The Black Stone

The Black Stone by Nick Brown

Book: The Black Stone by Nick Brown Read Free Book Online
Authors: Nick Brown
    ‘No idea,’ said Cassius, leaning back and crossing his legs. ‘We found you passed out in front of the door. Where’d you go?’
    ‘Some tavern.’
    ‘You’re lucky those men didn’t find you.’
    ‘I wish they had.’
    ‘Don’t be idiotic, man. Oh, by the way, you owe me six sesterces.’
    Muranda returned, carrying a steaming mug of hot wine for Cassius and Indavara’s water.
    ‘We had an early morning visit from the city sergeants regarding your misdemeanour at the hippodrome. One was a senior man – wouldn’t take any less than six to drop it.’
    ‘I’ll get you the coins later.’
    Indavara thanked Muranda then took a long drink. The housekeeper put her hands on her hips and looked down at him. ‘Look at the state of you. Shall I put a bowl of water and a towel in your room?’
    ‘Do so at once,’ said Cassius, waving her towards the villa. ‘You need to freshen up and get your tunic on. A messenger called in just before you roused yourself. We are expecting an important visitor.’
    ‘A rather overweight gentleman who arrived in Bostra last night. Odious features, appalling manners and known affectionately across the length and breadth of the eastern provinces as “Pitface”.’
    ‘He’s here?’
    ‘He’s here.’

    Abascantius suggested they meet in the study. As Indavara brought in two extra chairs, Cassius dug out the map of the province the agent had requested (Verecundus had left behind a decent copy – thick paper mounted on a wooden frame). Indavara placed the chairs in front of the desk and sat down. Cassius watched him watch Abascantius, who was still in the atrium, doling out a stream of instructions to Shostra. Indavara wiped some residual water off his hair and rubbed his eyes. As Shostra left via the front door, Abascantius strode in.
    For once he was attired like an officer, though his scarlet cloak was rather threadbare. The helmet was in rather better condition and – uniquely in Cassius’s experience – boasted a black crest. Abascantius had earlier confided to him that this had been his idea; apparently the Praetorian Guard wore the colour many centuries before and he liked the way it unnerved other officers and ranks. He deposited the helmet on the table then thumped his hands onto Indavara’s shoulders.
    ‘Look at this lad. Built like a brick shithouse, eh, Corbulo?’
    He lowered his bulk into the chair and grinned at the bodyguard. ‘Tell me – how in Hades do you stay in such good condition?’
    ‘Just keep up with my exercises, sir.’
    ‘Two hours a day,’ added Cassius. ‘Often more.’
    ‘Remarkable commitment,’ said Abascantius. ‘Wish I had the time. So, have you seen the commendation?’
    Indavara looked at him blankly.
    ‘From Chief Pulcher,’ continued the agent. ‘Expressing his thanks for what you and Corbulo did in Cyrenaica.’
    ‘I have it here,’ said Cassius, pointing to the letter. ‘I’ll read it to you later.’
    ‘Well, Indavara can probably read it himself now. I hear you’re doing well with your numbers and letters.’
    ‘It’s difficult.’
    ‘You are progressing, though,’ said Cassius as he sat down. ‘Simo says so.’
    Abascantius leaned forward and shook Indavara’s forearm. ‘Young man, I want to thank you personally for what you did. I knew Memor well. You and Corbulo not only found his killers but avenged his death.’
    ‘Miss Annia gave me a medal,’ said Indavara.
    ‘The daughter? You did that family a great service.’
    Indavara looked thoughtfully out of the window behind Cassius.
    ‘To business,’ said Abascantius. ‘You two have been lounging around here in Bostra too long; time to set you to work once more. Corbulo, you told Indavara about the stone?’
    ‘I did. Sir, you said there was a regular army garrison at Emesa. Surely they have been searching for it since it was stolen?’
    ‘Indeed, but without success. The commander there was a centurion named

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