Zenobius, Part One, by Chris Bone

Zenobius scratched his large, hooked nose. He reflected at the comparison with the beak of Musa the green parrot that perched on his shoulder, affectionately nibbling his ear.

His enemies called him “Hamo,” meaning “The Hook”, and they feared him. He was a long way from his natural habitat, the dark blue seas of the Mare Internum. Pompey the Great had supposedly done away with all the pirates many years before, yet many Greek Islands and Cilician coves still hid the sleek vessels of the Brotherhood. Rome still needed its slaves and contraband, and someone, somewhere always wanted to make a profit. In fact, the reason he was here—his reputation as a successful sea captain and pirate being much appreciated and often in demand—was a lucrative business deal with an ambitious dominus.

His barge had reached the Emporium on the banks of the Tiber, and the wharf in front of the great warehouse, the Aemilius portico. He looked down upon the wharf. Here, he was led to believe, the two great gladiators Marcus Attillus and Lucius Raecius Felix had recently met their deaths only weeks before. A pity, he reflected; he had always enjoyed seeing them fight. He wished them well in the fields of Asphodel.

His Hamadryas, Dens, strained at his leash, slavering at all the tantalising smells coming from the busy wharfside. Zenobius had acquired Dens in a dice game in Berenice when the baboon was an infant, and now they were inseparable. Dens yawned, lips pulled back exposing dagger-like fangs. His right claw itched his ruddy posterior, and his beady black eyes darted this way and that.

Zenobius chuckled as he remembered the time they had taken a vessel just off Syracuse. One of the prisoners called out that he was a Roman and that they would regret their actions. The crew had pretended to be scared and begged the Roman for mercy. Zenobius had handed him a Greek toga and ordered the Roman to wear it so they would not confuse him with the other captives. Then they had lowered a ladder into the sea and Zenobius politely wished him a fortuitous journey. The Roman faltered, but a word from Zenobius brought the screeching Dens swinging from the mast, one hand gripping a rope, as he slammed heavily into the chest of the captive. The Roman overbalanced, screamed like a virgin and fell overboard into the dark depths. Dens was rewarded with some juicy dates.

Now Zenobius surveyed the Emporium cautiously. Although he wore a hooded cloak there were those that may recognise him and seek vengeance. He saw his contact: a dirty bundle of rags sat at the foot of a statue of Neptune. It cradled a basket in its arms, crooning and giggling maniacally.

“Rufinus,” Zenobius called out to the bundle. “I have brought more friends for your menagerie”

The bundle of rags looked up, revealing the beaming face of Rufinus. He cackled with pleasure.

”Oh kind, kind Captain,” he said. “I am in need of more friends. Step ashore and show Rufinus what you bring from Leptis Magna...”

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