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The Paths We Never Trod

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Ashur

He’s left behind when Batiatus buys Dagan for his ludus. Ashur begged to be bought as well, arguing his skills with figures and languages, but the skinny shit just laughed. “A slave who’d negotiate his own purchase? Fuck off.”

Slumped in his chains, Ashur doesn’t notice the tall Roman watching him until he approaches. “You speak Syrian?”

Ashur nods hopelessly. “Greek, too. Some Egyptian.”

The man studies him keenly as if he sees more than a mediocre slave for an insulting price. Eventually, he tosses the trader a purse. “Send him to the house of Crassus. He may prove useful.”

 

Sura

Other slaves and her own experience have taught her never to sleep lightly. When Aulus leans over her in the darkness of the wagon, she kicks him in the groin and takes his knife. He dies gurgling.

It’s easy to pull his hood over her head and take the reins; easy to roll into Batiatus’s courtyard, spot her shorn husband and cry out. He leaps aboard; she hauls the team around. They cling together even as his anguished eyes turn back towards the ludus and those he leaves behind.

“I wonder…”

“Don’t,” Sura cuts him off. “We are free now.”

 

Dagan

Despite the late hour, Dagan raises no complaint when Spartacus calls for his assistance. Apparently one of the villa’s freed slaves has tried to kill him. “Syrian,” Spartacus says, nodding towards the captive. “Perhaps he may tell you more than me.”

Dagan glares at the slave’s bowed head. “Your name,” he rumbles, in Syrian. “Do you remember it?”

At the sound of his voice, the boy lifts his head suddenly, frowning. Wide dark eyes. A stubborn tilt to his chin, achingly familiar.

“Nasir?” Dagan whispers, thunderstruck. When the boy nods slowly, Dagan feels his heart crack open. “Brother, it’s me.”

 

Chadara

She’s woken before dawn by Mira and Nasir. Mira looks uneasy, but her oldest friend smiles as he offers her a sword. “We’ve failed in providing useful guidance. Choose fighting style.”

It turns out she’s rubbish at weapons, but no one can find her when she hides. Spartacus puts her on scouting duty. She sneaks through the barren woods until she knows them inside out; draws up precise maps for her reports.

When she finds the ballistae depot, she just has time to blow the warning horn before the guard cuts her down. Chadara grins her triumph as she falls.

 

Mira

In fevered healing dreams, she imagines Spartacus by her side, but his face brings only disappointment. She turns from it.

Her chest is agony; the hands dressing her wound distinctly ungentle. Forcing her gummy eyelids open, Mira blinks into Saxa’s grim face.

Mira coughs. “Water?” Saxa’s strong arm supports her head while she drinks. Her other hand rests lightly atop her bandage. She says something in her guttural tongue.

Agron’s voice comes from nearby. “She says your heart’s too stubborn and your tits too nice to die.”

Mira laughs, though it hurts. She takes Saxa’s grin with her into sleep.

 

Barca

Gannicus and Crixus carry him, torn, but still alive, from the slopes of Vesuvius to Pietros. He leaves behind the shattered ruin of the Egyptian.

Bloodied himself, Pietros cradles Barca’s head in his lap. Gannicus departs quickly, but Crixus lingers. Barca is glad for that.

The three of them crouch on a hill near the abandoned temple. Barca concentrates on breathing, and on Pietros’s face. He looks fierce and broken and relentlessly lovely. Barca doesn’t have the breath to say, Apologies.

A flock of birds passes far overheard, crying harshly into the morning sun. Barca smiles, and flies with them.

 

Ilithyia

She names him Remus because he’ll be raised among wolves. The rebels don’t appreciate the honour as they should, but then most of them are ignorant of the founding myth of Rome. Spartacus seems troubled when she tells it, but he holds the child with a look of stunned, agonised joy.

It’s difficult to redefine herself among enemies, but Ilithyia has always welcomed challenge. There is a raw freedom here that she is determined to claim.

She’s washing at a brook when the Roman soldiers chance upon her. Ilithyia rises, meaning to explain. The spear hits before she can speak.

 

Gaia / Lucretia

Gaia arrives from Rome with a fat purse and a letter from her newest doddering husband, forcing Glaber to relinquish his claim upon Lucretia. Gaia holds her close on the journey back. “Give rest to unsettled mind,” she whispers. “There are venues beyond vengeance.”

Lucretia has trouble believing it; trouble letting go of the ghost-child she was going to present to Quintus. But Rome glitters with promise, and Gaia’s company is invigorating. They fuck in the bath, the atrium, the marital bed. “Lucretia,” Gaia gasps into her mouth, as though her name by itself held meaning. “Live.”

So she does.

 

Sabinus

After the decimation, Crassus looks at Sabinus with eyes reddened but composed. “I trust you know he would forever honour you, had you stood in his stead.”

Sabinus nods numbly. Two nights ago, Tiberius cried out in hoarse passion in his arms; today, he lies dead by those same hands. The man before him responsible.

 *

That night, he walks unarmed towards the rebels’ camp, until scouts intercept him. Sabinus lifts his hands. “I’m called Sabinus. I come to join your cause.”

The scouts’ leader bares his teeth in a disarming smile. “I’m called Castus, pretty boy. Prove truth of claim.”

 

Varro

He faces Caesar under the cold winter sun, both breathing hard. Varro has long lost sight of his brothers in the melee, but recalls the last words Spartacus spoke to him. If Rome brought forth even one such as you, there is yet hope, my brother.

Caesar bares bloodied teeth at him. “You taint the name of Rome, traitor.”

Varro laughs, even though it reopens his wounds and sets him coughing. “Funny. I thought the same of you.”

Swords clash. Flesh parts. He sees her, the Eternal City, shimmering in the distance as he falls.

Prevail, he thinks, defying hope.

 

Diona

There’s only one person Naevia would let near her, that first night after she returned, cradling Crixus’s head. They curled together in Diona’s tent, sharing no words, for there are no words left in all the world.

Come morning, they arm together, tightening each other’s straps and buckles. Watching Gannicus and his contingent ride off, they share a faint smile. They used to giggle about him, once upon a lifetime. Diona flexes her sword arm experimentally. She has no time for giggles now.

Death finds them close together, fingers clasped in the blood-smeared dirt. Their foreheads touch. The clamour fades.

 

Pietros

Nobody talks much as they cross the Alps. The sunsets are stunning, and the air so pure it hurts to breathe. Pietros helps with the younger children, because they don’t ask questions. Children are easy.

Sometimes, Nasir walks beside him. He doesn’t ask questions either, because Nasir is like that. Comfort without obligation.

At night, Pietros cries.

He’s up early one morning, squinting his eyes against the pale rose of sunrise and white peaks, when a bedraggled jackdaw lands near him. When Pietros tosses it his morning bread, it hops closer, cawing insolent thanks.

That’s the first time he smiles.