Lictor Appius sat on the bench outside the senate chamber, his face pale. For the hundredth time in the last hour he looked around the other four lictors with him. Vel Rullus was the oldest there, an ex-centurion with close cut white hair and a close cut beard. Lucretia Mutia was another, her dark hair lay down her back in a long pony tail, dark brown eyes set against her tanned skin. The three of them wore leather armour over red tunics which came down to their knees and sandals.
The other two were unknown to Appius, wearing togas. He should be wearing a toga. This was Thomur, the capital of the empire. The home of their people. He was a lictor, the law was that he should be wearing a toga. But the Propraetor wanted to make a point and this was one hell of a way to do it.
The two other lictors were nervous though. They, like Appius, Lucretia and Vel wore blades at their belts, but they wore no armour and the look on the propraetor's face when he had come through. The huge wooden doors set into the marble wall crashed open with a clang and propraetor Tullus came through walking fast. His grizzled face was like thunder, his two other lictors followed him. Appius fell in behind him as quickly as he could, the senate guards getting out the way quickly as the six of them walked down the steps.
Vel quickly fell in beside Tullus as they walked across the ornimental gardens, poorly lit by torch light. It had been dawn when the senate had met.
"Did they listen?"
Vel hissed. Tullus shook his head.
"No, old friend, no legions, no senate decree... Nothing..."
His face twisted in anger as Appius felt his heart sink in his chest. That was that then, alone. The rebellion that had ripped through Nord Cellenia was being ignored. He knew that it wasn't negligence, there were several wars to the south. The Pax Thomur was breaking down and almost every legion was engaged. Many of their own men had gone on campaign. And now this upstart tribal chief had begun to rally the old alliances of the Cellen tribes and war to the north was now inevitable.
The group passed through the gate and, in step, turned left onto the road. The road was mostly empty at night, the sprawling buildings carried on for miles and miles on each side. Their course did not take them far, for Propraetor Tullus had a house in the upper city for those times when his presence was in itself required away from the province that he governed.
They passed through alleys and back streets, not caring for the poor lighting. If a street gang had bothered to jump them it would have ended badly for the criminals. The lictors were highly trained body guards as well as advisors to the magistrate that they served.
Before long they arrived at Tullus' house, cut stone walls surrounded the little mansion inside. Sextus stayed by the gate as the others went inside into the building. It was not as large as the provincial palace back home, but it was large enough. Appius detached himself from the group and headed to his chamber. The house was centred around a large pool of water, as Appius walked past it the cool waters broke in waves around the long dark hair that emerged, flowing down the pale face with its enchanting green eyes.
He turned away, walking faster towards the door to his chamber, covered over with a red curtain, but the call from behind him made him stop.
The voice was teasing, working its way down into his soul and hitting on his pride. He stopped in his tracks and slowly turned forcing a smile and trying not to look down too far. The young woman leaning her arms against the side of the pool regarded him curiously as she flicked her hair over her shoulder.
“Appius, it is unbecoming for one such as you to be in such a rush.”
He nodded to her but she shook her head in disappointment.
“Appius, Appius, Appius.”
She raised a hand and shook her finger at him.
“Surely I deserve more than that? I am the daughter of a propraetor after all…”
She pulled herself out of the pool, water running off her perky, bouncy breasts and down to her naval. Appius raised his eyes and looked straight ahead as she climbed from the pool, completely unashamed by her nudity. He rested his hand on the pommel of his blade, gripping gently. He would never have dreamed of drawing it on Annia, it was more of a security blanket. But Annia knew that she was making him nervous, and like a shark smelling blood she was not going to relent. She crossed to the door and clicked her fingers, a young woman came in, looking at the ground. Her hair was cut short and red, her skin pale and delicate over a short white dress that barely passed her thighs. Cellen women were very beautiful, Appius reflected, and often as unashamed of their nakedness as Annia was, but there was a difference between Cellen tribeswomen washing in a river and the daughter of the propraetor that he had sworn to protect. Or at least that's how the facts presented themselves to Appius.
“Girl, go and fetch a jug of wine.”
With a courtsy the slave left, leaving the scent of perfumed oil in the air. Annia took a deep breath and smile, turning around and to Appius ever lasting gratitude taking a long red cloth from the couch that lay against the wall. She wrapped it around herself as she sat down.
She indicated the couch. Thomur was not a feudal society, and her father’s role of propraetor and provincial governor gave her, herself, no direct power. But Annia was not the kind of person that you wanted to count among your enemies, Appius reflected. So he sat down on the other end of the long, finely crafted couch.
Annia took a deep breath and smiled to Appius, her pose was almost cat like, her weight on the pillows and her legs curled around beneath her.
“So how went the day, brave young lictor. Did father get the legions he desired.”
Appius shook his head with a sigh, looking at the couch between them, then at the pool. Anything to avoid looking into those hungry, predatory eyes.
Annia seemed generally uncertain by his response. She was not used to stressful situations, or to put it more accurately she was usually the one creating the stressful situations for others.
“So… What will father do about that barbarian?”
Appius’ response was almost instantaneous, out of his mouth before the wheels in his brain had stopped turning.
“It is not my place to guess your father’s plans, Annia.”
He said, chidingly. He risked glancing into her face and the look he got back from her was more chiding still.
“Please Appius, I am not a child and I am not an idiot. What will my father do?”
Appius let out a gentle sigh.
“He will probably try to get support from the chiefs in Nord Cellen, gather an auxiliary legion from the province itself.”
“But he cannot do that, for the senate must give permission for any legions to be raised, and all legions raised by Propraetor Tullus should be sent to the south.”
The pair looked around into the disapproving face of Vel, standing in the doorway. Appius could not garner a guess at how long the old man had been there, for he could move like a sabre cat when he wanted to. The three stayed in total silence for a few seconds and then Annia got to her feet. Vel was one of the few forces in the whole of the world that could make her back down from her scheming. Appius was glad of the old warriors presence.
“I shall retire.”
She said gruffly. Vel politely stepped aside and holding up the curtain for her as she stormed through the doorway. Appius opened his mouth to speak but Vel held up a hand, then held it theatrically to his ear. Appius waited and listened, though it did not take long. A few moments later they heard the smash of a jug and a little scream of surprise, followed by the annoyed voice of Annia.
“Stupid girl! Clean that up, now!”
Vel grinned, letting the curtain fall down once more. He walked over to the couch and sat down beside Appius, making the wooden base creak under his weight.
“She can be a bother.”
He said, almost warmly in Appius’ experience of his older comrade.
“She is an inquisitive one.”
“Overly inquisitive if you ask me.”
“Vel, can I ask you something?”
Vel looked over at him, raising an eyebrow.
“What is it Appius?”
“Well… You fought in the Cellic wars, you know the enemy… Can we win?”
Vel fixed Appius with a long look, he felt like it crept its way under his skin and examined his very soul. But Appius was undeterred, dark eyes fixed on his mentors and jaw looked in sullen defiance. Suddenly Vel chuckled, slapping Appius on the back.
“Appius, we are Thomur! We always win!”
He stood up and left, heading towards the house shrine, still chuckling.