Titus listened. He wondered which of the gangs that Marcus paid for protection. Mandatum or Apolloni were two of the most likely candidates. It was hard to tell which. He sat down on the comfortable chair, made himself comfortable and lifted his chin to expose his neck to the barber. The scent of lemon and almond oil filled his nostrils, strangely it brought up memories of Numeria, his lover.
"I am interested in knowing businesses that I plan to frequent more regularly. Your place has come highly recommended." He answered, his hands rested on his lap and were gently folded. The fingertips crossed and idly tapped against each other while he waited for Marcus Barbatius to begin his line of work. Either way, it was still quite impressive to see an establishment lasting six years in Rome.
"Forgive me, we have not yet been introduced," He said, extended his hand. "I am Titus Justinius Canicus Phiscerus," Titus introduced himself. There was a chance that Marcus would know him for the association with the Ludus Dacicus or through the illegal dealings with the Lupii of Roma.
The Dacians and Dacia had been taken many years ago. But there were always issues with them. The Britons, on the other hand, were quite easy to attain and his top lip lifted with amusement at the Legionary's joke. Many men thought they were immortal until they began gladiatorial training. It was only then that they began to realise that they were mortal. His second-in-command stopped and turned back before he gave a nod of approval. Each of the potentials meeting his preliminary standard. The harsh training would likely decide who would survive, and who would not.
"You may go, wine and food has been left for you both," Titus answered. The offer was not needed. It was wise to keep relative peace with the urban cohort of the city. It would make his illegal operations run much more smoothly. Although he rarely, if ever, had any issues when it came to that area.
"Doctore!" He called out, and the glistened veteran of many combats approached to view the men. "Dominus, Sir," Quintus greeted his superiors before he turned towards the men. Titus, since his staff were present, was content to permit them to show them whether the candidates would be suitable or not. There were upcoming games, and he was required to send both experienced veterans and new recruits coming up soon. Once the guards were out of the area. The gates were locked. Secured them inside. On Quintus' belt was the sharp whip that would remind the slave's of their station.
Titus had to beat the Ludus Magnus. He had to.
"Maggots!" Quintus roared, even for Titus, Quintus was particularly crude in his mannerisms and behaviour. Still, he got the job done -- and done right.
"If some of you prove yourselves worthy. You will become gladiators and become something better! If not, you will die the worthless scum you are!" Quintus called out. The other gladiators of the Ludus jeered, calling out a variety of threats, curses and mockery towards the men who were not yet their brothers.
He needed new recruits to take in. It was as though the Gods had answered his prayers when four slaves would be brought to him for training. There was a chance that there would be a champion from among their ranks. Yet it was equally likely that they would be made gladiators with an average service record. Some would possibly be freed while others would die for the roar of the Roman crowd. Either way, so long as he was able to gain a return on his investments, it was perfectly fine by him.
Titus walked beside his lanista, Gaius Vellius and looked down at the men as they arrived. He smiled to himself and with a silent nod of agreement the two men left the balcony. The slave girl opened her mouth to tell him, he raised his hand to both acknowledge and shut her down immediately while they walked to where they would be received. It was quite... unexpected to bring the recruits inside right away. Slaves traditionally were brought to the back in order to be presented.
Titus and Gaius stood side by side. The elder looked rougher, older and had clearly had a rough upbringing by his expressions.
"Slaves typically go to the back," Titus warned for the future. Casually his gaze moved from one specimen to the next.. to him, they were livestock that could speak and would earn him coin. Gaius walked close to them. The lanista started with the one furthest from Ambrosius. Gaius observed, studied them closely and walked past them. His gaze glared at them in a dominant fashion. They were the lowest of the low in gladiator society. If they survived and had the honour of the brand, they would enter the brotherhood of the gladiators and even receive an honourable burial at their passing.
While this was happening...
"Where are these ones from? Prisoners of war?" Titus asked, and silently wished he had a son to teach the family trade. Sure, the ludi contracts could be removed by Caesar yet why remove the right family for the job?
There were many times when he had noticed her. Clio was beautiful, and yet... there was the promise he had made to his wife not to touch her. It was strange. Denying someone something tended to make them desire it more intensely. Titus looked away. He did not wish to have his desires betrayed when he looked at her. With a frown of frustration at his own desire, he lifted up a glass of wine and took a sip of the liquid.
Over time, he had begun to get suspicions of much of his wife's conduct with the gladiators, and while he was socially permitted to be as free as he desired. Titus did not like nor approve of her increased contact with them. Despite his love for her and appreciation of her business sense. Or, perhaps his own jealousy was fueled by his own desire for the one slave he was not permitted to have. The only one.
"I want everyone to go through the Ludus Dacicus, and to promote us. Naturally, she can use flattery and invite prominent members of the wealthiest families to attend the Ludus. Show off, send out bribes of food to the plebs and proles, that sort of thing." He answered, there was only so much he could do from the illegal perspective. His Ludus needed to be the best through its own merits. Through his skill and mastery. His wife would be the perfect picture. The hostess of their home. His line of work may be infamous yet it certainly came with rewards.
The temptation of using other methods still remained strong.
He did not need to tell her this. Yet... a part of him felt drawn to do so.
"I will be purchasing new slaves to train and if they proved useful. They will have the honour of becoming gladiators."
Titus smiled politely. The barber had no idea about the level he would happily take his barbarism. Nor was he aware of how Marcus treated his own slaves. He himself was certainly not soft when it came to dealing with them either. This was a social visit to get to know his fellow Romans. He didn't answer the first part concerning Barbatius' reputation or name. All he knew was that he could receive a good quality shave here.
Marcus was certainly not wrong when it came to his hair or beard. He had more than enough income to purchase a slave to tend to this matter if he wanted to. Yet being part of Roman society was important, and there was always a chance he could potentially overheard something of value when he was here.
"Yes, just a shave and a trim," He answered, without hesitation he turned to walk towards the chair and sat down on it. Making himself perfectly home in the establishment. His chin lifted while he waiting for the oils to be put on his skin in anticipation for the razor across his throat. Some civil conversation was expected. Titus made himself comfortable while his bodyguard stood closer to the door while the body slave remained close to him. Either to oversee what was going to proceed or to offer any assistance if necessary. Given his status, he would make his slave barter for payment when the time came.
"How long have you had this establishment for?"
Having connections among the lower classes was vital for him to maintain his powerbase among the gangs, and to possibly end up eventually ceasing power from them. It was easy enough for him to get a shave at home. This was a place where men would gather and discuss important matters. There was no way he would going to pass this up. Titus had not risked coming alone. He had a body slave with him and a bodyguard who would both ensure his safety, and tend to his needs. He did not approve of the beard he had been developing of late. It was not a time to mourn nor was he a barbarian who spent most of their time being crushed by the legions. He had heard good things thus far about this man, and decided it was a perfect time to come and see what the quality of the service would be like.
His bodyguard entered the room first and nodded before Titus entered the room with his body slave in tow. Titus looked around the room and silently approved of the slaves all working in silence.
"Ave Citizen, are you Marcus Barbatius? I have heard good things about your establishment." He greeted him with a hand outstretched for a handshake. A symbol of communal greeting among men of equal standing. He wondered which of the gangs protected Barbatius' place. Most businesses did not survive without some protection money being paid to one or multiple gangs. Apolloni? Mandatum? It was difficult to say which one it was.
"And, I would like to use some of your services," Titus added, rubbed his thumb along his chin and smirked. "I look like some eastern savage."
Titus' fingertips tapped against the surface of the wooden desk. He could not stop thinking about ways to earn more coin. Eventually, he would need to either make a truce with the other gangs or attempt to push them out. Anything that would gain him further coin, and through that. Power. If he ever had a son he wanted the very best for him, even if it meant that he may have to sacrifice his happiness for the chance of a better life for his son. Always more. Neither the legitimate and illegitimate lines of work were particularly honourable for him yet they brought in considerable amounts of coin. He exhaled in irritation and sipped some of his wine. Temporarily he was away from his wife, and purposely kept this part of the business away from her. He heard footsteps in the background, and saw Lucius Corvinus, his second-in-command approach him.
"Lucius, I think it is time for us to have a little meeting with the faction leaders," Titus said, personally, he had no interest nor favour in any of the teams. All he cared about was the profit that would come from the bets that were made. Sentiment was not essential nor wanted. "To remind them that our services are vital to their success or failure in the races, and that we are here to stay."
"Yes Dominus, what team would you like for me to visit first?" Lucius answered in his gruff voice. His thumb idly scratched along the pale scar that marked his chin, the stubble made noise as he did so, and waited for the answer.
"The Reds, make sure that they know who to come to for both protection and if they wish to sabotage another team. It doesn't take much. Men get sick, horses get sick, and all sorts of things." Titus listed things off and shrugged. Lucius was a veteran of this sort of thing and knew which of their agents who would be best to work with, for each task and what ones would be beneficial.
"It will be done."
Titus felt for Annia. It was not easy. Infertility and shame were often attributed to the women. He refused to think whether or not it could be him, or due to him. There have been other household slaves who had produced sons. None he would ever willingly claim as his own. Yet Numeria had also not managed to produce a son for him either. There was a chance that she would prefer to wait to see if they married first. It was difficult to say.
However, when Clio began to explain about the Annia eyeing up the gladiators and suggested that there may be more behind it. He felt himself exhale slowly, his blood beginning to boil in fury and he had no desire for his wife if she shamed the wedding bed. He would definitely need to have her watched, followed and all to ensure that she did not stray. Still... he hoped it was entirely concerning profit. Not to mention, the slave was not purposely trying to cause any discord between the husband and wife. "Hm," He answered her, and knew that a talk with Annia was needed.
Fortunately, Clio spoke of Annia reaching out to the members of the nobility and frowned. If, or when, he had his son, it would be easier for him to come from a well connected family who would be able to give him a head start. At least she was doing something to ensure the growth and success of the family. "Mixed results are to be expected," He said, many of the older families did not like the rising Equites (or freedmen) class. Yet there was always something illusive about those involved with the Ludii. Unfortunately, in Rome, he had three competitors who he constantly had to be on the lookout for. Especially Appius Albinus Posca.
"Tell her to keep going with making those connections as needed." Titus said, there was the eventual matter of finding a suitable marriage for his daughter. Yet that was not an appropriate conversation to have with one of the slaves.