenry of Roma who have been told by criers from the Senate that the treaty with Parthia cost Roma thousands of Dinarii in lost booty. It didn't matter that silk has never been more readily available nor increasingly affordable to the average citizen. It also didn't matter, it seemed, that for the first time in history the eastern border with Parthia was free of threat and caravans could travel the Silk Road free of harrassment except for occasional Muhngul banditry.

No, and as if this were not enough, the Senate condemned him citing two murders he was accused of committing and is now debating his fate almost daily, among other business. Civis took some solace in knowing that Caesar Marcus Aurelius continued to defend his Chief Military Advisor. Yet Civis was a realist. It could only go on for so long, and when Caesar perceived that his own position was being undermined, he would do what other Emperor's have done before. Aurelius would cut his losses and sacrifice Civis in order to keep his crown.

A trumpet blared outside. Civis could hear the tromp of sandaled soldiers and the howling of the crowd as they were, no doubt, being pushed back from the gates to the Garrison by legionnaires.

Too many unemployed. Too much idle time. Too much inaccurate information being fed into the ears of the mob. No enemies to fear or fight. Nothing to do and nothing to strive towards. Civis understood more and more why the images of the future shown to him by Gaius Accipiter were unavoidable and the fall of Roma as the center of a great empire was inevitable.

A key turned in his lock and Civis looked up to see the gaoler open the door to his cell and admit Tribune Titus Tarquintius.

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 12-21-01 15:49 ET (US)     48 / 64       
"Civis, these objects," began Titus after the customary greetings and inquiries into each other's health were concluded, "these objects must be familiar to you. Can you tell me anything about them?"

"Titus, I didn't have much time to examine them before the sentries were on me and I was wrist shackled. They appeared so quickly despite the fact I struggled with the intruder... the murderor... (Civis looked at Titus to seek reassurance that his accusing an unknown assailant was accepted by Titus-and it was) without much shouting or other alarms being raised. I still don't know how they knew to seek me out at just that particular moment."

"Flavius reported a disturbance to the sentries. They said they could barely understand him at first, he was out of breath as if running a great distance. His catching his breath was the only delay."

Civis had a passing thought. "Was Flavius wearing a hooded robe?" Titus paused to recall what he had been told.

"No, Civis. They reported seeing no one wearing a hooded robe that night, before or after the murder."

Civis shrugged. "Well, I guess Flavius is of the sort that is in the right place at the right time. It served me well in the bathhouse. Speaking of that, did you interview Julius yet?"

"No, but I plan to. But let's return to the objects at hand, please. What can you tell me about them, Civis."

Civis turned the pin clasp and dagger over very carefully in his hands, examining the scroll work and other impressions on the front, back and sides of the dagger and the pin clasp. "Titus, this pin clasp is of the Legion of the East and it is customarily worn by a Cohort Leader. You can see the symbol of rank displayed in the center of the upper engraving. The letter "C" in the back is an initial from the wearer's first or last name." Civis thought about his own personal pin clasp. "My pin clasp also bears the initial "C", but the engraving signifies a different rank."

"And the dagger?"

"This is more confusing in nature. It is not standard issue. It appears to be personal, perhaps a family heirloom or something along that line. The initial is the same, but I am sure this is not a legionnaire's standard weapon. I vaguely recall seeing its like before; but I can't place where or when." Civis handed the dagger back with its blade pointed inwards at himself, not at Titus. "That's all I can tell you, Titus. Sorry."

"It was help enough, Civis... Are you comfortable here? Can I bring anything to you?"

"Thank you, Titus. I am as comfortable as I can reasonably expect. Caesar is still watching over me, I can tell... and you are as well. Just bring me peace of mind somehow, someday, so that I can sleep."

For the first time Titus noticed the darkening shadows under Romanus's eyes. "What's happening that you can't sleep?"

"Dreams, Titus. Evil, unsettling dreams. Pursuit by faceless enemies. Battles with unrecognizable armies of all heighths and sizes. Some battles fought on open fields; some battles surrounded by crowds of onlookers leering and voicing their hate; some battles fought on the floors of palaces by armies that blend into each other to become one person facing another. I am usually one of the two... and I am not always the victor. I don't know what they mean or from what place in my mind they originate."

"They mean, Civis, that I must work faster to find the real killer before one of your dreams proves to be reality rather than a dream." Civis nodded his head. The same thing had occurred to him already.

Titus and Civis parted after this. As Titus walked down the hallway to find Julius' chamber, he heard the gaoler slam the door closed on the entrance to Civis' cell. The loud report sent something of a small shiver up the Tribune's spine to lodge in his already troubled mind.

Micah Aragorn
Pleb
posted 12-24-01 16:09 ET (US)     49 / 64       
Severus Antoninus did as the Tribune had ordered and quickly purchased a cloak to hide his uniform. Rushing back to the insulae he was in time to see Brutus leaving quite hurriedly, Severus stepped back, not drawing attention to himself, as the merchant quickly glanced around.

The prefect followed at a distance negating any suspicion to his presence yet kept a watchful eye on the briskly walking silk merchant. Finally Brutus stopped and turning hurriedly entered an insulae. Severus continued watching as he knew there would be activity soon. And he was right. Three servants immediately exited the insulae in different directions. He would now wait and watch.

The wait was not long as the three servants returned. Shortly arriving after them were three other males. One wore the garb of a Senator of Rome. The other two were richly dressed and Severus presumed they were merchants of Roma. He hesitated a moment to see if they would leave and seeing no movement walked to the front of the insulae. A house servant was at the entrance cleaning. This might be his only chance to get the names of the people that entered and the owner of this insulae.

Advancing carefully Severus asked the servant,"May I inquire as to the owner of this insulae?"

The servant being cautious as to answering,"Do you have business here sir?"

Severus replied," I am new to the city and am to meet someone. I thought this was the place I had been told. Can you help me?

The servant felt no harm would come from telling him," This is the home of Senator Gaulus Lepidus."

To himself Severus thought, " Gaulus, no wonder the servant at the villa of Tiberius Publicus was uncertain about the name he had heard. Gaulus......Gallus....it was possible."

Severus spoke again to the servant, "Thank you but that certainly is not the person I was to meet. I noticed that others entered the house could I possibly get their names as maybe one of them may be the one."

The servant hesitated but again felt no harm would come from just giving a name, "Senator Lucius Vatinius, and the merchants Placus Varro and Quintas Modius."

"None of those names sound familiar," replied Severus, "Perhaps I will inquire further along. Thank you for your help."

This information was critical in surfacing the conspiracy. They finally had names and Severus knew that he must get this information back to Tribune Titus although this did little to aid in solving the murders or would it he felt.

[This message has been edited by Micah Aragorn (edited 12-26-2001 @ 02:33 AM).]

Civis Romanus
Angel
posted 12-31-01 12:12 ET (US)     50 / 64       
The appointments in Julius' cell in no way even approximated the living conditions provided to Civis Romanus. The prisoner, disheveled and unclean, greeted Titus Tarquintius with a sullen expression that seemed filled with negative anticipation.

Titus decided it would profit neither by being less than direct. "Why did you attempt to kill your master?"

Julius snorted in derision. "I made no such attempt."

"You deny that of which you are accused?"

"Are you deaf, Tribune? That is what I said!"

Titus softened his voice and tone. "You may find, Julius, that your anger towards me is misplaced and that I may be the very one who proves you are as innocent of accusation as your master. There are strange goings on in Roma these days and you simply may be another among its victims. Answer me truthfully and thoroughly as I may be your last chance to avoid the galleys."

Julius felt no better at the mention of 'galleys' but decided that it would not hurt to tell this Tribune and friend of his master's what he wanted to know. The story was brief and to the point.

Julius had just brought a new load of wood to the bathhouse when he saw Civis enter the building. He crawled under the building to begin stoking the fires that already burned under the heated pool. Julius had one more log to lay in the fires when he heard a noise coming from the buildings entrance and a second set of footsteps making their way to the heated pool. A sudden rush of water, as if the pool suddenly overflowed, coursed down the exit flume towards the lower creek.

Julius surmised someone had joined his master in the heated pool, maybe even the Tribune, as they had used the facility together before. He threw the last log on the fire, but aimed too high. It struck the underside of the bathhouse floor. Footsteps resumed, this time heading towards the drying area where the rear door stood unlocked waiting for Julius to finish his chores. More wood was needed so Julius crawled out from under the building and began to walk to the woods. An hour later he was arrested by the sentries, accused of the attempted murder of his master and put in this cell.

Titus studied the man as his story was told. There was no hesitation. Either the story was well rehearsed, or the man spoke truthfully from memory. Instinctively, Titus wanted to accept the latter. "All that we can say for sure, I guess, is that you had no part in the girl's death," commented Titus.

"What girl's death?"

"Hespera's," answered Titus. Julius' face went blank, then white like milk.

"She's dead?"

"Murdered... by a hooded assailant. Civis stands accused, though I believe him to be as innocent of her death as of the death of Tiberius. He is in this prison as well.

"No one told me. No one even speaks to me." Julius put his face in his hands. It was obvious the man was shaken and close to tears. Then his hands trembled and he pulled them back from a face red with anger. "I told her to stay away from him! No, she wouldn't listen. She would go to his chamber at night and they would do... things. I couldn't stop her. I offered to marry her, but she was obsessed... maybe possessed. She wouldn't listen. There is danger everywhere in Roma late at night; but no, she would go out into the night... with him. I followed them once... to Tiberius Publicus' villa. She stayed outside and he went in. Both had no business there! They were servants to the Master not to Tiberius; but you wouldn't have guessed it to see them, especially him." The words flowed so quickly with such anger that Titus could barely keep up or get a word in edgewise.

"Julius! Him! Who is him?! Who are you talking about?!"

Julius looked up at Titus, emotions spent. "I speak of Flavius."

"Flavius?"

"Yes, the loyal and honorable servant, Flavius! Must I repeat myself? He is the one I speak of!" Julius put his face in his hands once more.

"Julius, do you know who killed Tiberius Publicus?"

"No," said Julius, his voice muffled by the hands covering his face. "If I did, I would have told the Centurian that night."

"Where was Flavius that night?"

"I don't know," said Julius. "All I can say is that he wasn't in his chamber. I followed Hespera thinking she was making one of her 'visits'. She tapped on his door but he never answered. She looked upset. I let her pass without revealing my presence. It wouldn't have done any good anyway. She would only have become angry at me and accuse me of meddling... or something worse."

"Why didn't you say something sooner?"

"I thought Hespera was alive. I did not want the Master to be angry with her or send her away from the villa... I... I loved her."

"To whom have you told your story, Julius?"

"The Prison Commander, the legionnaires who arrested me; and now to you. No others."

"The Centurian? Was it Honoratus Pellus?

"No, he ordered my arrest, but I never saw him. It was the Prison Commander to whom I told my story after they brought me here."

As Titus mounted his horse and rode away from the prison, many thoughts and suspicions formed in his mind... All of them beginning to center around Flavius, saver of Civis and accuser of Julius, always there at just the right moment.

How and why?

Titus put spur to horse and galloped down the ways leading to Civis' villa and the bathhouse.

[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 12-31-2001 @ 01:18 PM).]

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