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Vita was a pleasant conversationalist; subtle in both mind and movement. Quite the opposite of his slave. I went to look in on Diamantina after Vita had departed, both she and Cloelie lay naked, exhausted, and sweating in the crumpled bed clothes of the largest room, save mine.
“Go,” I said, “wash. Vita will be coming again tomorrow, and if he brings Fabricius again you will have to find some way to entertain him that won’t make you sleep the day away. I need you two alert in the daylight.”
They nodded limply and rose, sliping their stola on before limping from the room. I rang the bell for Calictus, not sitting as I waited. His reply was prompt. “This needs cleaning.” He scanned the room, nodding. “And you will need feeding. Send this off to be done, then come to my room.” I left for my own room, the sound of sheets rolling in the background.
I had found a girl with more energy to spare than Diamantina or Cloelie, and fed, before Calictus returned. This time he chose to fed from my inner thigh, though he left before doing anything else. Sunrise was far too near, and I could feel the lassitude in my bones. I sank back onto my bed and awaited nightfall.
The last bloody rays of the sun coloured the backs of the curtains when I descended to the salon the next evening. Odd that the sinking of Apollo the healer’s chariot should cause such colours. I waited at the edge of the curtains, watching the wash of light fade from the room around me.
Diamantina and Cloelie bobbed respectfully as they came hurrying in with Calictus trailing in their wake. “Donna,” the three echoed.
I turned from the light. “Yes?”
“The slave, Fabricius visited again today. Apparently his master wishes to take you out tonight,” Diamantina babbled.
“But he will not tell us where!” Cloelie smashed her hands together.
“He was not persuaded by your charms? Or anyone else’s?” I asked. They shook their heads, grimaces marring both their faces. I was not overly surprised; Fabricius’s tastes were not subtle, not the kind to be easily manipulated. That was probably why Vita found him useful. “Well, I shall have to find something suitable, then.”
I returned to my room, the three trailing behind me. As I opened my guardaroba, Calictus bowed his head toward me. “Forgive me, Donna Antonia, from interrupting your preparations, but word has come from Signore Decentius.” I turned to him and raised an inquisitive brow. “He has gone Messana on business and will be coming here when it is done.”
I nodded somewhat absently. Messana was easily a weeks journey, even if Antonius could be persuaded to drive day and night, and this business would take time. Decentius would not be arriving on our doorstep soon.
Aemilius Vita was a man of subtly, and so I chose my clothing likewise. Red is known as the working woman’s colour, but there was more than one shade in my guardaroba. I choose a stola of deep red, nearly the coveted maroon worn by only a few Romans, edged with saffron scrollwork. Nothing so gauche as the short red tunics I had worn when I began this work. I twisted my hair behind me, tying it with matching saffron ribbons to bare my pale neck. I added three bracelets to my wrists; two on the right, one on the left. A little colour on my lips and eyes, and I was finished.
Pale and polished, I was ready when Vita arrived.
“Signora,” he smiled. He raised my hand to his lips, kissed it so softly the bracelets did not even tinkle, and then placed it on my back. “Shall we go?”
I returned his smile. “But of course. Though perhaps you would be willing to tell me where? Just in case my staff need to find me.”
His chuckle was small and self-contained. “Ah, but then it would not be a surprise.”
I placed my hand on his proffered arm, and we walked out. In front of the brothel stood his carruca, painted blue with a silver laurel gracing its sides. The two horses pulling it had been picked for their grey hides, and nearly silver hair. His slave wore a blue tunic with silver embroidery. The only ones who did not match were Vita and I. We reached the side entrance, and Vita and I continued downward. We did not stop until we were almost to the flat of the orchestra. Vita
I looked more closely at Vita and realized that instead of choosing to match his own colours, he had chosen to match mine. His tunic was maroon, though redder than usual. He had chosen silver embroidery to match his own colours, however, instead of the usual gold. But then he had plenty of gold decorating his throat and arms.
“Signora.” Vita held out his hand toward the carruca. I smiled and stepped up, sliding across to the far side. Vita lifted himself in after me and nodded to the slave driving. The whip cracked and we were underway.
We chatted as the carruca wound its way through the city. There was little to see this time of day; a slave with a torch out to pick up the master’s latest whim, men weaving drunkenly on their way home, and goats wandering free their ropes hanging loosely around their necks. It was not until we neared the temple of Dionysus that I knew where we were headed.
“A play, Singore? They haven’t done one at night in ages,” I said.
Vita nodded. “It is unusual. But there is a full moon of significance tonight. Fabricius did not say what the significance was, he simply informed me that there was an event I could attend.”
“Ahh,” I nodded in reply. “It seems he is full of useful information, your Fabricius.”
Just outside the temple was a small stabling area. We stopped, and Vita assisted me from the carruca. “Wait here,” he said to his slave, and guided me downslope towards the theatron. There were several well worn paths. As we walked along the side of the amphitheatre, I saw that someone had been generous to the priests; where there were once seats of dirt, several rows now had seats of stone.
The side entrance had a carved relief of Dionysus sporting with satyrs and nymphs. I would have lingered to admire it, but other playgoers were coming down the slope behind us. “This way,” Vita said, gently pulling my arm. We continued downslope; Vita did not stop until we reached the row of stone seats behind those reserved for the priests. “This will do nicely,” he smiled.
I scanned the audience as sat down; Vita’s smile was the only one I saw.