I chuckled at Decentius’ retort. I was beginning to like this man, despite his cold exterior; he was fun to play with. “I believe I have mentioned it. Bring our line, Signore Umbrae’s line, to greatnes.” I sat with my hands on my lap, and crossed my legs causing my decorated sandals to jingle. So much for appearing demure.
A snort from Decentius. “That for ‘Signore Umbrae’s greatness,” he said, slapping the air beside his head. “We cannot be great with only the two of us, and he has told me he will raise no more. ‘One of each I have, and that is all I need’ he said.” Decentius eyed me then began to pace in front of his guardaroba. “We need more of us. And we need to deal with Rome, or we shall be irrelevant no matter how many we are.”
I watched Decentius as he paced, mesmerized by his unconscious grace. The shadows followed his steps in a way I could not begin to repeat, yet he made no sign that it was deliberate. His bare feet slapped wooden floors, his face thoughtful, his hands clasped behind his back. There was a dark deliberation to him, and it was magnificent.
“Deal with Rome?” I asked, eyes following as he paced. “Whatever for?”
Decentius stopped, his head turning toward me. “Surely you jest? They have demolished three of our cities already. Katane lies a mere day’s march North of us. Do you think they will stop with three?”
“’Our cities’?” I chuckled. “Aren’t we presumptuous.”
Decentius did not seem amused. “No,” he replied, “I’m not. We are risen above the mortals, and we must care for them, protect them. Otherwise we are simply parasites.”
I blinked at his lecture. “We are not parasites; we are Immortals. That is more than enough to ensure a mere mortal’s loyalty.”
Decentius shook his head in denial. “It is not about loyalty; it is about responsibility. We are greater than them, so we must care for them, like a parent with a…child.” His jaw clenched and he spoke the word ‘child’ slowly. “Rome has already taken Italy, it will not stop there. You need only listen to the sailors in Messena to know what is coming.”
I shrugged. “And what do you suggest we do? Two of us cannot defeat the armies of Rome.” I stood, arms out, and spun in a circle. “I am not a fighter, Decentius.”
I saw his eyes watching me, considering. “No, but you may be something better. Tell me, how many men did you seduce before you caught the attention of Signore Umbrae?”
“Enough.” I said. It had never been so much seduction as patience, and blackmail. “What did you have in mind?” I stepped towards him and placed my hand on that same hollow below his neck. This time he did not push me away.
“Nothing yet,” Decentius replied. I saw his blue eyes turn stormy and a smile creep over his lips as he gazed into the shadows above my head. “First I must find some Romans.” His eyes shifted and met mine. “Can you wait?”
“Of course.” I smiled across the hand span that separated us, lifting my hand from his chest and drawing it upward across his soft grin, touching the corner of his stormy eye. “I’m very good at waiting,” I replied. Decentius’ expression did not change.
“Good,” he said, taking my hand away and putting his arm through mine, “then you will be able to amuse yourself while I see to the first step.” He escorted me to the door and nodded a farewell. I inclined my head in return, patting him on the arm before leaving.
I set off to find Cloelie. It shouldn’t be too hard; I’d just go to the slaves’ quarters first, and if she wasn’t there, I’d send someone for her. There are advantages to being the mistress, after all.
There were two sets of slaves’ quarters, those within the villa for the indoor slaves, and those attached to the barn for the outdoor slaves. I’d been to the outdoor ones once, and I wasn’t planning on going back. I know it’s difficult for slaves to have a bath in anything other than the sea, but they stank! And the old wood of the building had mold and rot, which certainly didn’t help. Not at all like the nice stone walls of the villa. I only hoped Signore Umbrae would update the floors soon, too. But since Cloelie had come to see Decentius, she was likely one of the indoor slaves and I wouldn’t have to worry about setting foot outside.
There were two doors to the slave’s quarters, one for the men’s side and one for the women’s. Sadly, no one had marked them, so I didn’t know which I wanted. I suppose the slaves knew well enough which room was theirs. I stood staring at the doors, not wanting to knock on the wrong one and look like an idiot. Then I saw Antonius.
He must have finished the washing and been returning for some sleep. I faded into the shadows, not really wanting to deal with him just now, but I watched which door he went through. Then, when he had disappeared inside, I re-emerged and knocked on the other door.
An older woman poked her head out, eyes widening at the sight of me. “Good evening, gentildonna, how may I help you?”
“Cloelie. I would speak with her,” I replied.
She nodded once and went back inside. In the moment before Cloelie appeared, I decided it was best to take this discussion elsewhere. Antonius was in the room next door and, unless I were a very bad judge of character, he was exactly the sort to listened at doors. Especially if he heard the voice of Cloelie, the one he hated.
The pretty young thing poked her head meekly out from the door. “Yes, gentildonna? How may I serve you?”
I smiled. “’You are here because I wish you to be’.” I saw her face blanch in recognition. “Come, we will discuss this in my quarters.” I turned and walked to my own quarters. Though they were the mirror image of Decentius’, they were on nearly the opposite side of the villa. An odd layout, now that I thought of it, but there was likely some reason that no one had bothered to tell me. The hall to my quarters changed from wood to stone part way, and I realized what it was. This area was new. Lucky me.
I opened the door to my own quarters and went through, leaving Cloelie to catch the closing door or be left outside. She darted her way inside, none of the meek girl I had seen leave Decentius’ quarters in her bearing.
“All right, gentildonna,” her voiced dripped sarcasm, “what is it you what?” Cloelie’s green eyes flashed, and her hands went straight to her hips. Oh, but she had nerve.
I grinned and sat on the edge of my bed. “I want to talk to you. If you will are willing to tell me what it is you want of Dec…Dio Decentius, I may be able to help.” I patted the bed beside me. “Come, sit. I will not bite.” She rolled her eyes at that.
“I hope not, gentildonna. I have been bitten enough for one night.” Cloelie let out a deep sigh, then shuffled to the bed and sat beside me. “And why do you think I want something of Dio Decentius?”
“Because, my girl, you play a game I know all the steps to. And it is easy to recognize an opening gambit when I hear one. Besides,” I smiled, and twitched a lock of Cloelie’s hair out of her face, “you are no docile cypress to bend and moan when your master wishes.”