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Chapter 8: Claudia Antonia Makes a Move



Part 1

I was sitting in the garden admiring the sliver of moonlight when Decentius stormed up. His body was as taught as the wind before a thunderstorm, and his face was set in annoyance.

“What have you done with my servanti?” he said through clenched teeth. His arms hung at his sides, rigid with suppression.

I blinked, mouth open, then smiled. “I did precisely what you suggested. I told him to fetch my things. Is something the matter?” I sat looking up into his frozen face, my eyes wide and innocent.

“He’s gone!” Decentius spat, “Gone! He left this morning with not a word to me. Nothing but this!” He shoved his right forearm into my face. I smelt blood. Peering at Decentius’ forearm in the dim moonlight, it took several seconds before my nose and eyes could cooperate. I found the cut at his wrist as much by smell as by sight.

I looked up in confusion. “What is that? And why would you think it had anything to do with me?”

Decentius stared at me, considering. “Have you no servanti of your own?” I shook my head. He grunted and sat down beside me on the small stone wall. I turned my head and looked at him. He sat erect but thoughtful, hands resting on his thighs, his eyes gazing into nothingness a few feet past his knees. The darkness of his tunic and hair, with only the piercing blue of his eyes to lighten it, suited him; Decentius had taken well to the shadows.

“A servanti,” Decentius continued after several moments, “stands between us and the mortals.” I must have let out an unintentional start of confusion for he turned his calm face toward me. “They take our blood, as we took Signore Umbrae’s, but retain their own mortal blood. They possess some of our powers but not all, nor do they possess our aversion to light.”

“Is he immortal?” I asked.

Decentius nodded slowly. “As long as he continues to receive my Immortal blood.” He turned his wrist upward again, showing the cut Antonius had made.

“So he took some for his journey?” I inquired. I placed one finger on Decentius’ wrist and drew it softly along the cut. A soft smirk played across Decentius’ lip, and when he blue eyes met mine they held amusement.

“Yes,” he nodded tersely. He twisted his wrist taking my hand in his. “If you did not put him up to it, I am wondering who did.” His thumb ran idly along the edge of my hand as he gazed thoughtfully into the distance.

My eyes flicked from his distant expression to his idly moving thumb. I wet my lips, thinking of a way to engage him. “Are there any other servanti he might have learned it from?” I asked.

Again, his head swiveled toward me, eyes wide, and grin triumphant. “Yes, in fact, there is one other.” He rose, tense and poised, then held out a hand to me. “Maggiordomo Theophilus is servanti to Signore Umbrae. I should have thought of it at once. Thank you,” he gave a small bow of his head to me, “for prompting my memory. Shall we go speak with him?”

Decentius had entwined his arm with mine. Did he assume I would resist his request, or was he telling me that it was not a request? I smiled and nodded back to him. “It would be most intriguing,” I replied honestly. I placed my hand on his and allowed him to lead me back into the villa.

I did not even have time to wonder how we were to find Maggiordomo Theophilus, when Decentius acted. He looked at the first slave we encountered, and though I do not think he knew we were there before that moment, the slave turned to Decentius at once. “Yes, Dio Decentius,” the young man said.

“Where is the maggiordomo?” Decentius replied in his precise voice.

The slave shivered. I watched as his eyes flickered back and forth in thought. Decentius did not move; his eyes were fixed on the slave. “I last saw him heading for the barn, Dio. That was quite some time ago, though, before the light had fully gone.” The slave bent his head in apology.

“Good enough,” Decentius replied, and we left the slave behind to head for the barn. Decentius kept ahold of my arm, guiding me gently without pushing or pulling; like a skillful dancer might direct his partner. The stones of the floor pattered beneath our feet as we wove our way through the villa toward the egress to the barn and fields. The lack of light, for only slaves carried lamps at night, bothered us not at all.

Emerging from the stone doorway out into the night air, I noted that the moon was nearly at its height. Few of the slaves would be awake now; they did most of their duties during the day, only some few were awake at night doing I knew not what. But, as there was lamplight coming from the barn entrance, at least one was awake and inside.

A single lamp casts shadows darker than the high moon. Decentius released me as we passed through the barn door and gestured toward the deep shadows inside, a finger on his lips. I smiled and nodded.

After the darkness and gentle moonlight, the lamplight was nearly painful as I peered toward it watching Decentius approach where Maggiordomo Thephilus was talking to another slave. Decentius remained in shadow well past the edge of the lamplight. He was using his abilities to approach the maggiordomo unseen.

“I want those carts of grain sent out to Messena tomorrow. Tertius Maurus will meet you at the harbor,” Maggiordomo Theophilus was instructing the slave in front of him, an older man with a bowed grey head that nodded at each pause.

As the slave looked up to reply, or simply head out to his bed, Decentius released his shadows and appeared behind the maggiordomo. “And precisely why, Theophilus, are you giving members of my household instructions without my knowledge?” Decentius voice was as cool and soft as the night air, but far harder to ignore.

The slave’s face turned white and he took a step back, hoping to be ignored. Maggiordomo Theophilus, however, turned precisely to face Decentius and did not appear awed. “’Your’ household?” Theophilus did not bother keeping the condescension from his voice, “This household belongs to Signore Umbrae. You are here at his mercy, as am I.” Theophilus was older than Decentius, his hair was speckled with grey where Decentius’ was sheer black, but there was no mistaking him for a weak old man.

“Perhaps,” Decentius replied, and I had to strain my ears to hear him, “but he is asleep and I am in charge. And before you bother reminding me that he will awaken one day to take stock, that day is not now. Now, you will report to me as Head of Household, or it will not be Signore Umbrae’s mercy you need beg.” Decentius had not moved, and the lamplight had not faltered, yet there seemed a darkness radiating from him.

Theophilus bowed his fractionally, but neither his body nor expression, were docile.

“You,” Decentius called to the slave attempting to hide where the lamplight began to dim, “do as he says, but report to me when you return.” The slave nodded then scampered toward the barn door, knowing a dismal when he heard one.

“Now,” Decentius returned his gaze to the maggiordomo, “you will tell me what it is you have taught my servanti.”

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