The sound barely traveled at all through the noise around him. Raucous laughter rolled over girlish giggling, the drums and pipes of the band, and the clash of finger cymbals from one of the few dancers still standing. His fingers clutched at the wine-stained tablecloth, snagging and dragging several dishes toward him. A lamp clattered to the floor, bouncing into the shallow atrium pool, where it joined several floating dishes, apples, animal bones and a partially submerged, half-eaten bunch of grapes. The lamp sputtered and died, leaving a tail of fading smoke and an ever-growing film of oil on the surface of the pool.
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The sound barely traveled at all through the noise around him. Raucous laughter rolled over girlish giggling, the drums and pipes of the band, and the clash of finger cymbals from one of the few dancers still standing. His fingers clutched at the wine-stained tablecloth, snagging and dragging several dishes toward him. A lamp clattered to the floor, bouncing into the shallow atrium pool, where it joined several floating dishes, apples, animal bones and a partially submerged, half-eaten bunch of grapes.
The lamp sputtered and died, leaving a tail of fading smoke and an ever-growing film of oil on the surface of the pool. I entreat you! Someone in the shadows told him to fuck off, and there was more merriment all around. Pelorus wrapped his fingers around the stem of the goblet, forming a crude hammer with which to bang on the table.
He brought it down three times with the practiced aim of a man who knew how to smash things up. Red wine dregs shot across the table, adding to the stains. Every one of you! And then there was something close to silence. Water sloshed over the opposite abutment, while the others laughed and pelted him with grapes.
We shall have to free you from wet attire! Welcome, too, guests who have journeyed from Baiae and Puteoli. Welcome good Timarchides, fixer infamous. Your presence here at the table is well deserved and long overdue! I trust you will find the house of Marcus Pelorus most hospitable! He glowed with their love and then held out his hands in a plea for silence once more.
The noblest among us, Gaius Verres, departs Neapolis in but a few days, to take up a post well deserved as governor Yes, governor! Of all Sicilia! The diners watched in respectful silence as their host invoked the sacred spirits, and offered due homage to the unseen gods.
May his governorship bear fruit of prosperity for his house and for the good people of Sicilia Those poor, poor bastards! Gaius Verres heard people chanting his name, and then the sound of the band striking up once more. The party would have to go on without him as he explored the darker recesses of the house of Pelorus.
Rooms not intended for the celebration were sparsely lit by solitary oil lamps, and many had already sputtered out. The household slaves had other duties, and the party had already far over-run the length of the average taper. He could hear the woman sneaking up on him, if one could call it sneaking when there were bells on her ankles.
Do you hide from me? The room was bare, but for a small shrine to household gods, and a wooden swo rd hanging from the wall. Verres shook his head and sighed. The ankle-bells tinkled closer with exaggerated steps, and Verres was suddenly enveloped in a sheer scarf of Syrian silk. I am called Successa. Verres dropped the lamp in surprise, dashing its contents into the floor mosaic in a sudden lattice of gentle flames.
Successa pressed her hot mouth onto his, her tongue probing, her arms pulling his head closer. She pressed her breasts against him and locked one leg around his calf. Verres twisted his head away. His eyes widened as he saw what he was looking for: a staircase down half a floor to the lower level of the house. She watched in bafflement as Verres gingerly descended the stairs. The former flash of brighter light from the broken lamp was almost fading; the burning oil on the floor already reduced to low simmers of dying blue, the door to the lower level almost entirely hidden in shadow.
Torches, not lamps, flickered every ten paces. He snatched up a fresh brand, and lit it from a sputtering stub in a wall-bracket, waiting patiently as the flames licked around the tar-soaked rags until they hissed into fiery life. Successa pulled the ankle-bells from her feet and followed. Is that what kind of man you are, Verres? Verres snorted.
My meaning is not to offend. Too forward? Some weary heads lifted, only to fall again as Verres passed. Scattered wine flasks in each cell attested to a low-rent copy of the celebrations upstairs. In Egypt, origin of many dark arts of the bedchamber. Inside was merely a rough covering of sackcloth, drawn over a prone, shapely form. She was already awake, dark eyes glinting in the torchlight. This, he locks away as treasure. Verres lifted the slate by the entrance, reading five letters scratched onto it.
She drew her legs toward her, as if recoiling from the light. The woman in the cell shook her head in denial, as if willing Verres to disappear, in vain. There was something on her face, like the tendrils of a plant, or matted hair. It was difficult to see in the half-light. He slid it slowly along its loops with a scraping of dry, old metal. His left hand snaked between his own legs, rubbing gently at his hardening member.
His right hand tugged at the heavy cell door, which creaked open on protesting hinges. The woman named as Medea backed further into her corner, her eyes wide with fear, her back meeting unyielding brick. He leaned forward and grabbed her hair in his fist.
Successa gasped in surprise as she caught sight of a network of regular scarring, at tattoos and swirls, incisions rubbed with colored dirt. The woman raised her head in the light, to display a similar pattern across one side of her face—fang-shaped zigzags across her cheek, and red ochre tendrils reaching across her face and forehead.
A seer? A valued woman among your tribe, I am sure of it. Highly regarded. Greatly esteemed. And now Naked before me.
It was an entire cosmology of symbols and sigils, executed with the barbaric angles and daubs of the primitive peoples of the Euxine Sea. His hands saw no ink. We have taken our women this way since before Rome was a city. Verres felt her breath on his mouth. His hard cock bumped against the soft flesh of her stomach, leaving a gleaming trail like a snail. His free hand caressed her hip, traveling up to the curve of her breast, his fingers circling a hard nipple.
Successa let out an involuntary sigh of exasperation. As Verres gasped in pain and surprise, his grip loosed on her hair. Verres let out an involuntary yell, keeling over onto the cell floor, but Medea had already forgotten him.
Naked, she sprinted straight for the doorway, where Successa watched, frozen in surprise. They spun through half a turn, until Medea kicked Successa away, back into the cell, simultaneously propelling herself out through the doorway and into the corridor. Verres was struggling to his feet as Successa landed on top of him, sending both Romans back to the floor in a groaning heap. Medea ran down the corridor, her shadow leaping large on the walls in the light of the newly kindled fires.
The shrieks of the burning woman drowned out any other sounds in the enclosed space, but Medea remained focused. She paused momentarily, lost, and then looked at the scuffmarks in the sand left by the feet of her tormentors.
Spartacus: Swords and Ashes
I thought the show would be just an over-the-top action historical without depth. Reading it was bittersweet. Sweet because, unlike some novelizations of shows and movies, the story was well-written. The novel nicely slots the story into the events of Blood and Sand and sends most of the cast to a funeral in another Roman city. The action sequences are excellent, not an easy task especially when those reading will compare it to the visuals on the show.