The girl looked to Titus with pleading eyes but Titus felt nothing. To him, she was just a commodity. Not even worthy of breathing the same air as him or calling herself human. His initial reaction, which was the very one that Vibia got, was to laugh. And so, he laughed. It was not warm or hearty but instead a quick, demeaning laugh.
“Entertain me?” said Titus, he sounded almost as if he disbelieved her. “How do you suppose that you would entertain me in a way that countless other women have not already?” His brows rose as if to emphasise his point. To him, most women were the same, each not any different from the other, only some were more obnoxious than others. And uglier too. Men were of a different breed entirely unless a slave or freedman, then he was as good as a woman. Still, she’d likely seen half of Rome’s richer men unclothed, if not more, but Titus wasn’t a man who kicked up a fuss if a woman wasn’t a virgin.
“Very well, let’s see how entertaining you can be then,” he said, no real emotion to his voice and waving his hand at the slave girl, who then pushed herself up and rushed for the door. Her body rocked from side to side like she was at sea, her feet couldn’t hold her body with all the fear she felt pumping through her veins. The door slammed shut and Titus returned to his seat casually, folding one leg over the other. He sized up Vibia’s body, looking her up and down.
“And you will keep the wig on,” he said, or rather demanded. “So, entertain me.” He sat there, practically waiting.
Titus nodded, non-judgemental. The more Marcus spoke, the more Titus found that he agreed with the man. Titus turned to look up at the building, it was humble but a home nonetheless. Titus’ own home was lavish but simply because he liked to live in luxury, though he ironically kept his money all for himself. Titus stepped into the man’s home after Marcus did and he looked around the place, not necessarily inspecting it or judging but out of habit, studying his surroundings.
A man’s home said a lot about him. The house revealed nothing about Marcus’ nature, however, making the man only more of a mystery to him. The slave present was quiet and obedient. He eyed the male slave at the doorway, admiring the man’s physique. Regardless of whether or not the slave was within earshot, Titus spoke up, returning to their previous conversation.
“You ought to try playing with their minds a little,” said Titus, who, unlike Marcus, much preferred playing with a man’s mind, the way a lion played with its food before devouring it. “Violence is like the grand meal and playing with their brittle minds like the appetizers beforehand. One is the act, the other its foreplay. Though violence has its perks, I’m sure, you ought to come to my place for dinner and I’ll show you just how I break a man’s mind from the inside.”
It wasn’t just slaves he did it to but his sister as well, who he was cruel to one moment and then kind the next, a cycle that kept her loyal and locked to him entirely.
“I was thinking of trimming my hair as well,” said Titus suddenly, rubbing his chin and feeling the prickles of hair against his fingers.
Titus had had lunchwith a man who claimed to have a “business opportunity” for Titus, only to have then wasted his time. The entire time Titus had spent with one leg folded over the other, an elbow on the arm of the chair while his fingertips stroke the stubble growing on his chin. The man went on and on about his sexual conquers, his mother’s decaying teeth because apparently, just apparently, he kept her skull somewhere in his house. Titus sighed and his attention turned to the young man behind him, eyes staring towards the floor as he held a jug of wine. But before the man could continue on his long-winded tall tales, Titus rose a hand and came up with an excuse as to why he was leaving.
He’d made a bad judgement. But he was desperate for making a name of himself and filling his coffers with more coins. Leaving the man’s home, two slaves followed after him as if he was someone very important. But it he soon grew bored of their company, even annoyed and waved them off. He needed time to think, refresh his mind. And so, he wandered the streets. Fate had a very different plan for the man the moment he caught a nice palla and dark hair. From the manner of the woman, she seemed lost, perhaps nervous and thus simple to take advantage of. It was hard to tell her station from where he was but he soon followed slowly, deliberately slow at first so that she would not notice him.
But it wasn’t long until he caught up. When she turned to him, he could note, a lot more easily, her thick, silky dark hair. It was the first thing he noticed.
“In a hurry, I see,” he said, his lips upturning into a delicate smile. “You look to be in obvious distress and like you’re not meant to be here.” A predator would smell such a thing from a mile away. They craved after it. “With your breasts heaving as they are, you’ve alerted half of Rome that you’re in a vulnerable state of mind. I’d be a little more careful if I were you, especially dressed as you are. You should do yourself a favour and remove that palla.”
“Good,” said Titus, gently releasing his sister. He had never been as bad as Gnaeus, or so he told himself. He was not entirely deluded to think he was a good man, though he had saved Gaia long ago from being a target of their brother’s antics and had small moments of kindness, but he knew he wasn’t the worst she or his slaves would come across. At the Elysium, he enabled much cruelty to take place within the walls but the slaves generally meant nothing to him. A slave could be replaced by another. Unless, of course, it proved that it could be of use to him.
“Why don’t you stand up?” he said, gently resting his hand on her elbow to pull her up. It was a complete turnaround from how he had been just treating her. Her hair was all rumpled and all over the place from his outburst so he began to brush her hair from her face, strands that were fly away, he smoothed down. “It’s late, I think you have had quite enough time outside in the world, wandering and trying to be useful to a society that hardly even notices you. It’s exhausting and who knows who you might come across. I do worry when you walk alone in the streets, especially when alone at night. A man might just take advantage of you.”
He patted her shoulder before leading her away from where they had been. “But you’re tired,” he said. “Let’s get you to bed. You don’t want your son seeing you like this. Hysterical and over-stepping. What would he think? What are you teaching him?”
If you were to ask him, an impossible to tame dog or horse was not worth the effort. He tended to disregard anything that no longer interested him. Titus would either sell the animal or put it out of its misery. And yet, could a dog or horse not be trained and tamed? Surely, they could. As could a human with a certain amount of work if one put their back into it. After all, most slaves were tamed, even the most impossible. In Titus’ experience, mind games broke a person, especially their spirit, even the most resilient. But Marcus was right, difficult slaves were not worth keeping and had to be disposed of, if not changed. Titus returned the smile.
“Indeed,” replied Titus. It was true, slaves did have their uses and Titus was a man who always tried to gain something out of life, his slaves mere pawns in the process. “Have you ever tried taming the shrew? Rather than disposing of them, playing with their minds?” It was a gamble saying what he did so openly to another man but he’d already seen a glimpse of the man earlier and he simply wasn’t a man to trifle with, especially if a slave, which only made him more interesting in Titus’ eyes. “It brings another form of entertainment that one mightn’t see in the gladiatorial pits.” He chuckled lightly. “Sometimes pain doesn’t break a man, his own mind does.”
She accused him of being a psychopath, Titus merely let out a laugh. A hand to her mouth, he could visualise shock on the young woman’s features. Vibia’s sudden change made his lips turn upwards into a wicked smile. The girl’s muffled sobs could be heard in the background, almost like an unsettling tune.
The slave moved upright and Titus kicked the slave’s back, causing her to fall downwards, catching herself with her hands. Her eyes were glued to the hard floor, looking anywhere but at Titus. Titus’ attention was instead on Vibia, studying her as if he she was a specimen to be picked at and tested. He stepped forwards, the end of his feet crushing the fingers of the slave who then let out a wail, which sounded harsh and peculiar, given that she couldn’t open her mouth.
“I don’t want you to say anything at all,” he said, his words came out calm. “But I suppose tonight would be rather dull if you kept silent the whole time. Like this one. I contemplated having more sewn shut.” He nodded to the slave on the floor, then moving his foot from her fingers. He casually moved towards his wine, swirling it before gulping some of it down. “But I’m not going to hurt you, Vesuvia. If that’s what you think. You’re a whore, I’m sure you’ve dealt with all kinds of people. Surely, you can deal with a so-called psychopath like me. I don’t want to hear anything, I just want your company. So, entertain me. Do whatever you want to the slave girl. Beat her, touch her. I’ll be watching.”
On one hand, Titus wanted to “sell” his sister to the highest bidder, the best option. After all, good connections were everything in Rome. And yet, all the same, he could not part from his sister. Not out of brotherly love, no, rather if she left, she would become her husband’s property and out of his line of power. He did not like that idea, not one bit. The man would need to be someone on the same set of mind as Titus or a fool, easy to manipulate. And then there was Gaia’s bastard to deal with, a boy who was growing into a man. Men were harder to control sometimes.
Already Marcus was making quite the impression. A good impression. Titus raised his chin, eyes looking around him as if in thinking “did he ever do such things?” The answer was yes. He wasn't interested in torture, it didn’t do anything for him. Perhaps it was the power. What was life without power and money?
“I’ve beaten my slaves,” he admitted casually, now the conversation was getting exciting and past all the polite words. Titus never did usually divulge too much of himself to anyone unless there was trust. Well, the two men seemed to see eye-to-eye. “I haven’t cut tongues, no. Not yet anyways.” He flashed Marcus a smile, a curious twinkle in his eyes. “More men need to be like you, Marcus. Strict on their slaves. I see too many wandering the streets like rats and multiplying like insects. You say cutting tongues isn’t enough. What would you say is enough?”
She didn’t say anything which only pushed to further infuriate him. He looked down at her, dark strands of her against her pale skin as she opened her eyes. His hand extended forwards once more, this time, he wasn’t going to slap her cheeks mockingly but he began to stroke her head affectionately, perhaps sending very strange, mixed and uncomfortable messages to her.
“What happened to the woman who spoke so boldly moments before?” said Titus, his voice may have sounded soothing but that was completely beside his true intentions, which was to continue to push her down into her place. Or rather, what he saw as her place. But she seemed spellbound so he roughly took her by the hair and pushed her head. “Are you not going to tell me how to take care of my own slaves, woman?” He pushed her head again, this time a little more tough. His actions were perhaps not as violent as their brother Gnaeus had been but it was harsh in its own way.
He listened to Marcus open up to him. It was not by much, as the man seemed difficult to crack into, but it was something and that something was interesting. He laughed, not because it was a funny story but because, in a very small way, he could relate. “It wasn’t good” summed up the entire affair regarding Marcus and his family. It certainly summed up Titus’ backstory as well.
“My father’s second woman was a whore after my mother died,” he admitted, rolling his eyes. “You would have thought he could do better. The woman spawned an equally loose creature, my sister. But she has her beauty so that was the one good thing that came out of it. She is quiet and obedient, the way a woman should to be. The perfect wife but now to find the perfect husband.”
As the conversation veered forwards, he saw that he could actually see eye-to-eye with Marcus. That was a relatively rare thing, considering most seemed to treat slaves and freedmen like they were equals. “Have you ever thought of breaking their teeth when they talk? Or cutting out their tongues?” suggested Titus, waving a hand innocently. He phrased it like a joke but he truly meant it.
“Dim, yes. Ugly? No,” said Titus as he moved towards the door. As he did so, he didn’t say anything. One might have assumed he was leaving but he wasn’t. Instead, he called for a slave to come to him but didn’t explain why, nor did he say anything to “Vesuvia”. She would just have to find out. Turning from the door, his attention returned to Vibia. He doubted she was telling the truth, she had to be playing with him. But he wasn’t interested in what he assumed was a crack wise response.
“I killed the real Vesuvia,” he said suddenly, coldly with no emotion. He hadn’t really, he’d only made her life miserable. He could remember sitting at her bedside as she lay dying, sweat rolling from her brow, and she could barely talk. He told her how he’d take care of her daughter while she was gone. But, of course, the real Vesuvia had seen Titus’ true colours by then. But he had orchestrated the death of a business partner and had no regrets.
“But I’m sure that doesn’t faze you,” said Titus. “I get the idea that not much fazes you. I like that.” Being both a whore and once a slave, he figured she had experienced all kinds of things. “But if we are stuck together, as you so kindly reminded me, I’m sure you can try harder with trying to get along with me, hm?”
At that moment, the door creaked open, revealing a small slave, poking their head through the door. Nervous, lips sewn shut. There was no means for the slave to say anything as a result beneath the stitches and swelling around their lips. Before they could step into the room, Titus hit the slave with the back of his hand, sending the slave flying onto the floor with a hard, loud thud.
“That’s for every time you say something I don’t like.”