Lysander had been correct, the emperor was in a good mood. He actually appeared happy to see him.
“Ah, Epaphroditus,” smiled Nero.
Epaphroditus lowered his head, “Imperial Majesty.”
Looking up again he noted Nymphidius Sabinus glowering at him, the empress didn’t look too impressed by him either.
‘I wish to see my Poppaea. Can you kindly send for her,” then lowering his voice and speaking out the corner of his mouth he said, “She gets so very upset after conjugal visits. She will need some attention.”
Empress Statilia Messalina rolled her eyes.
Nero stood up, a flurry of slaves stepped forward to straighten his gown for him. “I shall be in my chamber. Send her there.”
Epaphroditus cleared his throat, “Alas Imperial Majesty I come with some unfortunate news.”
The mood turned instantly, Nero’s genial smile dropped, his blue eyes narrowed.
“I do not like the word unfortunate. Or news, Epaphroditus.”
“I’m afraid sometimes it is necessary to burden his Imperial Majesty with unfortunate news. Particularly when the lady Poppaea is involved, she was most insistent that I inform you.”
“Inform me of what?” barked Nero.
“The lady Poppaea is not feeling herself tonight. In fact she is quite, quite unwell.”
The emperor gave a gasp. “My darling Poppaea!”
“She did not want you to think she did not want to visit you. She is horribly incapacitated but still she worries about her Caesar.”
“That is so like her! Isn’t it..” Nero looked round for someone to agree with him.
His eyes fell on the empress, she responded with a glare worthy of Juno after yet another lame excuse from Jupiter for his cow/swan sex shenanigans.
Nero looked quickly away for a more likely target, they landed on the Prefect. “Isn’t it, Sabinus.”
“Yes, Imperial Majesty. It must have been a very sudden illness. She was fine earlier. In good spirits even, emperor.”
What’s his game? Thought Epaphroditus. To the emperor he smoothed, “Nymphidius Sabinus is quite correct, the lady Poppaea was in good spirits and desirous of seeing her beloved. But then there was an oyster, not a good one it appears…”
Nero looked suitably striken.
“From the palace kitchens?” interrupted Sabinus. “I will get my men onto the culprit responsible for this poisoning.”
“Poison!” yelped Nero.
Epaphroditus held up his palm. “Not poison, a bad oyster. Nothing for Sabinus to worry over.” Locking eyes with the Prefect. “I sent Straton down to deal with the kitchen staff.”
There followed a long conversation about acquiring a doctor to examine Poppaea, something the Prefect seemed obscenely keen on. It took all of Epaphroditus’ persuasive powers to convince the emperor that Poppaea’s delicate femininity couldn’t bare to be examined by a Greek doctor.
He’d just about smoothed that one over when the Prefect piped in that maybe a visit from the emperor would cheer Poppaea up.
Something Nero seemed very set on until Epaphroditus laid out the unpleasantness of Poppaea’s sad oyster induced state.
“She wouldn’t want me to see her like that, would she Epaphroditus?”
“No, Imperial Majesty she would not. I shall go check on her right now.”
Nero nodded his assent.
Epaphroditus started backing out the door.
“I’ll come with you,” said Nymphidius Sabinus. “i can report back to the emperor on what i saw”
Now Epaphroditus shot him a glare. To his utter surprise the Prefect smiled. Actually smiled. Who knew such a thing was possible?
One thing the secretary did know now for sure: Nymphidius Sabinus was behind Sporus’ kidnapping.
They were walking through the covered passageway that was a through route for the Imperial staff moving between the old and new palaces. Which meant Epaphroditus had precisely three turns and two corridors to persuade Sabinus to bugger off.
“Nonetheless I promised the emperor. I am a man who keeps his promises.”
Epaphroditus fancied there was an accusation in there.
“Well if you are sure,” said Epaphroditus as they rounded the corner (2 corners, 2 corridors to go). “Only it is in a dreadful state. It’s firing out both ends.” He watched Sabinus’ face carefully, it remained as impassive as a block of marble before the engravers went crazy with dedications all over it.
“Simultaneously. Which is causing much difficulty for his attendants. I mean which end do you prioritise with a bowl?”
Sabinus’ face did not move, not even a twitch of disgust. He was in on this for sure. They had reached the end of this particular corridor and took another turn (1 corridor and 1 turn up go).
Time to change tact. “How is your mother these days?” asked Epaphroditus.
That moved old marble face, there was a twitch at the corner of his mouth. “My mother? She is well,” he replied briskly, upping his speed.
Epaphroditus could see the end of this corridor, one turn and they’d be outside Sporus’ chamber. The chamber he’d told the emperor the eunuch was resting in, which it definitely wasn’t – something Sabinus would be able to prove very shortly and take back to the emperor, triumphantly. He needed to stop him, now.
“I’ve been meaning to get in touch with Nymphidia,” said Epaphroditus, lightly. “Perhaps you could pass on the message.”
“The emperor has been rather disappointed by the last few orgies. And to be honest I cannot blame him, they have been distinctly lacklustre in their execution. Could you ask your mother if she’d consider coming out of retirement for the next one.”
Sabinus stopped his brisk marching, he glared at the secretary. Epaphroditus smiled back.
“It would be a great service to me. Maybe you could tell her that. The current crop of Imperial prostitutes are just not up to your mother’s calibre. Seriously you’d think they’d never sucked cock before. Its dire. I remember Nymphidia back in the day…” he cut off for some misty-eyed reminiscence. He fancied he could hear the Prefect’s heart thumping with rage. Just a little press on that sore spot…”Ahhhh the things your mother could do with her mouth. You have to appreciate a proper professional job.”
The Prefect’s hands were clenched by his side, the knuckles were white.
“I certainly appreciated it,” Epaphroditus threw in.
Sabinus looked like he might say something. Epaphroditus waited patiently with an inquiring look. Through clenched teeth the Prefect said. “You. Disgust. Me.”
The secretary feigned innocence. “What? I need a skilled fellatrix for the nones, I thought instantly of your mother. It is her particular talent.”
Which was the prompt for a purple faced Sabinus to stomp off back the way they’d come.
“I’ll send a messenger to Nymphidia then?” he called to Sabinus’ retreating back.
Right, time to get Straton, locate Sporus and get him back to the emperor before Sabinus calmed down.
“LET ME OUT!!! LET ME OUT NOW!!! I DEMAND IT!!!!”
The sound of a eunuch in a fury is not not unlike two feral cats scrapping to the death. Even with his hands over his ears Philo could feel his teeth vibrating.
“NOW! NOW! NOW!” Sporus stamped his foot on the ground.
“NOWWWWWW!!!!!” he screamed through the grid in the door. Another stamp. Then he pirouetted and flounced to the floor in a puddle of red tunic.
“I rather think we might achieve more if we were quiet,” said Philo.
“Rubbish. Someone has to come soon. They HAVE to. I won’t stand for it.”
Sporus headed for the door again, as he got there he swivelled round. “You know what will work?” he didn’t wait for Philo to respond. “A curse,” nodding sagely. “A really horrible curse. The worst kind.”
He sat down in front of Philo. “Do you know Hermes who works in the treasury?”
Philo concurred that he did.
“Well he was an absolute git to my friend Mina. Like completely rotten. So she cursed him. She cursed him good and proper. There’s this witch that hangs out by the Temple of the crazy eunuch priests that do a disservice to the eunuchised.”
Sporus considered himself above all other eunuchs who could only inspire to his level of fabulousness. Included in this tally were the Galli priests who resided in The Temple of the Great Mother beside the old palace.
“This witch gave Mina this doll in the shape of Hermes and told her to stab it in the groin with a pin and say these special words. And it worked. Totally worked. His penis fell off.”
Philo blinked. “I’m sorry.”
“His penis fell off. Hermes’ penis fell off.”
“Hermes’ penis fell off?”
“Clean off. At the root.”
Philo winced. Then after a moments thought said, “I don’t think that can be right. I was in the latrines at the same time as Hermes two before the ides and he was doing – well, what you do there – passing water.”
“Did you see it though? Did you see his penis?”
“Well, no,” conceded Philo. “No I didn’t. “
“Because it wasn’t there,” . breathed Sporus with wide eyes. “Now shall we do some penis cursing. I think I can remember the words.” He rubbed his hands together gleefully.
“How will cursing their penises to fall off make them open the door?” asked Philo.
“I’ll yell through the door that we are going to start some hard core penis cursing. Then they’ll come running to open the door before they fall off,” explained Sporus.
He gave Philo an appraising look. “You should do the yelling. You look like someone who knows terrible curses. Because you’re foreign.”
Philo shuffled on his bum. “You don’t look particularly Roman.”
Sporus didn’t but that was more due to him being a eunuch in a dress, which was the sort of thing traditional Roman misery guts Cato the Elder was very down on.
“Come on I bet you know some killer Indian curses. Lysander says you have these weird animal gods. Can’t you set some of those loose on penis not in a good way chomping duties?”
Philo crossed his arms. “I’m not Indian.”
“Weird animal gods?” asked Sporus hopefully.
Philo lent forward, lowering his voice.
“I rather thought there might be an easier way to attract attention,” he said.
“We are very, very quiet.”
Sporus gave a tsk . “Just get on with summoning your weird animal gods. Preferably ones with big teeth. Or an elephant one. Can you do elephants?”
“Please can you listen Sporus,” entreated Philo. “We know they wanted you in particular.”
“Naturally. Why would they want you? You won’t even summon your weird animal gods.”
“They were quite careful bringing us here. Not as rough as they could have been. I think they’ve orders not to damage you.”
“I’m very valuable. So what?”
“When you yell they know you’re alright. They don’t need to come and check on us. I mean you.”
Sporus frowned. “I shouldn’t yell?”
“The longer they can’t hear anything the more they’ll start to worry that something is not right. They’ll feel compelled to come check.”
“And they’ll have to open the door which is when we…”
“Punch them in the penises and leg it!” grinned Sporus. “Genius.”
Empress Statilia Messalina lay on a couch staring at the ceiling. From beyond the door there was occurring what sounded like a rodent being repeatedly poked until it reached a high level of indignation.
That possibly would have been more entertaining than what Statilia was due to endure.
The rodent hit it’s peak “Eeeee.”
Statilia gave a shudder, where was Cassandra?
On cue a door opened and in came her secretary. Statilia sat up. “Well?” she demanded urgently.
Cassandra lowered her head respectfully. “It is as we thought, Mistress, there is something going on.”
“I knew it!” exclaimed the empress.as another bout of rodent torturing began next door.
“I followed Epaphroditus as you requested,” said Cassandra. “He and Nymphidius Sabinus headed towards the eunuch’s Chambers. Before they got there an argument occurred between them. “
“An argument? About what?”
“I’m afraid I wasn’t close enough to hear the details, Imperial Mistress. I thought it best to stay out of sight.”
“Yes, yes very wise and sensible as ever, Cassandra. Continue.”
“The argument was clearly not to Sabinus’ liking because he stormed off the opposite direction. Epaphroditus then proceeded to the eunuch’s room. He entered. And then exited a few moments later alone.”
“Where did he go then?”
“I ceased to pursue Epaphroditus at this point, Imperial Mistress.”
Statilia was poised to bawl out her slave for disobeying her orders but there was something in Cassandra’s manner that stopped her. A certain spark in her eyes.
“I entered the eunuch’s chamber. He was not there,” Cassandra announced with a tiny note of triumph in her voice. “No one was. But there was a note, Epaphroditus must have written it before he departed.” She whipped out a note tablet and read. “Sabinus have taken your advice and taken Sporus to see a doctor.”
“Ha!” Statilia clapped her hands together. “I knew there was duplicity at work here! Even if it were leaking out both ends there is not a chance that creature would miss an opportunity to drape itself all over my husband. And where was that man’s Indian boy? He never goes anywhere without him.”
“That is very true, Mistress.”
“Uhuhuhuhu!” Rang out from beyond the door.
Statilia winced. The emperor eunuch-less had determined he would instead spend the evening with his wife. He had decided upon a serenade of a new work he had composed himself on the destruction of Troy. He was at that moment warming up his voice in preparation.
Statilia wished she could say the performance would be more melodic than this practice. But she couldn’t. Because it wouldn’t. How on earth her husband thought this would put her in the mood for heir making was beyond her.
She couldn’t bare it. Hadn’t she already done her conjugal duties earlier? She was not going to do it again. She would not.
This stupid plan of Epaphroditus’ to hide away that creature from the emperor so she would be forced to spend more horizontal time with her husband would fail. Because she would make sure it did.
“We need to get that creature back,” she announced, getting to her feet.