Historical/ set in factual events LGBT protagonist/suitable for general reading. VERY STRONG LANGUASGE & VIOLENCE 18+
Estimated publishing date July/August 2020
Almus River, Triballi, November
Hell had sent forth its blood-gorging harpies, all knowing in the mysteries of death, cawing and rasping from their perches in the bare frosted trees like spectators at the arena, their black eyes darting expectantly in the cold grey dawn, their strangled voices echoing across the valley auguring the carnage to come. One took to the air, the beat of its wings so loud in the immensity of the silence, it made legionaries look round startled.
‘The ravens are gathering,’ said Sabinus as he followed the harpy’s course across the sky, watching it glide effortlessly over the valley to the far side, its black glossy body like a black shadow against the pale grey heaven, its wings outstretched to the wind as it swooped down in a broad arc to the distant treetops.
Polybius barely looked at him and said, ‘Death does not travel without his companions.’
Sabinus watched the mist drifting across the valley, like a mortcloth covering the low-lying ground, shifting soundlessly. His restless horse nickered and stamped a hoof on the sod as if testing its firmness.
The dogs of fear were at his heels and the touch of terror’s cold hand settled on his brow, turned his sweat to ice and his blood to fire. This wasn’t his first battle, but by the gods, it was going to be his toughest and bloodiest, of that he had no doubt as he saw the dark swarming mass of Budorix’s barbarian army growing out of the mist like an island at the far end of the valley. His breath trembled from his throat, pluming steam, while his guts rived with pre-battle nerves. His heart pounded like Vulcan’s hammer in his chest as he felt himself discomposing. This could be his last day on earth and he felt his own mortality keener than ever before.
He was continually looking out for Titus, Arnensis and Ennius, but so far, there was no sign of them. They could be dressed as Celts, he told himself, but a deepening worry was growing that his prey had once again slipped away.
Sabinus was fielded on the extreme left near the river, two stades in front of the bridge with his cohorts of Alaudae and Norici, including his mounted unit of sagittarii. His father sent two contubernales of Rogues into the woods south of the river with sixty sagittarii to pick off any skirmishers who might try getting in behind them to open a way to the bridge.
At the bridge were two cohorts from the Twelfth Victrix.
On the eastern edge of the forest, divisions of the Twelfth Victrix and the Fourth and Fifth Macedonica and auxilia stretched for near fifteen hundred yards across the valley from one side to the other, where the ground sloped steeply out of the mist. They were in their neat formations, blocked in cohorts and centuries, each man three feet from the next, each rank six feet apart, as still and as silent as corpses interred in the misty gloom, the only sign of life being the fog of their exhaled breaths pluming in front of their faces.
Duilius, his legions stretching left and right, behind and in front of him, surveyed the valley with icy calm. He had come here four days ago with Drusus, Macer, Sabinus and Nepos to check out its suitability for battle, choosing their ground. There were many tactical advantages provided by the nature of the terrain, and he had chosen the best of them, moving his army into position two days ago, leaving the Second Macedonica Auxilia, and Taurus’ Thirteenth Gemina in reserve a mile back.
The ground was favourable, and defensible, taking the high ground, so when the barbarians attacked, they would exhaust themselves and lose their energy by the time they reached the legions.
The Almus flowed through the valley from the southwest to northeast, snaking below a line of cliffs overhanging the Roman left flank, where Duilius had set several batteries of mangonels and heavy ballistae delineated against the horizon like monsters. The plain between had been good firm ground four days ago, but the weather had been atrocious the past day and a half with torrential rain, sleet and snow and barely a pause between them. It was as if the gods were suddenly conspiring against him.
They had fought like demons for every foot of ground they had taken, turning rivers red with barbarian blood, all through the scorching heat of the summer, into the slimy mud of autumn, and now they were into the beginnings of winter, and the barbarians were just as determined to fight as the Romans were.
Duilius looked along the hillside directly behind, crowned with more war engines. He gazed upon his mechanical dragons as he liked to call the giant mangonels with their long pendulous hurling arms drawn back, their buckets loaded with terracotta fire-pots filled with lamp oil, straw and thick burning hot pitch and resin. They had an effective killing range too, hurling anything from heavy boulders to incendiaries for near a mile. The ignition fires for the incendiaries were raging in iron fire nests next to the colossal wooden beasts, keeping the cauldrons of pitch molten before pouring into the incendiary pots. Men stood by with lit torches, ready to load and ignite them, others stood by the release and torsion mechanisms, ready to unleash a barrage upon the enemy.
A signaller’s shout echoed across the silence: ‘All lines report ready!’
Looking forward, his heavy infantry took the centre field, stretching diagonally along the slope about three quarters of the way up the hill. Behind them, two full cavalry divisions from the Fifth and Fourth Macedonica, a thousand disciplined horses and men, with five hundred more from the Thirteenth Gemina behind his right flank, their lances stabbing the drear grey morning. Then the legionary reserves occupied the rear centre, ready to reinforce the front centre and flanks as the battle might require.
‘I hate this fucking country.’
Nepos’ face looked like a map, the lines and ridges deep and sharp like valleys of granite, expressionless as he watched the barbarian army. He had a clear view, unobstructed by the forest of spears that lay before Duilius behind him. As fearsome a mob of savages as he could hope to do battle with, their long hair spiked and stippled with animal fat and bleached with lime and chalk. ‘Marvellous,’ he mumbled in admiration of them to himself, ‘fucking marvellous cunnies!’ He cocked his head back. ‘The gods are watching us, boys!’ he called to the men of the First cohort, keeping his eyes front. ‘But I’m watching you closer!’ he added in a low resonant tone.
The barbarians began to chant and sing, calling upon their war gods, banging their spears against their flimsy wooden round shields. The noise carried like thunder along the valley.
Horses twitched and nickered. Men shifted inwardly and mouthed prayers to their ancestors and their favoured gods.
Nepos knew this was how the barbarians built themselves up for battle, trying to instil fear into their enemy and working themselves up into a frenzied state. He had seen it before, in Gaul with Julius Caesar.
Duilius’s horse twitched uneasily beneath him when the roaring war chants began. He steadied the beast. ‘Eager to get into it, eh,’ he said patting the horse’s neck to calm it.
‘It’s a good day to die,’ said Macer.
Duilius looked at him. ‘No it’s not! It’s a fucking awful day to die! That’s why we’re going to win this battle. I’ll tell you when it’s a good day to die, until then you stay on your horse, and remember that you’re first Tribune of the Fifth!’
Macer smiled. ‘I was referring to the enemy.’
‘Ah! For them it’s the best day of their accursed lives to die, Macer!’ Duilius bantered back. He looked at a signaller. ‘Pass it on! Today is the best day for the enemy to die!’
The signaller nodded and spelt out a semaphore message.
Icy sleet spattered Nepos like bird shit, sliding down his grim war face.
The roar of the Celts grew louder, more menacing, shaking their spears, swords and axes in the air over their heads.
Nepos sensed the trepidation in the ranks. ‘Easy boys, they might scream like your mothers, but they fight like your sisters!’ he called.
The men laughed.
‘That’s what scares me, First!’ someone shouted.
More nervous chuckles belched from the ranks.
Nepos laughed. ‘Then you know what you’re up against. But we’re the First of the First. We’re the Fifth Macedonica! Who are we, Boys?’
‘THE FIRST OF THE FIRST!!!’ they hollered at the tops of their voices. ‘WE’RE THE FIFTH MACEDONICA!!!’
‘And who am I, boys!?’
‘NEPOS MAXIMO, THE BASTARD OF THE AVENTINE!!!’ they sang out.
The officers sat on their horses, the cheers and shouts from the First Century boomed over the legion. That was Nepos’ magic, his men loved him, they’d follow him into hell itself and fight anyone for him. Duilius envied him that – they all did.
‘Insolent bastard,’ a tribune murmured spitefully, the bridge of his nose creasing with hatred. ‘Who the hell does he think he is?’
Macer looked back at him, his face flushed with the cold, his nose running with snot. He sniffed. ‘A word of warning,’ he said, ‘because you speak ill of a respected man to those who respect him most. His men will fight like the Furies today, and they will endure the worse of this battle. Upon them the day is decided for us or against us, so he can be as insolent as he likes, and you will thank him for it.’
The tribune looked crestfallen under Macer’s angry stare.
‘The gods are with us, boys!’ Nepos called. ‘And the might of Rome is behind us!’
On the other side of the valley, the barbarians still chanted their blood-curdling war songs, and screamed their curses and insults at the Romans. They surged forwards fifty yards, trying to entice the Romans into battle, but the Roman lines remained rigid and still.
Duilius steadied his spirited horse again.
‘Listen to them,’ said Drusus. ‘Savages.’
‘This is how they mine their courage,’ said Macer, ‘calling upon their war gods to fill their hearts with fire before the furor Celtica.’
Sci-Fi LGBT PROTAGONIST/STRONG FEMALE LEAD SUITABLE GENERAL READING STRONG LANMGUAGE, SOME MODERATE VIOLENCE 16+
Estimated publishing date August/September 2020
Research & Astrium Refinery, Tranquillitatis
‘Eh, Vernon. That Delta’s coming back,’ Blackdog said, watching the sensor displays in front of him. ‘Looks like it’s heading back to Lunar Seven. Strange, eh?’
Vernon came over and stood behind him and leaned over his shoulder, resting his hand on the back of Blackdog’s chair as he watched the viewer.
‘What’re you think?’
Vernon creased his chin and shook his head. ‘I d’know. They said they had it under control and it looks like they have. Probably a maintenance check, or a demonstration to remind the Orry-Washes who’s got all the muscle. Now, never mind about that. Have we got comms restored yet?’
‘No. I can’t seem to isolate the problem either. I’m running a diagnostic on the subsystems. It’ll be an hour before it’s finished. I can launch a comms relay buoy?’
‘How long have comms been down now?’
‘An hour and ten minutes.’
Vernon thought about it as he watched the sensor tracking the Delta’s course. ‘No. That’s for emergencies only. This isn’t an emergency yet. Twenty-four hours. That’s an emergency. If necessary, we’ll have to go up to the satellite and fix it ourselves.’
Blackdog sat back in his seat and reached for his mug of cold syntho coffee.
A voice filtered out of the comm, shouting over the din of heavy machinery. ‘…You there, Vernon?’
‘Yeah, yeah. What is it, Gecko?’
‘That turbine on sixteen’s overheating again. I’m gunna have to shut em all down and get in there to take a look.’
Just when Vernon thought his day couldn’t get any worse. ‘Shut them all down?’ he exclaimed in alarm. ‘How long for?’
‘Until I can get in there and take a look and see what’s wrong. Could be hours… could be days. It depends what we find.’
Days! The prospect filled him with dread. ‘But why d’you need to shut them all off? D’you have any idea how far that’ll push us beyond schedule? We’d never make up our quotas. And we’ve got three mine freighters coming in over the next six days.’
‘Sorry, Vernon, but if one shuts down, they all have to shut down. They’re like a choir, they all have to sing together or not at all. You’ have to comm Mission and tell em what’s going on.’
Vernon rolled his eyes. ‘The goddam comms are down again. I’m coming down.’ He turned and headed out of the control room for the elevator mast. ‘Like I don’t have enough to do around here…’ At the elevator mast, one of a dozen throughout the four-square mile modular complex, he stepped into the cylindrical elevator car. ‘Level One, Skywalk Four,’ he instructed, and the elevator descended three levels to Level One and rotated forty-five degrees to Skywalk Four…
The door slid open onto a long, transparent Intsoglass skywalk that bridged the featureless gray Lunar desert for a hundred yards to the next module. On the bulkhead, a sign read: “L. I. Skywalk IV, Rover dock, connecting to L I Cargo Docking & Skywalks V, VI, VII & Refinery.”
The skywalk bridged over the freighter docking ports seventy feet below. Beyond, the featureless Mare Tranquillitatis stretched off, empty and unadorned except for the distant craters. The bleak horizon was vividly defined against the vacuous blackness of space and the beautiful marbled earth hanging alluringly like a cosmic jewel.
Vernon walked briskly across the skywalk, fretful over the prospect of falling behind schedule. In the two years since taking over, he had maintained a perfect record, so this would be a blemish he could do without, especially now he was coming to the end of his assignment. They had just six months more before the swap over, then it was back to Earth for a year of babbledicking to the Novies and taking it easy before going to Mars. With a blemish on his so far perfect record, it might have meant a mission demotion to second supervisor of some shithole gas pumping and pipeline maintenance station in the icy Planum Boreum at the Martian North Pole. There, oxygen was mined with other essential gases from the ice and pumped to the biosphere purifiers in the Valles Marineris, which were rich in Martianite, the diamond-like crystals used in high energy lasers. He was hoping to get a First Grade Supervisor’s epaulet, for assignment as supervisor of the mines. But if this last consignment of Astrium was late, then he could kiss that ambition goodbye…
Sunlight flashed in from the Widow’s fuselage as it banked in towards the Aitken Crater basin at the Lunar south pole, crossing the mountainous crater rim. They began a slow descent into the crater’s several miles deep basin and moved over its dark, lifeless plain which stretched for sixteen hundred miles across and they could see every dark, gray mile of it, ringed by the sawtooth crater rim seven miles high.
‘What’s that?’ Bearfang asked as some modular structures came into view.
‘One of the early titanium mines,’ the Prophetess explained. ‘Nothing’s been mined here for over two centuries, when the military took it over to build Lunar Seven.’
‘There’s several of them in the crater according to the ship’s archive,’ Thundersky said.
‘There are rich deposits of titanium here,’ the Prophetess said. ‘The richest on the moon. There’s a couple of thorium mines too. They used thorium reactors up here in the early days.’
Venus pointed to a distant pinhead of light stellateing out of the side of the crater rim about six hundred miles from their position. ‘There it is. Lunar Seven.’ She looked at the Bearfang, who was standing beside her.
The light grew bigger as the mighty Black Widow flew silently across the crater, casting its deathly shadow before it.
The facility’s outer wall was built into the side of the crater’s northern rim, about four miles up from the crater basin into a sheer cliff. Enormous titanium airlock doors, ten feet thick and several thousand feet wide by about two thousand feet high, started to slowly slide open on Elmags as the Black Widow slowly banked towards them, firing forward magnetoplasmadynamic breaking thrusters, sending blue jets of ionized plasma blasting from the forward thruster ports, slowing the Widow to just a few miles an hour.
‘Computer, activate Lunar Seven life support systems and artificial gravity generators,’ the Prophetess said.
‘Life support systems activated,’ the computer responded. ‘Zone One Airlocks will disengage in one hour forty-one minutes.’
‘Once the gravity activates, the refinery, observatories and mining operations on this rock, and Tactical Command on the dark side will know we’re here,’ the Prophetess said. ‘We need to move fast to bring the defenses online.’
They watched in silence as they drew nearer. Breaking and steering thrusters fired alternately from the monster’s fuselage, slowing and steering the ship towards the outer airlock. Telemetry, speed, elevation data and charts were animating on the viewers.
The Widow slowly drifted into the docking bay, where a row of seven more mighty deltoid Black Widow predators were nesting like the mythical Furies at their docking stations, connected to the airlocks by umbilical walkways, their fuselages cradled by huge titanium stanchions rising out of the lunar rock.
The outer airlock slid closed behind them as the Black Widow maneuvered towards the only unoccupied docking bay, moving precisely into position millimeter by millimeter, the thrusters firing for milliseconds at a time.
The umbilicus extended from the facility’s airlock towards the ship’s airlock at the nose end, three decks below the bridge. They came together and the widow came to a full stop.
‘Umbilical secured,’ Venus said. ‘Docking struts engaged and secure, all propulsion systems powering down.’
‘Computer. How many personnel are at the Tranquillitatis station?’ the Prophetess asked.
‘Accessing. Data acquired. Six technicians, two senior engineers. One shuttle pilot, one Lunar geologist, two astrophysicists, one medivac and one supervisor.’
The prophetess turned to the interface and viewer. ‘Display personnel data. Start with the administrator…’
CHAMELEON, The Terror Begins
THE SECOND NOVEL IN THE CHQAMELEON TRILOGY
INSPUIRED AND BASED ON FACTUAL EVENTS.
IN EDITING STAGE, ESTIMATED PUBLISDHING DATE, OCTOBER/DECEMBER 2020
LGBT PROTAGONIST, SOME GAY EROTICA, VIOLENCE & DSISTURBING ELEMENTS 18+
Neudeck Manor, Prussia, 21st June 1934
The Führer was as white as a sheet when he came out of Neudeck Manor after his meeting with President von Hindenburg. He insisted on driving back to Berlin alone with Julius. And for the longest time, the Führer sat wordless in the front next to his old comrade and most trusted friend, to whom he owed much. They followed the SS protection squad through the countryside in a long convoy of limousines and SS motorcycles, snaking along Prussian country roads back to the capital.
Julius knew something was up, he could see the Führer from the corner of his eye glaring through the windshield, unblinking, deeply thoughtful and fretfully worried.
Two SS motorcycles whizzed ahead to block the junctions as the cavalcade speeded through a quaint village, where the people turned out to wave their little flags and cheer at the Führer as the convoy speeded by in a blur of black and grey with a roar of engines.
‘What happened in there, Adolf? Did the old man want to put you over his knee and spank your behind?’
The Führer broke a smile, even though he didn’t want to. ‘We’re in trouble, Julius,’ he said. ‘It couldn’t be worse. This is the worst day of my life.’ He turned his head as another SS motorcycle with a sidecar containing an SS man with a carbine strapped to his chest, roared past. The Führer liked to go fast out on the open roads in his Mercedes, feeling the wind in his face. He and Schreck had often enjoyed many pleasant drives out into the Bavarian countryside together over their long and enduring friendship. He should’ve left him in charge of the SS, a real man, instead of that human millipede Himmler. But he needed him, Schreck was one of the few people who gave him a straight answer, and he never beat about the bush. He trusted Julius completely. Julius was invaluable, as that Bavarian business in Thirty-Two proved. Julius said it how he saw it and Adolf liked that, especially after listening to those starchy bourgeois old top hats, looking down their long Jew-loving noses at him as if he was something a dog left behind. Well, who was looking down their noses now?
The generals liked the Fat Man. His shameless self-promotion and strange eccentricity aside, he was cut from the same bourgeois cloth. A gentleman – a war hero – a fighter ace from the von Richthofen Squadron. Charismatic, jovial – Göring was a bloody clown with a weakness for laudanum and dressing up like a cabaret clown. He looked ridiculous when he showed up for meetings wearing lederhosen, bearing his fat white legs and his knobbly knees. If there was ever anyone who should avoid wearing lederhosen, Adolf thought, it was Herman Göring. ‘Colonel General von Blomberg gave me a dressing down. Me!’ he shrilled incredulously. He took a deep breath. ‘Though in this instant,’ he conceded with quiet humility, ‘he may have been justified to do so.’
‘What did he say?’
The words were still ringing in Adolf’s ears like a claxon. ‘He told me in plain speaking, “If you fail to act against the SA, the President will declare martial law and replace your government with a military panel. If you want to survive as chancellor, you must act immediately.” That’s what he said to me, Julius, and he wasn’t bluffing. The Army’s getting twitchy about all this blustering of Röhm’s about second revolutions and merging, or even replacing the army with the SA. He called them thugs and brawlers. Hauptmann Röhm is deluded to think it otherwise, he told me.’ He took a deep breath. ‘I’ve talked to Ernst,’ he said. ‘I’ve warned him. Over and over, I’ve told him. He just won’t listen to me, and now he leaves me with no choice, Julius. No choice…’
‘Ernst was always going to be a problem, Adolf,’ Julius said. ‘And I’ve lost count how many times you’ve cautioned him about the SA’s excesses since we achieved power. What’re you going to do?’
‘Whatever I do, it’s going to be dangerous. The SA isn’t some gentleman’s country club. But I don’t see there’s a choice. There’ll be no second chances. The army will obey Hindenburg without question. If he places Germany under martial law as he threatens to, and installs a military panel to govern the country, we’ll be finished and there’ll be no way back for us. I’ll shoot myself rather than live with the shame of it.’ He shook his head and repeated: ‘This is the worst day of my life…’ He was getting a splitting headache from the tension.
‘You mustn’t think like that, Adolf. You’re getting one of your moods. Snap out of it. Now more than ever, you have to act with a clear head. We can resolve this, Adolf.’
‘How? I’ve tried reasoning with Ernst. God … I should’ve left him in Bolivia,’ he muttered through a sigh.
‘You can’t reason a wild animal. You have to cut the head off of the beast. It’s the only way. You have to strike with an unflinching hand, without faltering or wavering. For the sake of the Party. For the sake of the Fatherland.’
He knew Schreck was right. So were Himmler and Göring, who had also been urging him to take action against Röhm to curtail the SA and its insubordinate leadership. For months, there were whispers here and hints there. But Röhm was the Führer’s friend and one of his oldest and most steadfast supporters. He had learned so much from Röhm back in the early days. Ernst was every bit a friend as Julius was. Himmler was a sycophant and an obsessive administrator; he had his beloved SS and was slowly becoming policeman number one in the country. He asked very little of the Führer but did so very much for him.
Göring was a self-serving, bourgeois show-off, whose only interest was gathering as much institutional power for himself as he could get his hands on. He collected offices as some people collect stamps. He was as loyal as Himmler, but very high maintenance. With that said, the Führer recognised that Göring was very popular with the people.
‘Ernst’s socialist revolution is not realistic. Nor practical,’ Schreck said. ‘He causes more unrest now that we have power than he ever did in the old days.’ He took a deep breath. ‘I sometimes wonder just whose side he’s really on?’
Adolf nodded his head. Röhm was a dog biting his arse, and he had bitten once too often. ‘I’ve done all I can to prevent this, Julius,’ he said. ‘The Party has to come first. This is our destiny. There can be no second revolutions. No second chances.’
Schreck was silent. The Führer was building himself up, readying himself to kill a friend.
COLLEGIUM, Blood of Fire
THE SECOND IN THE COLLEGIUM SERIES, IN EDITINBG STAGES, ESTIMATED PUBLISJING DATE, FEBRUARY/MARCH 2021
Nepos, flanked by Saloninus and Afranius crossed the busy courts of the vast Horrea Sulpicia, Rome’s gleaming white temples of commerce. The tantalizing smells of fruit and exotic spices, and smoked meats and the aroma of wine drifted out from the huge colonnaded warehouses and carried on the breeze across the open courts like the breath of the gods, at once irresistible and intoxicating.
Quintus Calidius was on the waterfront overseeing the unloading of three of his naves caudicariae that had arrived together from Ostia, the tall dark young man who was with him, wearing green robes and a felt cap was Calidius’s son Neptunus, a bright-eyed young man, and Nepos might have been impressed to see that he worked hard … if he cared, but he didn’t care a whore’s curse. Tiberius was right; his only interest was marrying his niece into shipping and warehousing for his own ends, and Quintus’ seagoing cargo ships and his fleet of naves caudicariae were exactly what he needed for his illicit and legitimate commercial enterprises, especially after developing new and very useful contacts in Greece, Moesia, Macedonia, Egypt and Gaul, and acquiring three sea going cargo ships from Athens with some of his cut of the Syrian treasure. His old friend Silvanus was running that side of things, and with his pirate contacts in Illyria, there was a good flow of goods at the right prices. They just had to make the cargo look legitimate and that was why he needed Calidius.
‘Salve, Quintus Calidius,’ Nepos greeted with a beaming grin on his face like an old friend as he approached the group standing on the dockside.
Quintus turned to see who spoke his name and his face dropped with worry. It never boded well when the Bastard of the Aventine made social calls. He stepped away from the ship towards him. ‘Nepos Maximo, salve,’ he said with a nervous smile and a slight tremor in his voice that his son noticed at once. ‘I heard you had come back to Rome.’ He looked at Nepos’s companions loitering menacingly behind Nepos.
Nepos grinned and looked at Neptunus who was staring back curiously at them. ‘I’ve retired from the legions,’ he said. ‘I’ve gone into trade. I’ve even got a few ships.’
‘As I heard told. Is that what brings you to the Sulpicia?’
Nepos put his arm across Calidius’ shoulder. ‘No. You do…’
Quintus looked worriedly at Nepos’s hand clasping the cleft of his shoulder as though it were a python’s open jaws.
‘I have this problem, Quintus, and I think you can help me.’
‘Of course,’ Calidius said nervously, in the certain knowledge that saying no to the Bastard of the Aventine was to invite a storm of trouble to his door.
Nepos gave him a menacing smile, his eyes glinting in late afternoon sunshine. ‘Why are you so nervous, Quintus? By Jupiter, I can feel you trembling. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were afraid of me, and that would wound me deeply,’ he added superficially. ‘We’re old friends, you and me, are we not? We were boys together, were we not? And you’re an honest man, are you not?’
‘It’s nothing. I think I may be coming down with a chill,’ he said, the corners of his mouth twitching up into a vague and apprehensive smile. ‘I’ve been like it all day.’
‘You poor man. You must rest.’
‘Kind of you to say.’
‘I’ll not dally with you. It’s my niece, Quintus. That’s brings me to you-’
‘Your niece?’ he echoed, surprised and confused.
‘Tiberina. She’s a very pretty girl.’
‘I have heard it said many times, Nepos.’
‘And it’s true. But she’s causing Tiberius a great deal of worry, Quintus. You see, he wants to find a good honest husband for her. A man of integrity and standing, one he knows will look after and provide for her. He can’t sleep for worrying about it, you see. Since my son became an equestrian and one of Caesar’s trusted men, he feels that only a young man of good quality will do for his daughter. From dawn to dusk, he does nothing but fret about his only daughter marrying such a man.’ He gave a chuckle and shook his head. ‘I tell you, it’s a bad business, Quintus. A bad business.’
‘What father would not want a good man for his daughter, Nepos? But I really don’t see how I can help?’
‘Well you can, Quintus. You can.’
Quintus looked bewildered. ‘I can?’ He frowned.
They stopped walking and Nepos finally removed his arm from Quintus’ shoulder, much to Quintus’s relief.
‘Yes. Your son Neptunus, he’s a good decent boy, just the sort of young man I would approve of for my niece, who I love like a daughter.’ He grinned disturbingly at Quintus Calidius. ‘What’re you say, Quintus?’
Quintus was too stunned to say anything, and for a long minute, he just stood there gawping at Nepos as if he had horns sticking out of his head. Eventually he shook his head. ‘That’s not possible, Nepos. Neptunus is contracted to marry the daughter of-’
‘No, no, Quintus,’ Nepos interrupted. ‘You don’t understand. I want your son to marry my niece.’ He grinned at him.
Quintus chuckled nervously. ‘Yes, I understand. Really, I do, Nepos, and had Neptunus not been contracted to marry the daughter of Cnaeus-’
Nepos raised his hand. ‘We are friends, aren’t we, Quintus?’
Quintus’s nervousness returned. He nodded. ‘Of course.’
Nepos’s eyes softened. ‘Then I’ll tell you…’ He looked deliberately at Saloninus and Afranius, making certain they were far enough away not to overhear. ‘As your friend,’ he continued, drawing it out before coming to his point. ‘Cnaeus Tinius is an Antonian and he is to arrested for smuggling Antonians and weapons into Italy. There’s another rumour that you yourself carried Antonians aboard your ships from Egypt after the war-’
Quintus staggered back, the colour in his face draining away. ‘I’ve never carried Antonians on any of my ships. I swear it on Juno and my testicles, Nepos.’
‘Swear away, old friend. It won’t make any difference to Caesar’s agents and the quaestionarius when he’s squashing your testicles in a vice. Link your family to Cnaeus Tinius’s family, and you’ll be equally suspected.’Nepos grinned at him. ‘Cnaeus Tinius is a dead man, and his daughter will be pleasuring soldiers before this month is done. Do you still want to marry your son to her? Or will you accept my protection?’
Calidius was terrified. He looked worriedly at his son, who was looking back at them and could see the anxiety in his father’s face. ‘What if Cnaeus names me?’
Nepos chuckled. ‘If your son marries my niece, you have nothing to fear, I will protect you. Now I can’t say fairer than that, can I, Quintus?’ He patted him on the shoulder. ‘Of course, you can say no to me. I’ll find someone else before the day is out…’ Something amused him and he chuckled. ‘Cnaeus Tinius. He has a son. I could make him the same offer, and it’ll be you they arrest. It’s of little consequence to me who gets crucified, but it’ll be one of you, that I can promise.’
They didn’t call him the Bastard of the Aventine for nothing. As grassatores went, he was the worse of them all, and he had absolute power in his collegium.
Calidius was in a corner with no way out and he knew it.
‘So, we’re agreed, yes? Neptunus and Tiberina will be married and our families joined and united?’
Calidius nodded warily.
Nepos smiled. ‘Good man. The sooner the better, and don’t look so worried, Quintus, I’ll look after you. And we can even acquire Cnaeus Tinius’s ships at a good price, and secure lucrative contracts with the provincial governors through my contacts.’ He patted him on the back. ‘And I can bring a lot of other profitable business opportunities too.’
Calidius was afraid he might say something like that.
‘Tell Neptunus to come to the Samnites tonight. You come too, Quintus. I have some very pretty girls just come in from Gaul, and some very good wine from Greece. We can finalize matters and discuss the dowry.’
‘Of course. What sort of a man do you take me for?’ He grinned again and patted Quintus on the arm. ‘I’m a very rich man, Quintus. Very rich. There’ll be a very generous dowry and I know it will meet with your approval. I have a couple of very nice boys too. I understand Neptunus is a cock man. I care not, so long as he sires a child with Tiberina, he may do as he pleases with whom he pleases.’
After the Bastard and his men left, Neptunus came over. ‘Is everything all right, papa? Who was that man?’
Quintus looked warily at him. ‘Nepos Maximo.’
Neptunus looked surprised.
‘He came to warn me that Cnaeus Tinius is about to be arrested and crucified for assisting Antonians, his children are to be taken into slavery and all his property confiscated. You cannot marry into that family. Nor can you warn them, Neptunus. If you warn them, we too will be arrested and crucified.’
‘Gods below,’ Neptunus exclaimed and felt a sense of great relief at the same time as blood chilling horror. He had never been happy with the arrangement to start with. He certainly didn’t love her.
‘You’re to marry Tiberius Maximo’s daughter Tiberina instead. A better match in many ways. Nepos’s son is an equestrian and a hero of Rome,’ he said, erring on the bright side of a bad situation. ‘And marrying Tiberina will demonstrate that you have nothing to do with Cnaeus Tinius’s treachery.’
Neptunus was horrified. ‘But, papa-’
‘The decision is made!’ Quintus jumped in. ‘It’s for the good of the family. Nepos Maximo is a very powerful man. And he doesn’t care about your habit either.’
Neptunus went red in the face.
As they walked back across the horrea, Nepos stopped to look at them and admire them. Soon, his merchandise would be coming here too and it was a gratifying moment, knowing the opportunities for a man like him to make lots of money.
‘Afranius,’ Nepos said. ‘Did you hide those letters as I asked you to?’
‘Yes, First. I put them in Cnaeus Tinius’s domos, where you told me to.’
‘Good. Now go to the centurion of the praetorians and tell them that I’ve had information that Cnaeus Tinius is an Antonian involved in smuggling renegades into Rome. Let the Praetorians find the letters. And be sure to tell the centurion to keep us out of it.’