Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Insert Mutilated Bedsheet Dresses Here (part 3 of 5)

Note: For refererence...

Michael – Manius Silius Eclectus
Claire – Aelia Minor
Alice – Aelia Major
Harriet – Herminia Prima
Ben – Bantius
Tash – Thalia
Louise – Lavinia
Cristoph – Curius
Rhia – Rhea
Phoenixia – Ignia

Enjoy the story.

It was just before twilight when the Society entered the house of Atia, most of them excited by the prospect of setting their trap into motion, but some still nervous. The streets of Rome were still busy with people, but they cleared the way at the sight of a patrician and his family marching down the streets, surrounded by slaves. Those that didn't move fast enough were pushed out of the way by Phoenixia or Cristoph. As they walked, Alice and Louise hissed instructions on etiquette and behaviour to everyone present, to better aid their blending in. They had dusted off as best they could at a public fountain, ensuring the four Patricians matched the standards of the night and that the six slaves could be told apart from any others by the same blue of their tunics and the small plaques round their necks that gave their name and the name of their master.

The plan was simple. As protocol demanded, the personal slaves would accompany their masters to the party, and fetch food for them as requested. Grumbles had generally ceased by now, the importance of being incognito to catch their enemies coming to the fore. Normally not so many other slaves would be invited, but Michael had declared that it was better if the group stuck together. So the plan for the other slaves would be to guard all the entrances and exits to the building.

The house was already filling with people by the time the group arrived. Phoenixia, Cristoph and Rhia immediately hurried out to their allocated guard posts, while Ben, Tash and Louise lingered a little way behind their masters. Louise's eyes were frantically scanning every face in the room, terrified that at any second she would feel Merle's murderous gaze lock onto her face.

"Manius, good evening," Atia swept up to Michael, her curls bouncing with each step, and her face painted slightly more than it had been earlier. As Michael greeted her graciously, Claire and Alice began pulling faces at their host.

"You and your family are most welcome here tonight," Atia was saying, as she steered all four of them into the atrium. The marble walls and floors gleamed, obviously having been scrubbed furiously clean by a team of slaves earlier in the day. The impluvium, a pool sunken into the centre of the room under a hole in the roof, was filled with sparkling water. Beyond the far pillars of the atrium lay a cooling garden surrounded by a colonnaded room known as the peristyle. Everything was spanking clean, set up to host the large party.

As soon as they entered, Harriet and Alice exchanged significant looks. They could both feel the curious gazes that were being directed to their family, and particularly the more than interested looks of some of the men. Claire was getting them too, but to a lesser extent – it was clear from the way she stood in conjunction to Michael, and the way she was dressed, that she was married to him. Harriet and Alice therefore were far better looking prospects.

"Aelia my dear," Atia was speaking to Claire, though Alice started as well – as sisters, she and Claire shared the same given name. "You must tell me where you got your dress..."

As Claire (strenuously) began to make nice with their host, Michael's attention was being diverted by Atia's son, and Caesar's heir, Octavian, who seemed to be studying each of them with calculating attention. He briefly introduced his sister, Octavia, who appeared sullen and wraith-like at this stage of the plot's development. Alice and Harriet immediately took pity on her, and accompanied her around the room. Initially Octavia displayed little enthusiasm, until it became clear that Harriet and Alice were more interested in making fun of the other guests than being polite about them, and giggly conversation followed soon after.

"Lavinia!" Alice waved a hand, and a jittery looking Louise appeared instantly. "Wine for all of us."

A moment of relief crossed Louise's face – getting wine would mean she would have to vanish to the kitchens, and temporarily be out of sight – before she nodded obediently and hurried off. As she passed Michael, she was amused to hear that for once, someone was keeping up with Octavian's theories of philosophy. The young master of the house seemed surprised to find someone who was following his conversation so well, and was taking full advantage of this.

As Claire slipped back to Michael's side (proud of herself for successfully excusing herself from Atia's presence) Octavian's eyes caught sight of a couple that had just walked through the door, and he waved them quickly over, with a cry of "Vorenus!"

The man he was waving to wore a pure white toga, and looked mildly uncomfortable, as though he did not belong in such finery. The woman on his arm was beautiful, but looked just as uncomfortable and out of place.

As Octavian made introductions, Harriet noticed that Alice began bouncing hyperly on the spot in excitement that was almost fangirlish. "Bee in your knickers, Aelia Major?" she dropped her voice so that only her agent could hear.

Alice poked her in the side and whispered back. "Actually, Herminia, Vorenus is one of the two main characters of the show. I'm just excited to see him." Her gaze turned sad as she looked at his wife. "Niobe isn't so lucky... she's going to die at the end of this season."

Harriet watched the beautiful woman, smiling on the arm of her husband, and wondered what the plotline had in store for her... it really wasn't fair sometimes.

As the magistrate moved to greet other guests, Michael casually turned back to Octavian and enquired. "So who else can we expect to meet tonight?"

Octavian glanced around the room. "People whom mother feels will impress Caesar when he arrives here…the house of the Junii often come, although why nowadays is an interesting question…a number of senators, a few others who are in my mother's favour. Antony will show up, no doubt. Whether mother speaks to him is another matter. And of course," he fixed Michael with a look that missed nothing. "Thanks to your appearance this afternoon, Merle and her family will also be attending."

Michael felt embarrassment rise around his neck and ears. "Oh...you heard, did you?"

"I hear more than mother often realises," the boy admitted, his eyes far too serious for one his age. "I warn you now, follow through with the terms of your agreement, but try to keep it quiet. I wish no harm to come to my family's reputation."

His respect for Octavian rising, Michael smiled. "Of course, young master. We would never dream of damaging your reputation, or your mother's."

As if on cue, the crowded party fell quiet, as a new figure appeared in the doorway. Mark Antony gave no indication that he was anything less than comfortable in his surroundings, despite who owned the house he currently stood in. The Tribune of Plebs was wearing a fine toga of deep blue, and his usual arrogant smirk. Atia marched forward to greet her newest guest, an added amount of steel in her stride, and a smile that seemed very forced.

Harriet arched an approving eyebrow, as the conversation resumed around them. "Wouldn't mind a ride on him."

"Uh huh..." Alice's expression had lodged into a cross between giggling virgin and drooling fangirl.

"Alice!" Louise appeared from nowhere, carrying glasses of wine – one heavily diluted, one not so much – for both girls. "Putting aside the fact that we are on a very dangerous mission, Mark Antony is a first class cock!"

Her housemate did not appear perturbed. "Oh yeah...he does have a first class cock..."

Harriet took her wine and sipped it thoughtfully. "Atia doesn't look happy to see him. Guess she really is jealous."

The group had no time to contemplate this, as three more newcomers entered the party, and the silence fell once again, this time heavier than before, with an added shocked undertone. Harriet hissed a curse under her breath and pulled Louise and Alice out of sight, as their target and her sons appeared in the entrance. Merle wore a stola of deep plum, with gold and amethyst jewellery and a richly embroidered indigo palla pinned over the top, which triggered a burst of surprised gossip; but with barely a flutter of her magnificent lashes, everyone accepted the fact that she was wearing the colour of the Gods, and moved on. Richard and Robert, both in terracotta-red, flanked her sides. Richard's face was set into a sneer at the guests, while Robert shifted nervously, looking washed out next to his twin brother.

Louise felt her bravery and determination flee for the Roman hills. What had they been thinking? Merle was clearly getting more powerful if she could easily get away with such flagrant wearing of the colour of the Gods in public. Then she noticed that Atia's expression was positively venomous – worse than her disapproval of Cleopatra, and more deadly than her loathing of Servillia. No wonder she was so keen to help them.

Atia was not the only one. Beside Michael and Claire, Louise could see Octavian, his own expression dark and troubled. He did not like her either – or maybe he just did not like the behaviour that Merle brought out in his mother. To Louise's surprise, Lucius Vorenus was also not overly pleased with the arrival of the family. He was looking particularly hard at Robert, as though seeing him for the first time, and a small measure of Louise's confidence crept back. Clearly the Prohibitor was doing a good job.

"Something wrong, Vorenus?" Michael asked quietly, seeing the expression on the magistrate's face. Blinking, Vorenus shook his head.

"Not at all," he said. "I am familiar with the two sons is all..." He gave them a surprised look. "Your family seem to be taking interest in them."

Sure enough, Harriet was frowning at the group, and Michael could hardly disguise his reaction to seeing them.

"Oh nothing special," Claire tried to brush off. "Just curiosity."

"Hmm..." Vorenus did not sound convinced.

"To be honest, Vorenus," Michael admitted. "We are not particularly fond of the family, but for the moment it is more... prudent, to appear that we are." Vorenus nodded, aware of the pandering to popularity he had discovered the patricians were so fond of. He considered it dishonest.

He quickly shut his mouth as the powerful looking figure of Mark Antony appeared beside the group. He gave Vorenus a manly slap on the shoulder in greeting.

"Good to see you Vorenus... and this must be your lovely wife!"

While Vorenus respectfully greeted his superior, Michael scanned the room for the rest of the Society. Claire was beside him, and Harriet was quietly leading Alice back toward them, clearly thinking that there was safety in numbers. A quick glance to Merle and her family confirmed that they were distracted with Atia, and did not notice the presence of their enemies. Louise appeared to have vanished back to the kitchen for safety.

Under the pretence of taking another glass of wine, Claire leaned over to Tash and Ben.

"So... the one on the left is Richard?"

"Yeah, he looks like a Dick to me," Ben nodded, gleefully taking advantage of having no Shirley by his side. Claire giggled into her glass, near thrown by the multitude of dick-and-cock jokes. Tash however was muttering angrily.

"No one warned us they were coming! What are those guys doing out there?" She slipped into the shadows and pulled her communicator out, knowing that Phoenixia was patrolling out the back by the kitchen, and Merle and her sons had come in through the front. Which meant that Rhia and Cristoph had some explaining to do...

"Mph! Tash?"

The leader blinked in surprise at the strange greeting, and the way that Rhia was panting for breath.

"Merle is here," she stated with little fanfare.

There was a long silence.

"...she is?" Rhia sounded shocked. Tash banged her head against the wall.

"Did you guys even notice them entering the building?" she demanded.

"Umm..." strangely Tash could almost feel the heat radiating from her friend's cheeks through the phone. "Well... we umm... got a bit... distracted..."

Rolling her eyes, Tash huffed. "Honestly guys. Stay professional."

There was a clatter as Cristoph took the communicator from Rhia.

"If I may point out, Lady Tash," he managed to sound unflustered despite what he and Rhia had just been caught doing. "You and Lord Adrian once missed an entire morning of monitor duty because you were otherwise occup-"


Grumpily, Tash hung up.

"What happened?" Claire whispered.

"They didn't see them..." Tash muttered dismissively, poking them all to listen to Antony and Vorenus, who were now discussing Caesar's whereabouts.

"...on his way. So busy with reorganising the senate these days, I wonder how he finds time to sleep," Antony was casually waving his hand. "But he'll be here soon. He knows he'd be feeling Atia's wrath if he dared miss her party."

He turned now to the Society agents, his gaze linger longer than would be polite on all of the women. "Now Vorenus, aren't you going to introduce me?"

Struggling to remember all their names, Vorenus slowly introduced Antony to everyone in the group. Michael pulled Claire a little closer to him, something which she did not protest – the man was incredibly leery in her eyes, not to mention arrogant and assured of his own testosterone. Harriet gave him a flirty smile, but Antony seemed to guess that she would be hard to win over – there was just something in her expression that said that she did not impress easily...besides, she was a bit thin for Antony's liking.

Alice tried not to smile like a dopey idiot...but she failed miserably. It was Mark bloody Antony after all! The man was hotter than Rhia's salsa (not that Alice had ever tried Rhia's salsa – it was veg, and therefore threatened her existence). Antony didn't seem to mind her practically drooling though – on the contrary, his eyes raked over her from top to bottom and finally returned to her face with an approving stare. He definitely liked what he saw. Michael moved a little closer in a fashion that displayed possessiveness. They were in Rome, and in Rome the women of a man's family were essentially his property. He wanted Antony to be aware in no uncertain terms that they were not to be messed with.

"Just passing though?" the Tribune's voice was more polite than actually interested. Michael rattled off their cover story, which was now etched into his memory thanks to Alice's rather persuasive teaching methods. Claire's face was fixed into a frown, and when Antony turned to give her an approving glance, she sternly glared at him. He swiftly diverted his attention back to Harriet and Alice. Michael could tell he was being ignored, but carried on regardless, using this opportunity to sweep the room.

Merle was beginning to circle the room, smiling sweetly at people and laughing merrily. Richard hung not too far away from her, and Michael nervously glanced at Alice, who appeared to be too enamoured by Antony to care that she was in danger. Then he saw Harriet keeping a careful eye on the pair, and when Merle's gaze swept the room for her darling Tribune, she and Tash moved carefully to shield Alice from her sight.

"Well, enjoy yourselves tonight," Antony's voice was dismissive, and Michael found it rather rude. "I have yet to mingle properly, so you must excuse me."

And he hurried off, predictably in the direction of Merle, and Michael took this as a cue to move his family, and the two remaining slaves to a quieter area of the room.

"Okay, what's the plan?"

"We don't have a plan?" Alice's voice was disbelieving. "We spend ages doing our cover stories and we don't have a plan?"

"Yes, the plan was to get Merle and her sons to the party," Michael explained. "We didn't have one from there."

Alice rolled her eyes, and Tash shrugged. "Alice, this is the Society. We rarely have plans. Winging it is our way of life."

Alice groaned.

"I think what Cristoph said earlier was a good idea," Michael prompted.

"You mean, divide before conquer?" Claire asked. "I agree. But how do we split them up? And who do we target first?"

"Robert is Prohibited already," Ben muttered. "He's the most logical choice. Then we can go after Dicky-bird and save Merle for last."

Everyone blinked at his less than flattering nickname for Richard, and finally Alice broke into a giggle fit.

"Question now is: how do we get Robert alone to take him down?" Harriet asked, when the giggles had finally subsided. Everyone lapsed into quiet thought.

"Wish Lou was here," Claire muttered. "She knows this family and how best to target them."

"She's better staying out of sight for now," Michael cautioned. "As are you Alice," the girl pouted at this. "And anyone else that the brothers saw at the brothel today..."

A light seemed to flick on above Ben's head. "Unless we do this..."


Merle was greeting all the guests with politeness, but her smile failed to reach her eyes. She knew that Atia was jealous that she had in essence stolen Mark Antony from her, but the woman was a manipulative cow, in Merle's opinion, and deserved no better.

She was currently engaged in a brief conversation with Atia's daughter, Octavia.

"... your mother doesn't appear to like me at all..." Merle gestured lazily over her shoulder to where Atia was standing, deep in conversation with Servillia.

Octavia's gaze followed Merle's gesture, and she grimaced. It was clear to the majority of people, primarily the women, that Octavia was not happy with her mother at present.

"Have you had any luck in finding another husband, my dear?" Merle didn't look at Octavia as she asked the question, but scanned the room. Richard was nearby, likewise appraising the situation that he found himself in.

"My mother keeps suggesting suitors, but I don't like any of them."

Merle's head snapped around as Octavia answered. "Oh, I'm sure you will find someone..." her hand stroked down the side of the young girl's face, "... a pretty thing like you will have suitors clamouring at the door."

Niceties exchanged, Merle moved on. Richard fell into step at her side, with Robert lagging a little way behind. The front pair leaned against one of the pillars leading to the peristyle, the garden-like quadrangle adjoining the atrium.

Merle watched discretely from the edge of the room the people before her. She recognised the majority of them – Magistrate Vorenus and his ill-fortuned wife; Atia's son Octavian and his foolish sister; Caesar's whore Servillia...

Richard leaned towards her and whispered,

"Poor Vorenus and his wife... they do stand out, don't they?"

"I know... it's a shame that she dies soon, else I would have tried to make a slave out of her."

Robert was leaning against another pillar, trying hard not to listen to the conversation behind him. He wasn't paying as much attention to the crowd before him either. He too had seen the way the crowd were watching the Magistrate and his wife, but then, they were looking at him in a similar way too. Stupid thing... he pulled subconsciously at the Prohibitor on his wrist.

He wasn't sure where to place the blame. The Society were clearly a force to be reckoned with, and with Mirani as one of them... Robert's eyes drifted over the gathered people. Ever since he had been jumped in the brothel, he had felt odd. People were looking at him strangely, even the unfamiliar faces of the foreign patrician and his family turned towards him more often than was polite.

But Merle had talked him into coming. He had been happy back at the castle, but now he found himself Prohibited in this irritating backward fandom. His mind was wandering. He wanted to be back home, but Merle was, in essence, the boss – despite Robert's ever-increasing concerns – and he would have to do as she instructed.

Robert paused in his musings as he saw her.

A woman stood at the far end of the atrium, her dress near see-through and hugging her curvaceous form well, dipping to reveal magnificent cleavage. Her hair was tightly curled, and as she caught sight of Robert, she gave him a sultry wink. All of Robert's blood seemed to pool south of his waist. He had been interrupted rudely at the brothel earlier, and had not had a chance to go back since.

Without even noticing what he was doing, he started to slowly approach the mystery woman. Somewhere in his mind he realised that Merle would not approve of this, but he was suddenly struck with a surge of anger. Fuck her! She showed him no respect at the best of times, and since he'd been Prohibited, she'd done nothing but snarl at him. His brother was the same, and he was fed up of taking orders from them both when he was the one suffering.

Making sure that no one of importance was watching, he slunk across the atrium, meeting the gaze of the beauty, and smirking back at her. She fluttered her lashes and jerked her head toward the kitchen. Robert knew where they were heading – the storerooms by the kitchen would be the perfect location for their activities, and the noise made by the cooking slaves would drown out any noise they made.

Sure enough, beyond the chaotic kitchen, the curvaceous form was vanishing through the storeroom door. He moved quickly after her, glancing around to check no one was watching, before following her inside. The woman turned to smile at him as the door swung shut of its own accord behind him.

"Night night Robert."

The man's eyes opened wide in alarm, before rolling back in his skull as a frying pan descended on his head with a ringing crash. He slumped to the ground, out cold.

"Pity..." Phoenixia smiled, switching quickly back to her male disguise as Rhia smiled and swung her pan around. "He looked like he'd be lots of fun..."

Cristoph appeared with some borrowed rope, and set about tying his wrists. As Rhia moved some of the boxes and sacks to hide him behind, Phoenixia hastily stripped off the dress and switched back into her slave outfit.

"That was scarily easy," Rhia muttered. "I keep waiting for something to go horribly wrong."

"Two left, Rhiannon," Cristoph reminded her. "Plenty of room for error."

He pulled out his communicator and punched in a number. "Lady Tash? The brother is secure."

"Excellent!" Tash's voice was gleeful. "Hide him and then get back to your places. We'll think how best to distract the other two."

"Why not use the same tactic again?" Rhia suggested, rolling Robert over and dragging him behind several sacks of food.

"Something tells me Richard won't be so easily led astray as his brother," Tash admitted, and Phoenixia shuddered as she remembered the cold, cruel eyes she had seen at the brothel.

"Yeah... I don't fancy flirting with him," she shook her head. "We'll have to think of something el..."

She trailed off as a shout from beyond the walls caused the whole house to go silent.

"Make way for the Consul of Rome, Gaius Julius Caesar. Son of Venus, Imperator of the Gallic Legions. Stand aside and open up!"


Inside the house, the guests waited with anticipation as the man of Rome stepped in, looking especially regal in a robe that bordered somewhere between red and purple – Caesar was so close to achieving God-like status however, that it seemed appropriate. Everyone bowed their heads, and the flustered Society agents copied immediately. Louise felt dread settle even more firmly in her stomach. Now not only did she have to protect her friends from Merle's wrath, but she had to stop her doing anything to Caesar, and ruining the plot forever.

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