The din that was Rome slowly faded as the man followed his escort through the house. Light from his torch and the sconces set into the walls flickered across an ornately painted atrium; the ever-changing flame granted an illusion of movement to the painted characters. This trick of light caused a momentary shiver of apprehension in the man.
“How did it all get so bad,” he wondered to himself. “Could this have been avoided?” With one final turn of the granite floor the object of their hurried journey lay before them.
The man called Petronius ignored the familiar warning in the back of his mind and crossed the room to his dearest friend’s deathbed. Despair and guilt crossed his bearded face as the mournful figure knelt by the bedside. Taking his dying friend’s hand and holding it to his cheek, sorrow clearly evident in his heavy tones he asked, “Dear Seneca, how could it have gone this far?”
Seneca drew a painfully deep breath his lips pulling back exposing his teeth in a twisted semblance of a smile, “You must escape this madness, you must leave Rome. Nero is quite insane.” His voice was no stronger than a whisper so he pulled his friend’s ear close to his lips; “I beg of you a promise, Petronius.”
“Anything my friend,” the weeping visitor told him tears flowing freely from his eyes, “how may I serve you?”
“Isolte,” Seneca whispered. “I’ve disposed of all of my property except Isolte. She was always your favorite when you visited me and I trust you to take care of her.” Petronius looked to where the girl stood quietly in the corner. He had experienced the unmistakable feel of one who would one day be immortal when he entered the room. This same warning sense made it impossible for her to hide from him, even in the dim light emitted by the flickering torches.
Petronius smiled telling Seneca, “Rest assured brother, your little slave will be safe in my keeping.” The younger-looking man winced as his dying friend’s hand clamped tight and Seneca’s face twisted in a rictus of pain. Spittle leaked into his friend’s beard and Petronius wiped the red-tinged foam away.
“Beware of Nero. He fears your influence and will try to destroy you, Petronius.” The Roman’s last words trailing into the silence of death.
As the dead man’s hand relaxed against his fingers, Gaius Petronius Arbitor rose to his full height and approached the girl who cried in mourning for his friend. He took notice of the tiny boy who’d guided him here earlier picked him up and pressed the sleepy face into his neck. “Isolte,” he addressed the young woman. “Yes, Master,” came her quiet reply. The tall man lifted her face towards his, “Come girl, you have a new home now.”
A Brush of Silver and Gold by Knibblet
Very short - the only very short chapter. This novel was written immediately following the Four Horsemen episodes and bounced around Warner Books for two years before they cancelled the book series. enjoy