Chapter 12: Claudia Antonia Gets to Business



Part 1

It had been an amusing evening. The pretty boy, Calictus, was very adept at serving women. I didn’t ask if he’d served Euphemia but, since he knelt at my feet and offered to serve in any way I need, while blushing, I was fairly certain he had.

I gathered up the staff just before dawn. There was a large salon downstairs, for entertaining multiple parties at once, and they all crowded in; including a gloating Antonius and a skittish look Cloelie. I hoped Decentius decided what he was going to use her for soon; she wouldn’t last much longer.

The girls lounged on the sofas, they kitchen staff looked awkwardly around and tried not to touch anything. “I am Donna Antonia,” I began, “mistress of this household. Despite the method in which I acquired it, I mean you no harm.” There was a barely stifled grunt from Antonius; I ignored him. “Diamantina, you Benedetta will instruct Cloelie on the finer matters of running this household. My hours will start once darkness falls; all who wish to see me should be informed of that. Do not make the mistake that I will not know if things go amiss. I am allowing you to continue on. Do not tempt the consequences.” There were several nods, and few loud gulps, and a smirk or two. I noted the smirkers for dinner tomorrow.

“Antonius will stay the day tomorrow and leave before nightfall. His abilities are the least of those I can make use of.” That provoked a general shuddering, and pallor in all but Cloelie. “Are there any questions?”

Benedetta stepped forward, her floured hands clenching and unclenching. “Does Donna have any requests from the market?”

I smiled. “No. I shall find my own meals.” Benedetta’s eyes went wide and their were several loud gasps, enough that I could not pinpoint the sources. They would take it as insult, and then, when I did not go out for food, it would give them something to fixate on. Something other than how to plot against me.

When the murmurings had quieted down, Diamantina stepped forward. “Donna,” she nodded smoothly in my direction, “is there anyone in particular you are expecting?” Her expression was careful but I could see the glint of ambition in her eyes; did she intend to take my clients for her own, or find some other way to use them?

I smiled, as calmly and coolly as she. “I never expect them,” I replied, “but I will know which ones are mine. And so will they.” Diamantina’s nose curled in annoyance at my vagueness, so I decided to give her something to work with. “Antonius’ master, Dio Decentius, shall be arriving eventually.” I glanced deliberately at Antonius, who smiled and bowed. “You will be given notice when it is needed.”

Diamantia bowed her head in assent, but I saw the flick of her tongue as she tasted the possibilities to come.

“Now, it is nearly morning and I will retire to my room.” Diamantina flicked her eyes between Benedetta and me. “Cloelie, Antonius, Diamantia, follow me.” She would have to start her plotting later, but those few minutes might let me know what shape it would take.

As I walked from the salon, the footsteps of the others clattering behind me, saving Antonius who stalked as always, the slaves began shuffle slowly about; none would leave the room until I had departed. At least this Euphemia had instilled proper behaviour. Too bad she had also inspired misguided loyalty.

I went up the stairs and back to the room beside the awful tapestry. When I plopped down on the bed Cloelie hovered for a moment, then sat at my feet; Antonius and Diamantina just stood and stared.

“Diamantina, tell me how business has been.” I leaned back and looked at her. Antonius decided it was a good time to pace; he moved back and forth just behind Diamantina. She swung her head each time he moved, trying to keep him in view. I bit my cheek to keep from laughing.

“It’s fine,” Diamantina began. “Steady. Regulars coming weekly, and new folk every few days.” She twisted her head so often, I thought it might come off. I wondered what Antonius would do if it did. “Damn you, stop!” Diamantine yelled, swinging round to face Antonius.

“Why?” he smiled his wolfish smile. “Am I bothering you?” Now he had stopped moving and instead stared intently at her. Diamantina took a step backward, then another. Not watching behind her, she tripped over my outstretched leg. Antonius caught her just as she started to fall. “Careful now,” he growled, “we wouldn’t want to damage that pretty face of yours.” As he lifted Diamantina to standing he caught my eye with a smirk. “Perhaps I ought to escort this one to her room, Donna? Make certain she is uninjured?”

I grinned at his suggestion and the trapped expression on Diamantina’s face. I wondered if Antonius could break her spirit in one night. Or if he’d leave her aching for something good to put between her legs.

Antonius swung Diamantina up into his arms and carried her from the room. I heard him ask which room was hers, and her begin to reply feebly. As their voices faded, I patted the bed beside me, and gestured for Cloelie. “Come,” I whispered, “tell me how things go with Decentius.”

Cloelie rose from the floor, moving first to her knees then pushing herself up to stand before sitting, with a bit too much of a bounce, on the bed beside me. “It goes well, I think. He keeps looking at me as though he wants to tell me something. Sometimes I don’t think he really sees me, that he’s pretending I’m someone else. He seemed glad when I said I’d handle Antonius myself, though. Hasn’t offered since.” Cloelie’s nose curled recalling Decentius’ lack of assistance.

“What is going on with you and Antonius?” I asked, and watched her squirm.

“He keeps at me,” Cloelie replied, twisting and flinching at the thought. “Every time her can get at me, he does. He just wants to humiliate me,” she muttered.

I touched Cloelie’s cheek, turning her face to mine. “Let him think he has,” I advised, “he’ll grow bored soon enough. Besides,” I smiled, stroking her cheek, “Decentius will give you what you want soon enough. Then Antonius will be in your power.”

Cloelie grinned and clenched her hands. “I think I’ll like that,” she said.

Chapter 12: Claudia Antonia Gets to Business - Part 2

Cloelie and Diamantina stood at the two edges of my bed when I awoke. There were too busy glaring at each other to notice my eyes open.

“Where does she get off sicking him on me like that? He’s animal. Donna Euphemia would have thrown him out on his ass rather than have him pollute her staff,” Diamantina spat.

Cloelie snorted. “Please, your precious Donna Euphemia couldn’t survive one encounter with him, and now you want to rewrite history? Antonius is many horrid things,” she gave a little shudder, “but likely to be thrown on his ass is not one of them.”

I stretched unnecessarily and both turned to look at me; Diamantina with worry, Cloelie with confusion. Fortunately Cloelie’s confusion went no further than a look. “So, girls, what do we have on the agenda for this evening?”

“There are three gentlemen who would like an audience with you, Donna,” Cloelie piped up immediately. Diamantina glared at her, but did not interrupt. “The first will be here shortly, the second an hour later, and the third the hour before sunrise.”

I nodded my thanks to Cloelie. “Do you have anything to report?” I purred, turning on Diamantina.

Her eyes flitted about the room before she drew a deep breath. “That Antonius fellow left just after breakfast.” I could see the tension in Diamantina’s cheeks from her gritted teeth. I could almost smell the bile she was forcing back down her throat.

“Good,” I said, rising. “He won’t bother us any longer, then. I’m sure Decentius has better uses for him at home. Fetch me my stola, would you?” I asked. Cloelie jumped, obedience in her face. “Not you, sorellina.” I patted her shoulder, and she corners of her mouth rose hesitantly. Diamantina huffed and stamped to my trunk. There was a thud on the bed behind me, and I turned to find a pale red stole with gold embroidery crumpled upon it. “Thank you,” I said, smiling insincerely at Diamantina.

“You’re welcome,” she replied with the self-same smile. It was good we understood one another.

“Now, send me that pretty Calictus. We have work to do before my appointment arrives.” Cloelie grinned behind her hand and backed away with a curtsy; Diamantia stared at me wide-eyed, shook her head, and stomped from the room. Things were going well.

Calictus entered the room bashly, looking up at me from under rich, dark lashes. He knelt in front of me and prepared to lift my skirts. I chuckled, catching his hand. “That is not what I need from you just now,” I purred. He blinked up at me, those lashes beating against his cheeks like waves on the rocks beneath the villa; soft and deadly. “Stand.”

He stood with a grace that surprised me; not precise and dangerous like Decentius, and certainly not the thud and stalk technique preferred by Antonius, a simple, beautiful grace. I kissed his neck. He turned his head toward me, but I moved it softly away. Then, I bit.

I heard the sharp intake of his breath as I sampled the essence of his life; light and dark playing across my tongue and down my throat. I drew from the dark. His pulse raced, I felt his erection brush my leg; there would be time for that later.

When I had finished, I placed Calictus gently on my bed. His eyes were open. They sent a questioning look in my direction. “Later, boy,” I answered. “When you have regained enough strength to walk, return to your room. I shall be needing this one shortly.”

I straightened by stola, and looked through the nearest trunk for a belt. I found a dark leather one and tied it around my waist. Calictus’s breath was slow and deep, but his face had regained some colour. I flashed him a smile, then walked out through the tapestry.

A quick listen at the upstairs doors revealed that only one girl was currently working. I decided to take a surreptious look around. Relaxing, I leant back into the shadows feeling them caress me as I become one with them.

My shadow drops to the ground and slides under the door. There she is, leaning forward across the bed, the client taking her hard from behind as she moans and screams praise to Eros. By the look on his face, he could care less what she’s saying. He holds her should down and thrusts into her as his face gets that far away look.

When he pulls out, he wipes himself on her bed, pulls on his tunic, and tosses a few coins into the jar on her table. She stays lying where she is until he leaves, then makes a face and fondles herself. “Idiot,” she mutters, “no wonder his wife won’t lie with him.”

Being shadow I cannot chuckle, but I float a little higher. It makes getting back under the door difficult. Down the stairs I go, first into the salon to make sure no one is waiting, and then toward the chattering voices in the kitchen.

“Seriously?” one called stridently. “She summoned him up there before she’s even seen a client?” There was a snort and, as I slipped into the kitchen, the sound of hair slapping as it was tossed from one shoulder to another. “Talk about unprofessional. At least Euphemia waited till she was done for her own entertainment.”

There were nods around the counter, and several thuds. I took a moment to realize the latter were unrelated; Benedetta was rolling out some dough, thudding the pin each time. “She’s the mistress now,” she muttered, “you’d best not speak against her.”

“Why?” scoffed Diamantina, chin high, “it’s not like she can hear us.”

I knew a cue when I heard one. “Isn’t it?” I purred, emerging from the shadows.

Chapter 12: Claudia Antonia Gets to Business - Part 3

The look on Diamantina’s face was worth more denarii than she would see in a lifetime. “D...d..don..bu...but how?” Her hands flailed about her head as words failed her, not at all a ladylike sight.

I smiled. It was not a question I was going to answer, either they would figure it out or they would not; I would offer no assistance. I did not think it likely Cloelie would either, and I would make certain Calictus did not. But that was for later.

“All that matters is that I did hear you. And,” I turned my gaze about the crowded kitchen, “that I heard little objection to your words.” The other girls shuffled their feet, but Benedetta held her head high. “Yes dear,” I moved over and patted her gently on the back, “I heard yours. And only yours.” A flush spread across her face that had little to do with the heat of the kitchen. I turned my eyes back to Diamantina, “Now, you will tell me all you know about the gentlemen who are arriving this evening.”

Diamantina looked around the room for help but none of the girls would meet her eyes. Finally Benedetta spoke up, “It’s the last one you want to pay attention to, Donna. Or not so much him as whomever he works for. Roman, by the accent.”

My eyes widened, and I gave Benedetta another pat. “That is valuable insight indeed, Benedetta. I thank you.” I wondered if a Roman who saught audiences just before dawn was the man Decentius had sent me to find. Could Fortuna be so gracious? “And what of the others?”

Diamantina inhaled deeply while glaring at Benedetta. “The first is a merchant with ties throughout the city and across the seas. The second is a scholar. He used to spend most of his time with Euphemia talking. I think he paid her to not interrupt.”

I chuckled. There were those who thought we had only one job; they were the ones who never bothered to understand the complexity of men. “Gracias, Diamantina.” Although I did not doubt she would lie to me whenever she could, her indignation at Benedetta made it unlikely this was one of those times. I’d find out soon enough.

“Thank you, girls,” I smiled. “I’ll retire to my room for a bit. I’ll see you when the guests arrive.”

There were several pairs of blinking eyes as I turned to leave the kitchen. “What about Calictus?” one of the girls asked. “He usually escorts them in.”

“Is that so?” I replied, pausing. “Well, I’ve sent him out to fetch me a bite. I hope he’s back in time.” As they sputtering began behind me, I left.

There were several large tapestries covering the walls of the lower floor. I pushed one aside and found a hallway. By the darkness and lack of decorations, I judged it to be the servant’s hall. A half dozen doors were spread down its length. At the last one, I heard a rustling sound. Pushing it open, I saw Calictus rising from his pallet.

“Good, you will be ready for your regular duties,” I purred.

“Donna, yes,” he nodded. “I am recovered.” He stared at me, peering at my mouth.

I smiled and showed my teeth. “Nothing to see, I’m afraid.” I stepped forward and ran a hand up his firm chest. “I will explain it all later. Before the last client comes.”

Calictus nodded but said nothing. I glided back out the door and left him to dress; then returned to my shadows. When I entered the kitchen this time, only Benedetta was there. I skirted the house and found all the girls in their rooms, all but Diamantina and Cloelie asleep. Then I went to the salon to wait.

Their were well padded lounges covered with leather and windows draped with thick maroon curtains. Bits gold peaked from the creases of the curtains, and I become myself again to inspect them. I peered closely in the darkness and saw ribbons of gilt thread meandering through the fabric. Whatever else Euphemia had been like, she certainly had expensive tastes.

I pulled aside one curtain to peer out into the street. Some might find the darkness foreboding, though less so when the moon was full like tonight, but I could make out the individual stones paving the street from where I stood. Not that they were especially interesting to look at. I spied a sign that seem to be for a clothier’s shop; there was what appeared to be a bolt of half-unfurled fabric on the design. A fitting place, I supposed, especially if Euphemia and her girls has as expensive tastes in clothing as in drapery.

I heard a shuffling in the hall, and vanished in the shadows once again. A moment later Diamantina, Cloelie, and Calictus entered escorting a rotund gentleman. His tunic was a dark green and shimmered in the candlelight like silk; it probably was. His belt appeared to be decorated with animal teeth. I was certain I’d hear the story of each tooth, at least if things went well. His hair shone with oiling and he had a strong scent of cloves. This, then, was the merchant.

I watched as Diamantina attempted to send Cloelie upstairs to fetch me. Cloelie smiled and demured, Diamantina pressed, and finally Calictus told her to fetch me. Diamantina managed not to storm out, or even frown, but there was little grace in her exit.

“So,” the gentleman began, sitting on one of the sofas, “will you entertain me while I await your Donna Antonia?” His voice was squeaky and far too small for a man of his stature. Worse yet, he pursed his lips like a fish when he spoke. I hoped he did not do it at other times.

Cloelie smiled, dipping her head. “I do not think she will be all that long, Signuri,” she murmured, her eyes scanning the shadows.

Wonderful girl; she knew just how to play second.

As the merchant examined Cloelie’s face, trying to divine what she meant, I gathered myself up and emerged from the shadows beside the door.

“Donna Antonia!” he squeaked, “It is a pleasure to meet you at last.” The sofa creaked as he rose to take my hand. He kept his eyes on my face as he bent to kiss it, then shooed Cloelie and Calictus with a feeble wave on his hand. I saw Cloelie purse her lips to keep from smiling as she turned. “I am Giacinto Eustachius, your humble servant.”

“Signuri,” I murmured, allowing him to pull me down to sit at his feet, “it is my pleasure as well.”

He was easy enough to please after that; all bluster and little substance. I sat below him, agreeing and murmuring, and served him when paused. He seemed pleased enough. “I shall see you again, soon, Donna,” he said, kissing my hand as he left. “I always appreciate a good worker.”

I chuckled at his joke, and waved good-bye.

The scholar was as easy to please as Diamantina had said. A mathematician or logician, he babbled on from the moment he entered discoursing his theories on the nature of the world and asked only that I nod in response. I didn’t even get his name before he kissed my hand and darted out the door into the night.

I sighed, and turned around to see Calictus staring at me. With what would have been a deep breath, and a nod, I took his arm and led him up to my room.

The moment the door shut behind us, Calictus let go of my arm. “You promised me an explanation, Donna,” he murmured.

“I did,” I nodded. “What would you know?” I sat at the of my bed staring up at him. He had worked too long in a bordello for a view of my cleavage to be of more than passing interest, but he looked nonetheless.

“Why did you do it? How did you appear from nowhere? What are you?” His eyes grew wide and his face red as he spoke.

“Sit,” I said, gesturing to the floor beside my feet, “and I will answer your first and last questions. The other you must discover on your own."

Chapter 12: Claudia Antonia Gets to Business - Part 4

Calictus sat at my feet, his legs wrapped around my feet, his hands resting softly on my knees. He was an odd sort of servant for a brothel, but now was not the time to inquire. His pale eyes blinked up at me, waiting.

“I am an Immortal shadow, and I did it because that is how I feed,” I said.

His brow furrowed and his lip rose, he looked adorably confused. “I do not understand, what is an Immortal shadow, Donna?”

I stared a long moment, my fingers twining through his hair as I thought. “How old do you think I am, Calictus?

He blushed and looked at the floor. “It is not proper to speculate on such things, Donna.”

I chuckled, “True. But be assured, your answer will not offend me.” Or if it did, I would not let him know.

“Twenty-one?” Calictus replied hesitantly.

“Truly?”

Now his entire face was red. “Twenty-four,” he murmured. I wiped the surprise from my face before he lifted his eyes from the floor.

“I was twenty-three when I was raised,” I replied. “five years ago.” He sputtered some polite reply, and I took his hand. “Here,” I placed it over my heart, “feel.” Calictus tried to pull his hand away but I restrained him. Once he finished his meaningless protests his face went still.

Calictus looked up at me, shock and denial written on his face. He rose to knees leaned into my chest, his ear against my heart. He waited. A long moment passed with nothing but the sound of his breath and the rustle of the blankets. “Nothing. There is nothing,” he finally said.

I shook my head, “No, there is not. A heartbeat would mark me as mortal, and I am not. I am a shadow that exists at the edges of things, between the mortals and the Gods. And you,” I took his face in my hand, “shall serve me.”

He nodded and bent his head to my lap, pulling my stola up over my knees. I laughed, loudly and with no grace. Placing my hands on his face, my fingers at the sides of his narrowed eyes, I pulled Calictus up until he was sitting beside me once again. He looked perplexed, ready to inquire.

“Shh,” I murmured, placing a finger over his lips. I glanced at my nails but they were not sharp enough. Then I spied something winking silver hanging from Euphemia’s old guardaroba; a silver hairpin, ornate, gaudy, and extremely sharp. I plucked it from where it hung, held it o my ear. As I began to draw it downward along my neck, I heard Calictus’ gasp.

“Donna, what? Donna!” The blankets rustled as he rose, and I heard his feet thud on the floor before his hands wrenched me around to face him. The blood oozed down my neck, a small pool forming at the top of my collar bone. “What have you done! You will mar your beauty!” I smiled at his distress and pulled him against me. His thick hair caressed my wrist as I pressed his lips to my collarbone.

He kissed it, as I had known he would, and drew his tongue upwards along the cut. Pausing at the top, I heard him swallow. I smiled and bent my neck.

It is difficult to give the obvious signs of pleasure when one breathes only for speech; gasping gulps of air are painful, as is the fullness necessary to raise my breasts. I did it, though; I gasped in pleasure, not entirely feigned, but it was brief, a short, sharp gasp.

Calictus lifted his head, his lips smeared with my blood, his face flushed. Smiling, I walked across to the low table beside my bed and fetched the pitcher of water. “Drink,” I said, raising it to his lips. Calictus smiled, and drank, his eyes not leaving mine.

He returned the pitcher to its table, turning it so the mural of Aphrodite and her lover faced outward. “I am here to serve you,” he said as knelt at my feet. Slowly his hands slid up my legs, lifting the folds of my stola out of the way. Slowly he kissed my thighs, drawing his tongue ever upward. His fingers slipped inside the edge of my undergarments, searching for the source of my pleasure. When they found it, I moaned.

Calictus was skilled: with one hand he stroked me, and my loins began to ache; with his lips he traced the edges of thighs, my loins, taunting; with the other hand he undid my undergarments and they fell with a damp plop to the floor. The moment they were gone, his warm mouth began its work. His tongued moved slowly, then quickly, then slowly until I grabbed his head and drove it into my loins. I felt his warm breath as he chuckled, but his tongue resumed its pace.

With tongue, lips, and teeth, he brought me shuddering to climax; second only to that I enjoyed with Decentius. The boy was really very well trained.

“Thank you,” I murmured when he rose, licking my juices from his face. “I will see you again.” He nodded. I pressed my mouth to his, but his hands caught me from behind and clutched me tightly. I did not need to move against him to feel the length of his erection, but he moaned as I did so. A few tight squeezes and he came. I kissed his forehead and whispered, “Later we shall do things properly.”

Calictus smiled. “I await your call, Donna Antonia.”

I felt his eyes follow me as I sauntered toward the door. Turning my head, I caught his eye and beckoned him with a nod. If this Roman were who I hoped, it would be best to have my own servanti along. Besides, I wanted to see what happened when Calitcus discovered his new strength.

His steps pattered behind me as I trod down the stairs. I nodded at Calictus as he headed for the door to await the night’s final patron, and I turned toward the kitchen. In the kitchen I found Diamaninta and Cloelie sleepily counting the night’s proceeds and laughing over the stories the girls had told them.

“Donna,” they nodded. I walked past and out into the courtyard behind. The breeze that blew across my face was warm and wet; it told of dawn and rain to come. Behind me the thunk, thunk of the door warned that I was not alone.

“He has arrived, Donna,” Cloelie called. As I turned, I saw her framed in the first touches of light, her shadow thrown large behind her.

I walked through the kitchen, where Diamantina’s head nodded sleepily as she sat counting coins, down the tapestried hall to the salon where I spied Calictus waiting. He took my arm and escorted me in.

There was only the one candle flickering its light upon the room but the man waiting did not seem to mind. He was not seated; instead he stood beside the undrawn curtains staring at the room. He smirked when he saw me, his eyes scanning from top to bottom and back, resting where the top of my stola dipped between my breasts.

“Donna,” he bowed, “I am Fabricius.” He smelt of lavender, and his dark hair hung in a cable down his back. I curtsied in return. “My master Iulianus Marus has sent me to determine if your establishment befits his patronage.”

I shooed Calictus with a wave of my arm. “Come,” I said, “Let us discuss the matter somewhere more appropriate.” Fabricius’ smirk grew, but he took my arm and allowed me to lead him to my room barely glancing at the tapestries as we passed.

He let go of my arm the moment we entered, glanced around, dropped his tunic on the floor and lay back on my bed. His words and his erection were direct, “If you can wear me out, I shall recommend you to my master.” He licked his lips, his eyes fixed upon my breasts as I dropped my stola to the floor. They stayed there as I sashayed across the floor. His fingers reached for my nipples as I rose over him. He began to grab and pull at them even as I slid down his length.

I rocked upon him as he sucked my breasts; his breath barely increased. I rode faster, squeezing his phallus with my inner muscles; he gasped and began to buck beneath me. As his thrusting increased, his took his lips from my breasts, replacing them with his hands.

Finally he groaned loudly and I felt a trickle run down my thigh; I smiled. Fabricius breathed deeply and grabbed my buttocks. I felt him grow hard within me once more. My smirk matched his own as he said, “It’s not that easy, Donna.”

Fabricius was nearly as insatiable as Decentius, though he never moved from his spot beneath me. Five times he came, his hardness returning again and again with barely a moment between. When he pushed me off him to kneel at the foot of the bed, I was almost glad; I would require a long bath to remove all his fluids. He sat up, but his erection did not. I held my smile. The moments passed and finally he was erect once more, though not as fully as when he had first lain down. I took him in my mouth, my tongue working his length, flitting in and out of his foreskin. I heard his moans become pleas, and his pleas become incoherent. When he came scarcely a trickle ran down my throat.

I licked my lips and looked up from where I knelt. Fabricius lay back upon the bed breathing deeply, his phallus limp and shriveled. “You win,” he moaned, propping himself on one arm. He staggered up from the bed and donned his tunic. “Donna,” he murmured, “if you can defeat me so well my master shall surely wish to see you.”

I lifted my stola over my head, and heard a loud jingle of coin as I tied it at my waist. Fabricius took my hand and kissed it before I led him back to the front door.

“Donna,” he murmured patting my hand, “my master shall call upon you an hour after sundown tomorrow.”

I nodded and let him go. As I returned to my room, I saw Cloelie dart down the hall.