22.The Epilogue.Crassus’ Villa, Rome, about dawn.
It was just after dawn when Pullo and his men arrived outside Crassus’ villa, the streets were still empty, even the whores having gone to their beds and the dogs not having started to roam the streets yet. Finding the gate to the villa’s yard half open, Pullo looked around cautiously before pulling his sword out from under his cloak.
“Right,” Pullo walked into the yard followed by his men, “search the place.”
His men dispersed only to return a few moments later.
“Slave quarters are empty, Boss,” Laelius, one of Pullo’s most trusted men reported, “Looks like they left in a hurry too.”
“Maybe they knew we were coming,” Pullo mused as he walked slowly towards the kitchens; turning back to his men, Pullo issued his orders, “Laelius come with me, the rest of you keep out of sight.”
“Loot, Boss?” One of Pullo’s men asked.
“Yeah, alright,” Pullo nodded, “but don’t make too much noise and I’ll gut the first man I find drunk.”
With a chorus of ‘Right Boss’ the men vanished into the villa to look for anything worth taking, while Pullo headed into the kitchens followed by Laelius. Passing through the kitchens and up into the main part of the house, Pullo soon found the target of his search.
“Ah, Titus Pullo,” Crassus sounded unsurprised by Pullo’s sudden appearance, “so early too.”
“Early worm and all that,” Pullo agreed as he made his way towards the man sword in hand.
“I expect you’ve come to kill me,” Crassus commented matter-of-factly as he poured himself a glass of wine, “Rather like you killed Cissero.”
“Looks like,” Pullo agree and stopped as he noticed the slave and the slave girl standing by the table in the corner of the room, “you should never have taken my boy.”
“Yes,” Crassus agreed nodding his head slowly, “I see that was a mistake now. Foolish of me I should have known you, or indeed Lady Fidelia wouldn’t let it rest,” Crassus paused for a moment, “I’d never have harmed either of the boys you know that don’t you?”
“We weren’t to know that,” Pullo shrugged and signalled for Laelius to watch the slave and the girl, “and anyway you stepped over the line there.”
“Yes,” Crassus nodded his head sadly, “yes I suppose I did.” He saw Pullo’s man start to move towards his slaves, “Oh, don’t worry about Aulus, he’s harmless and there needs to be someone to wrap up my affairs if you kill me; and trust me you won’t want to kill the girl.” Crassus sat down on the edge of a couch and sighed heavily, “Where is the good Lady Fidelia, by the way?”
“Going to find that gladiatrix girl,” relaxing just a little Pullo stealthily closed the distance between himself and Crassus.
“Oh dear,” Crassus sighed.
“Oh dear?” Pullo raised an eyebrow questioningly.
“I’m afraid she’ll have a wasted journey then,” Crassus sipped his wine.
“Why’s that?” Pullo wanted to know.
“The girl she’s after is standing over there,” Crassus gestured to Buffy after draining his glass.
“What!?” Pullo glanced at the girl and frowned; she was what all this trouble was about? She didn’t look very special, pretty enough but nothing out of the ordinary.
“Pretty little thing,” Crassus smiled sadly, “I wonder what it would have been like to fuck her.”
“You mean you haven’t?” Pullo asked more than a little surprised.
“Oh, I could have,” Crassus smiled, “and she’d have come to my bed gladly.”
“And why’s that?” Pullo was beginning to wish he’d brought Shani with him, this Crassus fellow was too clever by half, his wife would know how to deal with him.
“Yes, gladly,” Crassus smiled evily, “just as she’d gladly kill you and all your men if I were to give her the order.”
“Why would she do that then?” Pullo asked his sword shifting more comfortably into his hand.
“This,” Crassus held up his hand and indicated the ring on his middle finger, “while I have this and she wears that slave collar she’ll obey my every order.” Crassus paused for a moment in thought, “However, if I were to kill you that wife of yours would do more than just kill me in revenge.” He smiled at Pullo, “What’s it like to share a bed with such a dangerous and powerful woman, Titus Pullo?”
“Don’t know,” Pullo shrugged, he was just about in easy stabbing range of Crassus now, “I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it before.”
“Well, my dear fellow,” Crassus laughed dryly, “if I were you I’d start thinking about it now.”
“So,” Pullo could see where this was going, Crassus wanted to make some sort of deal that would allow him to walk out of here alive, “what do you suggest?”
“I give you the ring,” Crassus held up his hand again, “and you…uuuugh!”
“Sorry,” Pullo pulled his sword from Crassus’ belly, “but you should never have told me about that ring of yours and the spell.”
Kneeling down next to the dead senator, Pullo pulled the ring from Crassus’ finger and slipped it on his own. Standing up he turned to look towards the girl and the slave, both of whom were still standing passively by, however the male slave did look a little shocked at the sudden death of his master; the girl, on the other hand, looked positively pleased.
“Trix is it?” Pullo asked the girl.
“Yes Dominus,” Buffy walked over to stand in front of her new master.
“Time to see how this works,” Pullo smiled at the ring as he held his hand up in front of his eyes; it looked so ordinary hardly precious at all, he glanced at Buffy, “kill the slave.”
“Yes Dominus,” turning away from Pullo, Buffy walked over to the now terrified Aulus who was being firmly held in place by Laelius.
Without a second thought, Buffy struck the slave across the windpipe with the edge of her hand. Standing back, she watched as Aulus slowly suffocated as his larynx swelled and cut off his airway, Buffy turned back to Pullo.
“Is that alright, Dominus?” Buffy smiled at Pullo, happy to obey any order he might give her.
“Bloody Hades!” Pullo looked from the girl to the ring and back again, he smiled as he thought of all the power contained in that ring.
If this venetrix girl was anywhere near as skilful and strong as his old friend Fidelia, he could have anyone he wanted assassinated he could kill his way right to the top if he so desired. The smile slowly left his face as he thought about what his wife would say if he tried something like that; she’d say something that would have him sitting on a lily pad and eating flies in no time. Frowning at a lost opportunity, Pullo realised he’d have to hand over the ring and the girl to his wife and Fidelia. They’d know what to do with the girl; Pullo looked at the ring longingly, as his wife would say, it was ‘nifty’.0=0=0=0The House of Batiatus.
It was mid-morning by the time Faith and her men arrived outside the gate of the gladiator school. They’d seen the thin wisps of smoke rising from the place as they’d ridden along the road. When they arrived they found the gate half off its hinges and saw the scattering of bodies inside, Faith somehow knew she was too late.
“Swords,” Faith pulled her own sword from under her cloak, “dismount.”
Ordering Sextus Ennius to leave two men with the horses, she led her son and the rest of her men into the courtyard of the school.
“Marius,” Faith glanced back at her son, “stay close…Ennius?”
“Domina?” The ex-centurion watched the silent buildings warily.
“Take the men and search the place,” Faith jerked her head towards the house.
Watching as her men ran off into the buildings, Faith walked over to examine one of the bodies.
“Who is he, Mother?” Marius asked from beside Faith.
“Looks like one of the guards,” Faith glanced at her son; apart from looking slightly green she didn’t think he was going throw-up.
Standing up from her examination of the body, Faith checked on the others. There were about a dozen in the yard, mostly guards, plus a couple of gladiators and house slaves.
Faith turned to see Ennius pushing a girl ahead of him as he walked across the yard towards her.
“Place is empty, except for this one,” Ennius pushed the girl roughly to her knees at Faith’s feet, “no sign of that Batiatus man either, if he’s dead his body isn’t here.”
“Thank-you, Ennius,” Faith nodded to the man before shifting her attention to the girl who knelt sobbing at her feet, “what’s your name, honey?”
“Eos, Domina,” sniffed the girl, “please don’t crucify me, I’m a good girl I didn’t run off like the others.”
“Stand up,” Faith ordered as she bent to help the girl up; seeing her face Faith recognised her as the girl she’d seen with Buffy under the arena. “I’m not going to have you crucified or even whipped…”
“Thank-you Domina!” Eos almost fell to her knees again with relief but Faith held her upright.
“What happened here?” Faith looked the girl over; her dress was torn and her skin was bruised and covered in dirt and soot, but all that could be fixed.
“After they made Buffitrix kill Caius,” Eos began breathlessly.
“Caius?” Faith frowned not knowing the name.
“Trix’s lover, Domina,” Eos explained.
“Go on,” Faith ordered, her heart growing cold at the thought of what might have happened to Buffy.
“Spartacus led the rest of the gladiators in a revolt and broke out,” Eos looked around fearfully as if expecting the gladiator to come back. “They killed all the guards and any of the slaves that wouldn’t go with them.”
“So, why are you still here?” Faith asked.
“After…” Eos paused and swallowed hard before going on with her tale, “…I-I hid in the kitchen.”
“After what?” Faith asked guessing the truth.
“Spartacus, he…” big tears started to run down Eos’ face, “you see he hated Trix and I was her friend so he used me like I was a boy…afterwards I went and hid ‘til everyone had gone.”
“Okay, honey,” Faith put her arms around the girl and pulled her against her bosom, “ya belong to me now, I won’t let anything bad happen to ya.” Looking at Ennius over the top of Eos’ head Faith thought for a moment. “Send two men ahead to the nearest military camp to warn them, looks like we’ve got a slave revolt on our hands.”
“Domina!” Ennius nodded his head before detailing two men to ride to the nearest military camp, “We better be away from here too.”
“Yeah, ya right,” Faith heard the two riders start off down the road outside, she turned to Marius, “here,” she pushed Eos towards her son, “look after Eos for me, she’ll have to ride behind you.”
“Mother,” Marius nodded before taking the girl by the hand and leading her to his horse.
Looking up at the fire damaged buildings, Faith cursed, if she’d time she’d search the place for clues. But, with a gang of escaped gladiators and slaves roaming the countryside she couldn’t risk it. Once again Buffy had slipped through her fingers; once she got home she’d question the girl properly, perhaps she knew more than she was saying or even realised. However, it would be foolish to wait around here.
“Get the men mounted, Ennius,” Faith strode towards her horse, “we’re leaving.”0=0=0=0The Tavern, later the same day.
“Thank-you sweetie,” Willow smiled at Vorena the Younger as she unlocked the door to the store room.
The young teenager didn’t say a lot, but she ran the tavern like she’d been born to it. Looking up at Willow she nodded her head before returning the big bunch of keys she always carried to her belt and walking off towards the table she used as an office.
“Strange girl,” Willow sighed, before adding, “well, I’m not surprised after what she’s been through.” Turning to the man who stood a couple of feet away Willow gestured to the now open door, “Ovidious, keep the door open and wait here, I don’t think I’ll need you but come if I call, okay?”
“Of course, Domina,” the ex-soldier relied politely.
“Good man,” Willow patted him on the shoulder before picking up her lamp and plunging into the darkness beyond the door.
The night before Pullo had asked Willow to ‘deal’ with the woman who’d been acting as housekeeper and head jailer at the house where her step-son Aeneas and Faith’s boy Marius had been held prisoner. By ‘deal’ Pullo had probably meant ‘kill’, however now the woman’s master was dead, Willow hoped she wouldn’t have to employ such drastic measures. But if she did, well, that was why Ovidious was waiting by the door.
Making her way down the rickety steps into the storeroom proper, Willow cursed the darkness, glancing at her lamp and its feeble flame she muttered a spell under her breath. The lamp immediately flared into glorious brilliance lighting the area around her with a warm yellow glow.
“Better!” Willow congratulated herself as she stepped off the bottom step and started to make her way through the racks of full amphora that filled this part of the store.
Coming to a dark corner, Willow found the woman curled up on the floor. Attached to the wall by a heavy iron chain which lead to an iron collar around her neck, the woman looked a pitiful sight. Her dress was torn and there were bruises on her arms and shoulders; her untidy blonde hair covered her face preventing Willow from seeing what she looked like. There was a slight smell of urine, the woman had peed herself either in terror or maybe she’d just needed to pee and there was nowhere for her to go. Sure enough when Willow lifted her lamp and looked around there was no evidence of a slop bucket, or water or anything else. The woman had just been dumped down here without even the basic requirements for life.
Just for a moment Willow felt sorry for the woman, but then she remembered that she’d held her step-son and Faith’s boy prisoner and her heart hardened. Frowning, Willow shook her head, no, she told herself that was unfair. The woman had only been doing what her master had told her to; she’d not been cruel to either of the boys and she’d remained loyal to her master right up to the end. It would be unfair to punish a slave for doing what her master had told her to do.
“Okay,” Willow sighed as she stepped closer to the huddled form of the woman, “let’s have a look at you.”
“Please don’t kill me,” the woman begged as she looked up into Willow’s face.
Gasping, Willow took an involuntary step backwards as the lamp bathed the woman’s tear stained and dirty face in its yellow light.
“H-Harmony!” Willow couldn’t believe her eyes, she stepped back towards the blonde woman bringing the lamp nearer so she could see her face more clearly. Yes, Willow nodded to herself it was Harmony Kendal, but how?
Before Willow had left Sunnydale for the past, she knew Harmony was a vampire. However she also knew that this Harmony had been exposed to day light. Hadn’t she seen her being hustled through the tavern herself? Of course then she’d had a sack over her head so Willow hadn’t seen her face but; she’d seen the sunlight on her arm and hadn’t noticed her burst into flames or turn to ash. Obviously, Harmony or at least this version of Harmony had never been turned into a vampire.
“Here,” wanting to be sure Willow grabbed hold of Harmony’s slave collar and pulled it and the girl closer to her lamp.
Sure enough, there it was engraved in the bronze of her collar; ‘Harmonia, property of Marcus Licinius Crassus, a reward is given for her prompt return’.
“Willow Rosenberg?” Harmony squinted in the lamp light at Willow’s face.
“Not anymore,” Willow replied as she let go of Harmony’s collar and stood back, “here I’m, Shani, wife of Titus Pullo, he owns this place,” she gestured to the storeroom. “Now what am I going to do with you?”
Harmony whimpered as she realised she was in the power of someone who she’d been really, really mean to all the way through school. Standing over Harmony, Willow fought to keep the malevolent laughter that threatened to burst from her chest inside. Standing there looking down at the wretch who’d made her life a misery from the forth grade to the eleventh, Willow remembered every cutting barb, every snide remark, every trip or push, every time she’d had her books knocked from her hands or her hair pulled.
It was payback time!
Giggling insanely, Willow smiled down nastily at her school nemesis, oh, how she was going to make her suffer for every time she’d made her cry. Taking a deep breath Willow imagined leaving her down here in the dark in her own filth; see how she’d like that for a few months or years or…
Looking down at Harmony, Willow frowned in confusion; this wasn’t the Harmony that had made her life a living hell all those years ago. This was a different Harmony, she cast her captive a disdainful look; from the blonde girl’s expression of terror she’d no doubt done terrible things to her version of Willow Rosenberg, but not to the Willow who was now Shani, the strong, powerful woman with the handsome, famous and more importantly virile husband. But she needed to do something with the girl, much as she’d like to she couldn’t leave her down here forever. Looking into the flame of the lamp the answer came to her in a flash of inspiration.
“Ovidious!” Willow called; she heard the clatter of the man’s sandals as he ran down the steps and through the store.
“Domina?” He stood next to her with his hand on the hilt of his sword.
“Good man,” a smile was slowly spreading across Willow’s face as the pieces of her plan fell into place in her head, she turned to Ovidious, “You’ve not got a woman have you?”
“Erm, no Domina,” Ovidious replied uncertainly.
“Well you can have this one,” Willow gestured towards Harmony who whimpered quietly as she realised what Willow was suggesting; Willow noticed the uncertain look on Ovidious’ face. “Don’t worry,” Willow reassured him, “She scrubs up real pretty, she’s got nice tits and as she’s been a housekeeper, she should be able to keep house for you. I doubt you’ll need to beat her much.”
“But,” Ovidious turned to look at Willow, “this is very generous, Domina but I’ve nowhere to live…I mean to keep a woman or wife.”
“That’s alright,” Willow pointed out, “there’s two rooms above my shop you can have, and Harmony here can help Drusilla in the shop while you’re working over here.”
Alone with Harmony again while Ovidious went to get the key to release her from her chains, Willow smiled not unkindly down at the trembling young woman.
“Its more than you deserve,” Willow informed her one time arch-nemesis, “Ovidious is a good man, keep him happy and I expect you’ll live a long and reasonably happy life. Anyway it’s better than floating down the Tiber with your throat cut, which would be my second option.” Turning away Willow paused for a moment before she looked back over her shoulder at Harmony once more, “I don’t suppose you’ve seen Cordelia Chase anywhere around?” Harmony shook her head, “Pity,” Willow said quietly; she had some interesting ideas that involved Cordelia and hungry lions, “I can wait though.”0=0=0=0The House of Arsenius, Rome.
It was evening and Willow and Faith were standing in Faith’s solarium looking out over the city as the light failed and the stars began to shine in the heavens.
“So what do we do with her?” Willow asked after they’d both stood there in silence for some time.
Buffy’s slave collar had resisted all attempts, both magical and physical to remove it. Short of cutting off Buffy’s head and taking the collar off that way it was on her for life; Willow had considered destroying the ring but she was too uncertain of what might happen to Buffy to risk it.
“I’ll take her down to Pompeii with me,” Faith said after a moment or two’s thought, “after all there is a hellmouth down there, Crassus was telling the truth about that at least.”
“You’ve a villa down there right?” Willow asked, “You’ll keep her there, right?”
“No,” Faith shook her head, “it’s too far out of town, but I’ve got a trustworthy friend in Pompeii itself, B can stay with her and Eos can keep an eye on her for me.”
Shaking her head as she looked out over the city, Faith thought back to her interview with Buffy earlier; she’d not recognised Faith other than as the woman who’d tried to buy her that one time. Which wasn’t really surprising as they’d never met in this Buffy’s world, this Buffy was barely seventeen and had never lived long enough to meet Faith. She knew Willow of course, but Buffy remembered Willow as a girl of about her own age not as the older woman with a husband and a flock of children and step-children. No, Buffy had only shown any great happiness when Eos had been brought into the room. Although a little sad that Buffy didn’t really know them any more they were glad that at least she had her best friend back.
“You sure she’s trustworthy?” Willow asked suspiciously, Buffy was still her friend even if they did appear to have grown apart and this wasn’t really the Buffy she remembered.
“Ammonia Sextus?” Faith smiled, “I’d trust her with Marius so B should be okay, anyway like I say, Eos will be there I can’t see her letting anything bad happen to B.”
“Okay then,” Willow sighed, “I’ll stay here and keep an eye on everything, when will you start out for Pompeii?”
“End of the week,” Faith explained, “We’ll sail down the coast, it’ll be a nice holiday for B, I think she needs it.”
“Y’know I’m really jealous of you, don’t you Faith?” Willow announced, “All these villas and ships of yours.”
“Hey!” Faith turned to smile at her old friend, “Can I help it if I married a rich guy who got turned on by seeing me covered in other people’s blood?”
“I suppose not,” Willow admitted with a shrug, “Sic friatur crustum dulce - That's the way the cookie crumbles.”0=0=0=0THE END OF BOOK THREE.0=0=0=0Look out for Book Four, ‘Romani ite domum.’,Romans go home! to be posted soon. Buffitrix and her friends will return in Book Five, ‘Omnes Una Manet Nox’.0=0=0=0