Hargotrix wallowed in his lavishly-decorated quarters, in the knowledge that even this luxury would be far exceeded once he became a valued client of the high king, Vortigern – and all thanks to a renegade Roman who had strayed into his hands. It had taken a little effort, of course, to locate Ambrosius Aurelianus – no work on Hargotrix’s part, but someone had tracked him down. Then it was just a matter of good timing and some help from God – or fortune – to capture the man with minimal casualties. The agreement with Vortigern would raise his status and thus confirm his position as king of the Durotriges. He was aware of a few malcontents but this would silence them forever.
“Your mother’s planning something,” said Catoriga, deflating his buoyant mood – something she seemed to do increasingly often.
Hargotrix groaned in despair. “That old hag is always scheming with my enemies – nothing new there.”
“She may have failed once with Lurotriga,” continued Catoriga, “but you can be sure that she’s still weaving her hateful web around us.”
“Leave it,” he said, hoping his terse instruction would suffice for once.
Catoriga was becoming a bit of a bore and, once he was more firmly established, she would have to go. Aside from her irritating interference, his wife was as barren as a stony moor. Since she had not yet given him an heir, he already decided that he would bed his brother’s widow – the highly desirable, Lurotriga. Either of the women could deliver the support of several Durotriges families but Lurotriga was younger and, if she proved more fertile, then his marriage to Catoriga would end – very likely with her sudden death. She suspected as much too, which is why she had delighted in revealing Lurotriga’s betrayal to him.
“Megisa has some scheme in mind – I know it,” muttered Catoriga.
“Stop moaning on about my mother!” he snapped. “She’s an embittered, old woman – not much longer for this world. What damage can she do now?”
“She has the backing of some of the men-”
“Men? If any of them were men, they’d have challenged me already. Perhaps she does have one or two loyal outcasts, but any support she has will just wither away once my kingship is confirmed by Vortigern. And let’s not forget the Roman’s blood price – that alone will be enough to distribute a few persuasive bribes among those families that matter.
“But what about that Roman himself though?” persisted Catoriga. “Can you not see that Megisa is trying to use him against you?”
“Yes, of course, but in a day, he’ll be gone!” retorted Hargotrix. “Now that her grubby little scheme with Lurotriga has been exposed, she has nothing left to use against me.”
Seizing his wife by the arm, Hargotrix dragged her across the bed until she sprawled, trembling, under him. “Can you not see, woman,” he snarled, “that you don’t need to prattle away all day? You don’t need words at all, because your only important work can be done on your back – without the aid of any speech!”
Beneath him, Catoriga lay so stiff with fear that all carnal impulses deserted him and he rolled off her. Once this woman had enthralled him, with her heady ambition and boundless appetite for the pleasures of the body; but any lingering desire he might have felt for his ageing wife was dissipating fast. Now, whenever he did lie with her, he thought only of Lurotriga, whose beauty he had long coveted. His brother’s widow, however, had still to be persuaded for she had not yet, despite Catoriga’ s jealous suspicions, invited him into her bed. But she would, once the annoying distraction of Ambrosius was removed.
In the meantime, he had a good number of whores he could use. Endlessly accommodating, they never nagged him about his bitch of a mother – and the wonderful thing about whores was that, if he tired of one, his men could always procure another.