Blood and Wine, by Chris Bone and Paul L. Mathews
Prudentius installed himself in a dark, seedy wine shop and settled down with a cup of harsh red. He squinted as he drank the course liquid. It was not, by any means, the delicate Greek wine to which he was acquainted. Still, the thought, anything to slake the thirst.
His gaze remained fixed upon the building across the street. ‘The Fields of Elysium’ was not only the most notorious brothel in the Regio XIII, but it also came under the protection of that gang of Aventine buffoons led by Celsus.
Sipping the wine, Prudentius monitored The Fields of Elysium. Sure enough, Celsus and two of his men hoved into view within minutes … just as Prudentius’ intelligence had suggested. They approached the brothel, no doubt eager for a little entertainment after a busy night’s work. Prudentius’ eyes captured every detail. One leg streaked with fresh blood, Celsus sported a slight limp. Perhaps, Prudentius thought, the Aventine’s work had not gone as smoothly as normal. The clumsy Thracian, Meglos, followed Celsus, struggling to conceal a small shield under his cloak. Khala, the gigantic Nubian, remained positively brazen as he carried his heavy pilum openly and without shame. He laughed at Meglos as the Thracian dropped his shield.
Celsus and his two companions stood on the threshold of the brothel, laughing and drinking from depleted wineskins. Prudentius smiled, lips a fraction of a gradus from his wine. Ah, Celsus, he thought, how careless you are. How oblivious of your surroundings...
…How easy to follow.
“Looks like you’re in business, my friends,” Prudentius murmured into the shadows around him. “Might I suggest allowing them a few moments to get … acquainted with the fauna before you go in?”
The shadows shifted and moved, coalescing into the men of the Palantine. Armed and ready for their bloody business, they moved to the front of the shop and peered at Celsus and his two companions as they entered The Fields of Elysium.
“So you were right,” said the Palantine leader, Brictius. “Celsus, Khala and Meglos are here, and ripe for the picking.” He turned to face Prudentius. “But what of the rest of Celsus’ whelps? Where are they?”
Prudentius smiled by way of reply, holding his cup to his lips with one hand, and extending an open palm with the other.
“Pay him,” Brictius said to one of his men, Marius. The disfigured Roman, the wounds on his face still fresh and sore after an encounter with Seneca and his hound, grunted and placed a coin in Prudentius’ hand.
“You have nothing to fear,” said Prudentius as he slipped the coin into his robe. “The rest of his gang are busy elsewhere. Jacomus and Jacobus are whoring in the Subura. Eolus is enjoying a senator’s wife just as Little Achilles is being enjoyed by the senator.”
“So just three of the Aventine dogs to deal with, eh?” Something approaching a smile contorted Brictius’ lips.
“Indeed,” said Prudentius. “Easy pickings for men of your calibre.”
“Good work, spy,” said Brictius. As if detecting Prudentius’ sarcasm, he then responded in kind with, “You continue to impress.”
“Let’s be about our business,” he then said to his gang. “The sooner Operation Coitus Interruptus is complete, the sooner The Fields of Elysium will be under new management.”