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FIDELIA VENETRIX.

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7:

Near the Senate.

Mark Anthony adjusted the fall of his toga and glanced around at his legionaries who were mustering in the street behind him. After the ‘scuffles in the senate’ the day before Mark Anthony needed to get to the senate house so he could exercise his right of ‘Tribune’s Veto’ and prevent his friend and sponsor, Gaius Julius Caesar, from being proclaimed an enemy of Rome. The fighting which had broken out between the senators prevented him from vetoing the motion and the session ended in a near riot with several senators being stabbed and wounded. The streets were rife with rumours that Pompey, Caesar’s old rival, had organised a demonstration of popular support in front of the senate to prevent Mark Anthony from entering the building, thus allowing Pompey’s party to declare Caesar a war criminal.

Roman law stated that no soldier could set foot in Rome while under arms; this was why Mark Anthony’s legionaries were dressed in civilian clothes or in the grey soldier’s tunics that they would normally wear under their armour. Added to this no weapons could be carried, at least not openly, so his men were forced to conceal their weapons under cloaks or tunics. There was, however, a small hand cart loaded with swords and shields for use if it came to a fight. Anthony was relying on the discipline and fighting ability of his men to overawe the opposition rather than their numbers and get him through to the senate building. With luck nothing would go wrong and he’d march to the forum to veto the motion and some sort of backroom deal could be made between the disaffected parties.

Signalling that it was almost time to start off Mark Anthony watched as Centurion Lucius Vorenus marshalled the men into ordered ranks and how he placed that big soldier, Titus Pullo, within easy reach of himself. It was only then that Mark Anthony noticed a dark haired beauty not actually part of the group, but not completely separate from it either.

“Centurion!” Mark Anthony, watched the girl as Vorenus marched quickly over to join him.

“Yes Sir?”

“Vorenus,” Anthony pointed to where the woman stood hovering on the edge of the group of soldiers, “who’s the girl?”

Vorenus turned to look where Anthony had pointed.

“Ah,” Vorenus ran his hand through his short hair in agitation, “that would be Legionary Pullo’s woman sir.”

“Good gods, centurion,” Anthony sighed heavily, “this isn’t a picnic…get rid of her.”

“Erm, sir,” Vorenus looked around as if he was frightened someone would overhear, “it’s not my place to disagree but you might wish to reconsider.”

Mark Anthony gave Vorenus an exasperated look.

“She calls herself Fidelia Venetrix…”

“Venetrix?” Mark Anthony interrupted, “Hunter?”

“Gladiatrix sir,” added Vorenus, “quite famous in certain circles, I’ve seen her fight.”

Mark Anthony looked over to where Faith stood on the edge of the crowd of soldiers; the frown on his face told Vorenus that his commander didn’t believe a word of what he was saying. Suddenly something jogged Anthony’s memory; he snapped his fingers and smiled.

“That’s the little vixen you and Pullo found in Gaul isn’t it?” he laughed at the memory.

“Yes sir,” Vorenus replied non-committally.

“Oh,” Mark Anthony gave the problem a moment’s thought, “let her tag along if she wants,” he laughed, “maybe her presence will distract the mob,” Anthony looked around, they were as ready as they’d ever be, “come on, lets get this over with.”

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Faith noticed the first men with clubs as Mark Anthony’s party were still walking along the road to the senate. The street opened out into the square before the senate building and she saw that the area was packed with raggedly dressed men all clutching staves or clubs. Still Mark Anthony’s soldiers marched on and she wondered what she was doing there? Was it out of some misguided sense of loyalty to a guy that she had spent a couple of hours screwing the night before? No, that would be very unlike her, she shook her head as she walked on through the crowd who were now shouting insults and waving their weapons. No it must be because some of the few people she counted as friends were putting themselves in harm’s way, Faith sighed, she must be getting soft in her old age.

“Make a lane there!” cried a man with a shaven head and a ragged cloak as he tried to push men out of the way, “Come on, you bastards!”

Glancing over at Pullo, Faith saw him staring off into the crowd; she followed his gaze to see what he was looking at. With a start she recognised the man in the crowd; he was one of the men from the wine shop who’d cheated Pullo out of his money. She’d not forget that scarred face in a hurry, Pullo had killed all of Scar Face’s friends before succumbing to the blow on the head that had so nearly killed him. Now it looked as if Scar Face was out for revenge.

Shouting a warning, Faith saw Scar Face leap at Pullo a knife held in his hand. Her call was unnecessary as Pullo met the attack with his own knife almost slicing off Scar Face’s head with a single blow. Pullo’s attacker fell to the ground his blood staining the cobbles red as it oozed from the great gash in his neck. For a moment all was silent in the square as men looked on wondering what was supposed to happen next.

“Rally to me!” Mark Anthony called calmly as he took a sword from a man behind him, “Rally to me!” he called again to the accompaniment of swords and knives being drawn from scabbards.

Abruptly the near silence of the square was broken by a great mindless roar as the mob fell upon Mark Anthony and his legionaries. Finding herself suddenly set upon from all sides, Faith pulled her own knife and started to thin out the attackers around her. Slicing open one assailant’s belly with a single slash, she pushed the dying man into a group of three others who were trying to grab her and pull her to the ground. As the men stumbled and tried to disentangle themselves from the bloody corpse, Faith spun on her left foot and kicking the legs out from another mob member with her right; she heard the man’s knee shatter under her foot just before he fell screaming to the ground.

Disembowelling yet another attacker Faith made some room for herself. Looking around she saw Mark Anthony and his men retreating in good order cutting down any of the mob that got too close to their line. Unfortunately, things didn’t look so good for Vorenus and Pullo who had been caught slightly ahead of the main body of legionaries. Pullo fought using two knives blocking the club blows aimed at him with one while stabbing any man foolish enough to get too close to him with the other. Vorenus fought stoically using a short sword, cutting down opponents in the approved Roman military manner. Faith pushed several of the mob out of her way as she made her way over to join Pullo.

“Good fun eh?” Pullo laughed as Faith joined him and they started to cut their way towards the main body of Mark Anthony’s force, “Get over here!” Pullo called to Vorenus.

A mere moment later a thug grappled with Vorenus and stabbed him in the side, the Centurion stumbled but caught himself and plunged his own sword deep into the thug’s belly before collapsing onto one knee. In an instant Pullo and Faith were cutting their way to Vorenus’ side.

“Get him out of here!” Faith snatched up Vorenus’ sword from where it had fallen.

Pullo hesitated for a fraction of a second before heaving Vorenus to his feet and starting to drag him towards the shield wall that had now been formed by the other legionaries. Faith stood her ground, knife in one hand and Vorenus’ sword in the other; she smiled at the mob in front of her. One or two mob members hesitated as they saw the look on her face, but they were pushed forward by those behind. Faith started to ply her grisly trade cutting down any that came in reach of her flashing blades. It didn’t take long for the mob to realise that attacking the dark haired girl was as futile as it was fatal.

Finding herself the centre of a circle populated only by herself and more than a dozen dead bodies Faith took a moment to glance over her shoulder. Seeing that Pullo had now dragged Vorenus into the shelter of the legionary’s shields. They retreated slowly up the street that they had so recently used to arrive in the square. Faith reasoned that her duty was done and it was time for her to leave the area. Looking around she could only see the press of the mob which was starting to close in on her again.

Casually stabbing a man in the belly she kicked his legs out from under him and watched where he fell. Taking a step forward while keeping the crowd back with wild slashes of her sword, she stepped onto her latest victim’s body and using him as a vantage point, looked for an escape route. Over the heads of the struggling mob she caught sight of a narrow alleyway about half a dozen paces from her present position.

As she looked a man grabbed her from behind, he fumbled with the top of her dress trying to pull it off. Faith reversed the sword in her hand and stabbed backwards. The thug coughed blood over Faith’s back as the sword slipped easily between his ribs and punctured his lung. Breaking the dying man’s hold she turned and took his head off with one easy sword cut and watched in satisfaction as his headless body fell at her feet.

Once again the crowd backed away from this female Mars allowing her to push past the few remaining stunned street thugs. Cutting down two more men who’d not been quick enough on their feet to get out of her way; Faith headed off down the narrow alleyway leaving the blooded mob behind her.

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Bursting into her room Faith sat down heavily on one of the benches by the table, she looked down at herself and laughed quietly. No wonder people had got out of her way as she’d run from the fight. Who wouldn’t get out of the way of a woman in a blood splattered dress clutching a blood stained sword and knife? Throwing down her weapons onto the table she pulled off her grubby dress and blood spattered britches, sitting for a moment dressed only in her leather panties, she sighed and tried to work out if anything she’d done was going to turn ‘round and bite her on the arse.

Not taking very much notice of politics, Faith really didn’t know where she stood, she was aware of a long running squabble between Caesar and the Senate, but it didn’t really affect her in her day to day life. Running her blood stained finger through her hair she found that the back of her head was a tangled mess of blood caked hair.

“Fuck! Damn and crap!” she muttered angrily and wished for a hot shower, soap and shampoo.

Looking over at her water amphora she realised she’d need more water than it held to get herself clean again. Slipping on her soiled dress she walked out onto the stairs and looked down into the street. Yelling to a boy to go and bring her a couple of buckets of water from the well in the Street of Potters, she threw him a bronze coin and watched him run off down the street. Tiredly she walked back into her room, stripped off again and started to remove the first layers of blood and filth from her hair and body.

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After having cleaned herself up as best as she could, the boy returned with the water so Faith could wash properly. He showed a marked reluctance to leave and get more when she ordered him out of her room; he seemed far more interested in watching her complete her ablutions. It was only after she had commented on the job opportunities for eunuchs that the boy left in a hurry to finish his task.

Having dressed in her third best dress, Faith eyed the pile of dirty clothing in the corner of her room with distaste. It was no good, she would have to take it all to the washer woman; there was no putting it off any longer, besides she was running out of clean clothes.

Locking the door behind her Faith picked up her bundle of laundry, she could drop it off on her way to Marius’ ‘office’; she needed to know what was going on in the city after the fight this morning. If anyone would know Marius would, and she still needed to decide what she wanted to do with her new found wealth. Villa’s came with their own heated baths and as she made a habit of wading through blood at regular intervals a bath would come in handy, better than trying to clean up in a bucket any day.

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It was with these thoughts of the untold luxury of her own bath going through her head that Faith came upon the ordered chaos of Marius’ office. The slave dealer’s personal slaves were packing valuables into chests and loading them onto a couple of small carts.

“What’s going on?” Faith asked a little louder than she would have normally, “Not running out on me are ya?”

As if of its own free will Faith’s hand went for the hilt of the knife she carried hidden in the folds of her dress.

“Fidelia!” Marius turned to confront her, a look of guilt passed fleetingly across his face, only to be replaced by the smile that he kept just for her, “Fidelia my love.”

He advanced on Faith arms held wide in greeting; Faith’s look of suspicion stopped him dead in his tracks.

“Fidelia, Fidelia my love, my honey, how could you think that I would desert you and take your money with me without…”

“So where’s my money?” Faith asked coldly.

“In a chest on the first cart,” Marius took a step back as he caught the glint of metal as Faith started to pull the knife from its scabbard, “See? See how I value your property?” Marius rallied and held out his hands to Faith in supplication. “My first thought was to protect your interests, my sweet…I’m hurt that you would think that I would steal from you, you of all people.” Marius put on his best expression of injured innocence, the look on his face almost made Faith smile.

“Where are you going, douche bag?” Faith pushed her knife back into its scabbard and tried to look fierce while trying not to laugh out loud at Marius’ pained expression.

“I was going to take a few days in my villa on the coast until this whole messy business blows over.” Marius looked disgusted that anything as tawdry as politics and possibly a civil war would interfere with business. “You should come with me,” a crafty gleam came to his eye as he calculated his chances of getting Faith into bed without the formality of a marriage; seeing the hard look on her face he shook his head and dismissed the idea with a heartbroken sigh.

“It’ll be dangerous here in Rome,” he continued in a more conversational tone, “and while I know that you are no stranger to danger, it…it would break my heart if something were to happen to you and I had not at least tried to persuade you to come away with me.”

Now Faith did smile at the trader’s long face and for a moment she almost forgot that he’d probably been trying to run off with her money…but only for a moment.

“I’ll be fine,” Faith looked up into Marius big foolish, open face and wondered if maybe she shouldn’t just…no! Faith stamped down hard on any thoughts of marrying the slave dealer, “Just leave me a bag of money and remember who owns what,” striking like a snake Faith grabbed hold of Marius’ tunic and pulled him up close, “you know what’ll happen if ya forget?”

“Of course-of course,” Marius tried to make light of the situation while trying to twist out of Faith’s grip.

Pulling him even closer Faith kissed him hard on the lips before pushing him away again, she laughed and weighed the purse that she had just taken from Marius’ belt in her hand.

“This’ll do,” she threw the purse up into the air and caught it easily, “now be a good boy and don’t forget to come back with the rest.”

“Of course, my love.” Marius appeared a little stunned as he stood foolishly with his fingers at his lips watching Faith walk off across the market square.

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The night passed quietly and the next morning Faith found herself walking through one of the local markets buying supplies. Noticing how the streets seemed emptier than they usually were she saw how people scurried from stall to stall before heading for their homes. No one was stopping to talk or argue with their neighbours as they would on a normal day. Collecting her few purchases she started to head back to her apartment when she heard someone call her name.

Turning to see Timon the Horse Jew push his way through the sparse crowd towards her, Faith waited for the man to catch up, she’d done some lucrative business with him on several occasions. The man called himself a horse dealer and although he knew good horse flesh when he saw it and could lay his hands on more than adequate horse flesh when needs be, all the work Faith’d ever done for him had little to do with horses.

“Fidelia,” he called quietly as he walked up to her.

“Timon,” Faith returned the man’s greeting, “what are you doing in this part of town, huh?” she sniffed at Timon, “Are you wearing perfume?” Timon frowned. “It stinks, dude, not a turn on.” Faith added as the two business friends turned to continue walking along the street.

“You’re the second woman to tell me that today,” Timon rubbed at his neck as if trying to remove the perfume, “this stuff wasn’t cheap you know?”

“Then they ripped ya off,” Faith waved her hand in front of her nose before taking an apple from her shopping bag and biting into it, “this obviously ain’t a social call…ya got a job for me?”

“That’s one of the things I like about you, Fidelia,” Timon stepped around a beggar who was sitting to one side of the narrow street, “straight down to business.”

“Hey, a girl does what she can,” Faith flipped the beggar a small coin, Timon noticed the action and followed the coin with his eye.

“You come into money?”

“Just a piece of good luck, gotta keep the gods happy,” Faith took another bite of her apple, “so, what’s the job?”

“The lady Atia is holding a bash for her friends and hangers on tomorrow evening.”

“That’s nice for her,” Faith replied dismissively, finishing her apple she threw the core at a stray dog, “what’s it to do with me? I don’t cook and I don’t do those erotic dance things…does she want me to kill something?”

The dog yelped as the apple core hit its head. Timon, on the other, hand remained silent for a moment as visions of Faith doing ‘erotic dances’ filled his mind.

“Timon?” Faith nudged the man in the ribs with her elbow.

“Hmm? Sorry, what?” Timon gathered his thoughts and got back to business, “no… unfortunately…she wants more guards.”

Faith raised her eyebrow waiting for an explanation.

“Yeah she’s worried about the Pompeyan Mob causing trouble ‘cause she’s of the Caesarean faction, so…” Timon waited for an answer.

“Don’t do guard work,” Faith pointed out, “got my reputation to think of.”

“It’s your reputation that I want,” Timon explained eagerly and fearing that Faith would turn him down flat, “once the news gets about that you’re there…that’s worth, what? Two or three ordinary guards.”

“Only two or three?” Faith sounded indignant.

“Alright,” Timon conceded, “four or five.”

“That’s better,” grinning at the look of pleading on Timon’s face Faith nodded her head, “ya lucky day, pal, I’ll do it and I get at least four guards pay for the gig.”

“WHAT!” Timon stopped stock still in the street causing several people to almost collide with him.

“I bet ya thought,” Faith turned to poke the horse dealer in the chest with her finger, Timon winced at each ‘poke’, “ya could get away with paying me twice the normal rate and pocket the difference.”

Timon started to bluster a denial but gave up when he saw the look on Faith’s face, he shrugged resignedly.

“I suppose I was,” he admitted with a guilty grin. “anyway I thought you weren’t hard up for cash…a bit of luck you said.”

“Like I said,” Faith continued to walk on down the street, she looked over her shoulder coyly adding, “a girl does what she can.”

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