The Emperor's Silver: Agent of Rome 5

BOOK: The Emperor's Silver: Agent of Rome 5
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Contents

About the Author

Also by Nick Brown

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Map

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIV

Chapter XV

Chapter XVI

Chapter XVII

Chapter XVIII

Chapter XIX

Chapter XX

Chapter XXI

Chapter XXII

Chapter XXIII

Chapter XXIV

Chapter XXV

Chapter XXVI

Chapter XXVII

Chapter XXVIII

Chapter XXIX

Chapter XXX

Chapter XXXI

Chapter XXXII

Chapter XXXIII

Chapter XXXIV

Chapter XXXV

Chapter XXXVI

Chapter XXXVII

Chapter XXXVIII

Historical Note

Acknowledgements

About the Author

Nick Brown grew up in Norfolk and later studied history at the University of Sussex. In 2000 he embarked on a PGCE course at the University of Exeter and began a career as a teacher of humanities and English. Having taught in England and Poland, he has recently returned to his home town, Norwich.

The Agent of Rome series

The Siege

The Imperial Banner

The Far Shore

The Black Stone

The Emperor’s Silver

 

Agent of Rome short stories

 

Death this Day

The Eleventh Hour

AGENT OF ROME: THE EMPEROR’S SILVER
Nick Brown

 

 

www.hodder.co.uk

First published in Great Britain in 2015 by
Hodder & Stoughton

An Hachette UK company

Copyright © Nick Brown 2015

The right of Nick Brown to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

ISBN 978 1 444 77918 9

Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

Carmelite House

50 Victoria Embankment

London EC4Y 0DZ

www.hodder.co.uk

For Joff, Emma and Rufus

TIME

The Romans divided day and night into twelve hours each, so the length of an hour varied according to the time of year.

The seventh hour of the day always began at midday.

MONEY

Four sesterces (a coin made of brass) were worth one denarius.

Twenty-five denarii (a coin made partially of silver) were worth one aureus (partially gold).

Bostra, capital of the Roman province of Arabia. July, AD 273

Though he had been saying prayers for much of the last three hours, Simo whispered another one as he strode away from the church-house. Bostra was a comparatively safe city but the fourth hour of night had passed and he knew from recent experience to be careful.

It had been after the second of his meetings with Elder Maluch that the two thieves had sprung from the shadows, spitting threats in barely comprehensible Latin. Despite his fear, Simo had employed a trick suggested by his master: he took out a silver denarius, held it up for them to see, then flung it away. The thieves fought over the coin as he made his escape.

The memory quickened his pace as he reached Theatre Street and turned left towards the Via Petra. A pair of watchmen appeared, one holding a lantern.

Simo spoke loudly to avoid suspicion. ‘Greetings to you.’

‘Who goes there?’

‘Simo, attendant to Officer Cassius Corbulo of the Imperial Army – on my master’s business.’ He held up his arms to show that he carried no weapons.

‘On you go.’ The watchman waved him past and led his compatriot away, imploring him to continue some story.

Simo picked an angular stone out of his right sandal then moved off. He didn’t like to lie but the truth might easily provoke an unpleasant reaction. There were several hundred Christians in Bostra but the watchmen were often ex-soldiers, most of whom took a dim view of those who refused to worship the Emperor and the Roman gods.

As he glanced at the lights within the townhouses on either side of him, the night’s prayers echoed through his head. The invocations concerned sin and temptation, and though Simo had recited them without error, Elder Maluch admonished him for not investing the words with sufficient weight and passion. Simo hoped he hadn’t disappointed him; Maluch was an excellent teacher and it was good of him to make time at so late an hour. It had taken Simo several weeks to persuade Master Cassius to allow him to resume instruction and he hoped the lessons would continue.

Upon reaching the broad, colonnaded Via Petra, the Gaul jogged straight across to avoid three fast-moving horse-drawn carts. Once under the portico, he heard a roar of laughter from up ahead. He slowed, and saw half a dozen legionaries pass under a lamp. Several were weaving unsteadily and two had mugs in their hands.

Simo padded left and hid behind a column. If troubled by the soldiers he could always invoke his master’s name again but it was better to avoid an encounter altogether. To his relief, the legionaries complained about the darkness and moved on to the moonlit street. One of them yelled a curse at the cart drivers but was silenced by a superior with a rather more refined voice.

Simo pressed on, thinking of his master. Cassius had decided that Simo had let him down during their last assignment and only kept him on after the intervention of Indavara – his bodyguard and Simo’s friend. Many times over the last few weeks the slave had thanked the Lord that he hadn’t been sold. His relationship with his owner was improving but it was not what it used to be; Master Cassius rarely confided in him these days and was often sharp, though he had struck him only the once.

Any mention of sin brought him to mind. The young officer was drinking more than ever and now spent even more time in taverns and brothels. Cassius was resilient but he had been through a lot for a man of only twenty-three years. Simo knew his master wouldn’t be truly happy until he finally escaped the army; he just hoped Cassius would get back on an even keel after the trials of recent months.

He turned left on to the Via Cappadocia. On the other side of the road was Bostra’s largest sanctuary, where some nocturnal revellers were singing a local folk tune. Simo understood only a little Nabatean but it seemed like a happy song. Now back on familiar territory, he began to relax. The villa was at the far end of the street, just yards from the arched entrance to the city’s fortress. As well as housing much of the Third Cyrenaican – Arabia’s only standing legion – it now also accommodated the vanguard of the Emperor’s army. Having put down the Palmyrans for the second time in as many years, Aurelian was journeying south to deal with a revolt in Egypt. He would pass through Bostra.

Simo and Elder Maluch had also spoken of war. They agreed that it often seemed as if the Empire was obsessed by violence and suffering and death. When there was no enemy to take on, the Romans killed animals for sacrifice and men for sport. Though he hadn’t mentioned it to Maluch, Simo knew his master did not approve of the contests. He seemed to fear and detest violence almost as much as Simo, and fighting did not come naturally to him.

But during the last operation he had killed a man. Simo had refused to join in the violence and Master Cassius hated him for it. Simo suspected guilt was the real cause of his disquiet. The young Roman had never wanted this life for himself; he was a peaceful, intelligent man. Simo could not imagine what it must be like to have taken the life of another. He would rather die.

Nearing the villa, he spied the sentries at the fortress gate. Among the thousands of men sleeping in the buildings behind them was one whose presence always caused Simo concern. Officer Abascantius was Master Cassius’s immediate superior in the Imperial Security Service and had a habit of dispatching the three of them on perilous assignments. The only one ever excited by such a prospect was Indavara, who seemed thoroughly bored by the two months of relative calm since they’d returned from the Arabian desert.

But from what Simo had gathered, Abascantius was simply in Bostra to make arrangements for the Emperor; and Master Cassius was being rewarded for his recent successes with an extended period of administrative work. Simo longed for such stability; he was approaching his thirty-third year and wanted to be an elder himself by the time he was forty. If he continued to serve well, he felt sure he would be granted his freedom when Cassius’s time in the army ended. The Gaul believed the Lord would give him this; surely he wanted him to be free to spread the word.

There was not a single light within the houses at the bottom of the Via Cappadocia. With a last glance at the fortress, Simo turned left down the alley that ran alongside the villa. He had a key for the front door but there was less chance of waking Cassius or Indavara if he came in through the kitchen. The bodyguard seldom stayed up late and his master had decided on an early night because of a morning meeting with Abascantius.

The humid summer air and his swift pace had left Simo sweating. He sighed with relief as he approached the rear corner of the property; he was glad to be home. He put his hand inside his tunic to retrieve his keys but his fingers never reached them.

He took one more step then froze.

Three dark figures had just scuttled across the street at the back of the villa. As they disappeared behind the rear wall, Simo took his hand from his tunic and walked carefully up to the corner. He could hear the men whispering to each other but he couldn’t be sure of the language.

He peered around the corner in time to see one of the men spring upward. Grunting as he gripped the top of the wall, he then pulled himself on to it. The next man was given a leg up and, once he had joined his compatriot, they both reached down to help the third man.

Simo withdrew, his throat dry with fear.

The rear door is secure. I locked it myself before I left. The bedroom windows face the back but they’re too small to fit through. But the kitchen window is big enough – and the shutters have been left open since the hot weather came.

BOOK: The Emperor's Silver: Agent of Rome 5
8.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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