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Quintus Furius Varus is one of the best lanistas in Rome. Tall and strong in build, fearsome in manner, and sharp of wit, he trains the best gladiators bound for the arenas of Rome. When Senator Servius Augendus seeks personal guards, he attends the Ludus Varus for purchase of the very best. He puts to Quintus an offer he cannot refuse, and Quintus finds himself in Neapolis, contracted as a trainer of guards instead of gladiators.
Kaeso Agorix was taken from his homelands of Iberia and delivered to Rome as a slave. Bought by a senator to be trained as a guard, his fate is handed to the man who would train him. Absent free will, Kaeso knows his life is no longer his own, though he soon realises the gods have favoured him when he learns his new master has a kind heart.
Quintus and Kaeso forge a bond that far exceeds the collar at Kaeso’s neck, and together they discover the senator’s move for promotion has an ulterior motive. Thrown into a world of politics and conspiracy, of keeping enemies close, they move against time to save Rome before traitors and the gods themselves see to their end.
And in doing so, see the dawn of the nova praetorian—the new guard—rise.
The senator smiled, then looked to his slaves that stood behind him, waiting for such a moment that he might need them. “Please leave us,” he instructed. The two women closest to him gave him their absence without looking up, and one male slave met his master’s eye, as if asking a silent question. Servius gave him a nod. The slave glanced, for the briefest moment to Quintus, then disappeared out the door.
The two men were alone. “Senator?” Quintus asked. It was rare that a senator would seek exclusivity from his slaves. Most men regarded their slaves with as much concern as they would a piece of furniture and had no qualm in speaking their mind in their company. The fact the senator asked for privacy made Quintus uneasy. “Is there a matter of concern?”
“Yes,” the senator replied. The older man observed Quintus for a quiet moment. He bore the blue eyes of his mother yet had short dark hair and skin browned from too many hours spent in the sun training his slaves, much like his father. He smiled kindly. “You are your father’s son.”
“You knew him?”
“Yes.” The senator waved his hand toward the courtyard beyond the door. “When he started this ludus, when you were just a boy.”
“I remember such days with fondness.”
The senator’s eyes narrowed. “Less troubling times. Which brings me here.”
“If you wish to purchase any of my men, you only need say. Tell me which you favour, and I will make it so.”
“The biggest of your lot.”
“Appius,” Quintus replied. “Very good selection. Strong and able in the arena. The crowds favour him.”
The senator smiled, belying the pointed edge in his eyes. “Yet he was no match for you.”
Quintus bowed his head slightly before holding the senator’s gaze once more. “No slave would dare beat their master. None even more so with Oscilius standing near, whip in hand.”
“You outmatched him in every way,” Servius stated.
When the senator didn’t continue, Quintus said, “Then perhaps another. I can most certainly recommend any man who trains here.”
Servius raised one eyebrow. “And if I do not want one who trains here?”
“Apologies, Senator, but I do not follow your meaning. If you do not seek any man trained here, then who do you seek?”
Quintus stared at him for a time longer than was considered appropriate with a senator. “You seek me?”
“I seek my own guard,” Servius explained. “I have reason to fear troubled times ahead, and I wish to take on personal security.”
“Do you not have stipatores?” Quintus pressed. “Slave-bodyguards?”
“Yes.” The senator studied Quintus for a long moment, as if trying to decide whether to place trust in him. “I am seeking someone from outside the house.”
Quintus was taken aback. “If you have no trust in your own house, then what do you have? No offence given, Senator, but you speak of a greater issue.”
“I speak of concern yet to come to pass. I trust my slaves. I treat them well and expect as much in return, and they have been with me for many a year. Yet, if I take on a personal guard, I need reassurance that he holds no favours amongst my slaves. That he be known to none of them, that he be a man I can trust.” The senator looked around the great hall. “I have known your father. He was a man of moral fibre and sound business sense. You are cut of the same cloth. You are of sharp mind and have the skill to back it.”
“I…” Quintus stopped and took a breath to keep anger from the words that would follow. He kept his eyes cast down, his voice much the same. “You ask me to do the work of a slave?”
“I will pay you handsomely.”
Quintus shot the senator a disbelieving look. “Senator, I cannot leave my ludus. I—”
“If you seek written authority from the emperor, I shall get it,” the senator said simply. Quintus froze and Servius smiled, much the way a hunter would smile when he came upon a trapped rabbit. “Would you dare defy an order from Rome?”
“No, never.” Quintus bristled and struggled to tamp it down. “You are removing my choice.”
“But I am not,” Servius said coolly. “You either agree and are rewarded with good coin. Your ludus will profit and you stay in good standing with Rome. Enough for a year’s taxes.” He tilted his head, just so. “Or you refuse, and I serve you with an order in which you will do as I bid, for no coin. You would be taken against your will, your men would no doubt retaliate and would, therefore, all be executed for rising against the word of Rome. So, my dear Quintus, as you can see, you do have a choice.”
Anger flared in Quintus’ blood; his muscles trembled with the need to expel energy. Like crushing the senator’s skull with his bare hands. “That is no choice.”
The corner of Servius’ mouth curled upward. “I agree. Not one a man of sound mind needs to consider. I am so glad you see reason.”
Quintus’ jaw ticked. His hands were fists in his lap. The senator was forcing his hand, and Quintus could think of no rebuttal. There was no way for this to end in his favour, not without losing more than his own blood.
“State your terms,” Quintus said through clenched teeth.
“As I said, a year’s taxes. And tell no one the purpose of your service. I would rather have the element of surprise on my side if someone thinks of attack.”
“For what length of time?”
“Until I determine no threat remains.”
“That is not determinable.”
“If you wish to come back to your ludus, then you best be good at your job.”
Quintus’ nostrils flared, and he didn’t care if the senator disapproved. “If I do this, I remain my own man. I am not owned by you. I shall not pledge the oath of a slave to you. I will give you two full moons, then I shall return to my ludus, as free as the day I leave it.”
“And if the threat still remains?”
“Then you best be good at making friends over enemies,” Quintus dared reply.
The senator’s sneer almost became a smile. “I will give you one day to put your house in order. Then you shall be expected, as a guest, in my house. You will be granted your own sleeping quarters and slaves. No need to bring your own.” He sniffed. “I shall leave half payment now, the remainder to be paid upon receipt of threat against me extinguished.” Servius took a purse from the folds of his toga and threw it on the table, its contents spilling.
Quintus eyed the gold coins that slid from the pouch and exhaled with defeat. It would be enough money to acquire meat and grain for his house for a year. He didn’t want to accept this path the gods had chosen for him, but what choice did he have? The senator was right on one thing: this was no choice at all. “Know this, Senator. I do not do this for you. I do this for Rome.”
The senator eyed him earnestly, his voice amused and musical. “Are we not one and the same?”
Quintus made no attempt at reply, though his no rang loud in the silence.
The senator rose to his feet with a flourish, smiling now the deal was done. “Do not be late, Quintus. I do not tolerate being made to wait.”
Quintus did not see him out. He refused to even stand. Not long thereafter, Oscilius found Quintus still seated in the villa’s great hall, surrounded by silence and fading sunlight. “Dominus,” Oscilius said quietly. “The senator left without purchase?”
“If only that were true,” Quintus answered.
A look of confusion crossed Oscilius’ face. He looked from the coins still spilled across the table, then back to Quintus. “If not gladiators bound for arenas, then what?”
Quintus took a deep breath and lifted his chin. “The one thing I never thought bore price.” He looked to the man, the slave that raised him. “He bought me.”
She is many things: a mother, a wife, a sister, a writer. She has pretty, pretty boys who live in her head, who don’t let her sleep at night unless she gives them life with words.
She likes it when they do dirty, dirty things… but likes it even more when they fall in love.
She used to think having people in her head talking to her was weird, until one day she happened across other writers who told her it was normal.