Emperor: The Field of Swords
“First month’s pay up front and a cup of wine to seal the agreement, I think?” he said.
        Servilia opened her mouth to reply and heard a throat delicately cleared behind her. It was Nadia, one of the new ones she had brought to the house, a woman with kohl-rimmed eyes as hard as her body was soft.
        “Mistress, there is a messenger from the legion at the door.”
        “Bring him to me, Nadia,” Servilia said, forcing a smile. As the woman disappeared, she spun to Cabera.
        “Out of there, now. I will not be embarrassed by you.”
        Cabera clambered out of the silken pit, his long fingers slipping one of the cushions under his robe as she turned back to greet the messenger.
        The man was blushing furiously and Servilia could see from Nadia’s grin at his shoulder that she had been talking to him.
        “Madam, Caesar wants you at the barracks.” His eyes swiveled to Cabera. “You too, healer. I’m to be your escort. The horses are outside.”
        Servilia rubbed the corner of her mouth in thought, ignoring the way the messenger watched her.
        “Will my son be there?” she asked.
        The messenger nodded. “Everyone is being called in, madam. I have only Centurion Domitius to find.”
        “That’s easily done, then. He’s upstairs,” she said, watching with interest as the man’s blush spread down his neck into his tunic. She could practically feel the heat coming off him.
        “I’d leave it a little while if I were you,” she said.
        As they seated themselves in the long room overlooking the yard, every one of them felt hollow twinges of excitement as they caught each other’s eyes. Julius dominated the room as he stood by the window, waiting for the last to arrive. The breeze off the hills spun slowly through the room and cooled them, but the tension was almost painful. Octavian laughed nervously as Cabera pulled a silk cushion from under his robe, and Renius held his wine cup in too tight a grip.
        As the guard closed the door and went down the stairs, Brutus drained his wine and grinned. “So, are you going to tell us why we’re here, Julius?”
        They all watched the man who faced them. The familiar tiredness had vanished from his features and he stood straight, his armor shining with oil.
        “Gentlemen, Servilia. We are finished here. It’s time to go home,” he said.
        There was a moment of silence and then Servilia jumped in her seat as the others cheered and laughed together.
        “I’ll drink to that,” Renius said, tilting his cup.
        Julius unrolled a map on his desk and they crowded around him as he laid weights at the corners. Servilia felt excluded and then Julius caught her eye and smiled at her. It would be all right.
        As Julius discussed the problems of moving five thousand men, she began to calculate. The Golden Hand was barely started, and who would run it if she left? Angelina didn’t have the iron in her. She’d be running a free house within a year if Servilia left her in charge. Nadia, possibly. A heart of flint and experienced enough, but could she be trusted not to steal half the profits? Hearing her own name snapped her back from her thoughts.
        “… not by land then, in the time. Servilia gave me the idea when we met the merchant captain she uses. I’ll write orders to commandeer every ship on the passage. That is not to be discussed except between ourselves. If they hear we’re going to use their ships, they’ll put to sea and stay there.”
        “Why are you leaving before you’re finished here?” Cabera said softly.
        The conversation around the table died to nothing and Julius paused with his finger on the map.
        “I am finished here. This is not where I should be,” he replied. “You told me that yourself. If I wait out my term, Pompey will send me somewhere else well away from my city, and if I refuse, that will be my last posting

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