The Doctor entered a room that was sparsely lid by oil lamps. An appalling odor penetrated his nose, a scent that he associated with clogged up chemical toilets found at overpopulated pop-concerts. When his eyes adjusted to the dim lights, he took in the erotic frescos on the wall and the colorful crowd that had gathered inside consisting of skimpily clad damsels and sweaty men. It didn't took him long to conclude that he was in the right place.
He found the patron of the establishment behind the counter talking to a man and a young girl. The man was counting out golden coin pieces that he took from a shabby looking purse made of sheepskin. He added them on the two neat stacks of coins piled up in front of him.
"Come on, lad." Simon said, beckoning with his finger. "Keep it coming. I don't have the entire night for you."
"You said you needed twenty gold pieces for my sister." The young man stated, sternly. "This is twenty, right there on the table."
"Twenty five." Simon said, laying his hands on the two stacks. He glared at the purse that the young man was holding, trying hard to take a peek inside. "It's not like you cannot afford it."
"You greedy Sicilian rat!" The young man hissed, but his sister quickly shook him on his arm and urged him to give her patron the rest of the requested money. The young man took a handful out of the bag and threw it out on the table. "There! Twenty and a handful. And I'm not going to give you any more! You may or may not be content with it, but I'm taking Livia home with me."
Simon grabbed the coins before they rolled off the counter. He held one up to the light, examining the glistering portrait of the late emperor Tiberius with a greedy but satisfied grin on his face.
"Yes yes, take her with you, if you must." He waived dismissively without so much as a glance at the two. "I had quite enough of that loud mouth and insolent manners of your sister. But don't come crawling back to me when this year's harvest turns out to be spoiled. I won't buy her back even if you paid me 30 Denaries!" He handed the scroll that described in legal terms the act of manumission over to Livia's brother. Before the young man could wrap his fingers around it, his sister had already snatched it out of her former master's hand. "Goodbye then Simon." Livia said, her voice trembled as she tried to keep her calm. "May you choke on a Denary and die."
"Ehm, excuse me for interrupting, but are you finished?" The Doctor squeezed himself between Livia and her former patron. The young girl shot him a nasty look, which he completely ignored. "Good. So, You must be Simon Asinaria. I was looking for a slave named Marcellus. He was sold to you half a year ago by an ehm acquaintance of mine." He didn't want to call Jack his friend after what he had done to him. "I want to buy him back. It was a mistake. He shouldn't have been sold to you in the first place."
Simon rolled his eyes. "What is it? National manumission day? And you, you cheap stinking whore, another word coming from that loud mouth of yours and I'm going to get Micranus to split those pretty lips wide open."
"I am not afraid of you! Not anymore! I am a freedwoman now!" She waived the scroll in front of his nose. "So why don't you act like a man for once and do your own dirty job! Come and get me if you have any balls!"
Simon's face turned red, he flew over the counter, throwing himself at Livia.
"Hey! Could you stop arguing here! I was looking for Marcellus. Now can you tell me where he is?" The Doctor interrupted, pushing the patron back behind his counter, but Simon was having none of this. "Get your filthy foreign hands off me!" He craned his neck to the backdoor. "Micranus!" He yelled. "Micranus! There is trouble! Get in here, now!"
A tall and muscular black man entered, ready to seize the Doctor with hands the size of coal shovels. "Now just a minute." The Doctor said, backing up as the Moor loomed over him dangerously, appearing as massive as a bloody mountain. "There is no need to resolve this with violence."
"I've enough of these province scumbags! Throw these jesters out of my brothel!" Simon ordered in a pissed off voice.
Micranus grabbed hold of the Doctor's arm and twisted it on his back, but the Doctor was quite flexible with his limbs. He reeled around and, seizing the Moor's wrists, managed to push him against the counter by slamming into him using his whole bodyweight.
"Now look." The Doctor yelled. "I don't want to cause any trouble. I just need to find a friend of mine."
It could have been a coincidence. It could also have been fate, the hand of lady Fortuna who had finally taking pity on Marcellus. For a short moment, the Doctor took his eyes off the Moor and his furious master, and caught sight of the narrow alley way through the open back entrance. Above a dark, vile looking stain, someone had left his writings on the wall.
The Doctor rushed outside. Both his hearts seemed to stand still for a moment before they started beating again in a pace that was alarming even for Timelord's standards. Carved out in the stones, just below an iron bolt that held a set of rusty chains, was a message left by the human Master that reflected his poor state of mind.
-The Doctor condemned me to hell- It said, and although the Timelord could no longer sense the Master's presence, he knew that each word was carved out in fear and deep felt loathing.
The grass Marcellus walked on tickled underneath his feet and he giggled, his throat making a small noise that he imagined a mouse would make. He threw his head back, the world swirling at dangerous speed in front of his eyes making him feel sick, but he wanted to see the stars. There they were, brilliant as he had imagined, scattered like a sea of diamonds. The light they cast was cool and sharp, cutting through his fever that made him burn up like a blackened block of cinder, or suffer from a cold that slivered down his spine like a river made of ice. He clung onto the rag that he was given by Micranus, wrapping it around his weakened body tightly for more comfort. He wished he could just disappear in it by making himself smaller and smaller, till he was as tiny as a mouse.
Soon after he fell ill, Simon threw him out of the lupenare. He was left in the streets without food or shelter, and was expected to die somewhere out of sight of any potential costumers and health inspectors that stalked the brothels. But like a bird that had spend most of its life in a cage and had grown accustomed to view the world outside through iron bars, Marcellus had became inert, and did not know where to go or how to take care of himself. For the first few days, he lay huddled in the gutter right in front of the lupenare, suffering from cold and neglect while the disease weakened him to a state till he could barely crawl on his hands and knees. He would have perished there and then if it wasn't for Micranus. The Moor had been pestered by his conscience, something he didn't even believed he had before he had put Marcellus in this horrible situation. Now his eyes seemed to be constantly open for the abandoned slave's misery. On the third night when it became exceptionally cold, he came to his rescue by bringing him food and an old horse blanket, which he took gratefully, wrapping it around his bare body till it was as tight as a cocoon. The fabric was coarse, scraping painfully against his aching skin, and it didn't help him in getting warm since his own body was like a lump of ice, but it gave him a sense of safety and restored some of his dignity.
"You have to leave." Micranus said, putting a hand on his shoulder. "If you stay here, Simon is going to report you as a runaway to the soldiers to have you removed."
"I can hardly walk. I'm too ill." Marcellus whispered with much effort. "I don't have anywhere to go."
Micranus shook his head. "You must. They execute runaway slaves in the arena. You have to get out of the city." He took his arm, threw it over his shoulder and lifted Marcellus up from the cold ground. "I'll help you. Let me get you at least out of Simon's sight. There, across the street." He nodded with his head. "There is a small abandoned shed in that alleyway. You can hide in there for a while till you have regained your strength. Don't give up on yourself just yet Marcellus. You may not exactly be a freedman, but you are no longer a slave either. That must be worth something, even to you."
So Marcellus lay for a long while in the abandoned wooden hut, sheltered and cared for by the Moor. He slept through the days and woke in the nights when Micranus bought him hot soup and bread. He ate only very little as his stomach would simply refuse to take in more. Often, he woke up in pitch-black darkness, frightened by the sounds and shrilly cries coming from the streets outside. He would then lie very still on his back while he listened to the drums that assaulted his mind. They were like waves that grind away the rocks at coast till there was nothing left of them but small insignificant grains of sand.
It was in such a moment when it came to him like a dream, although he was aware that he wasn't asleep. He still was dazed by his recent oblivion, caught in the short interval between sleeping and waking. A voice, his own voice, spoke to him, whispering softly into his ears.
'You can't stay here."
At first he was confused. He wasn't sure that he was not saying it aloud to himself, knowing that he was still feverish, and might be hallucinating. The voice repeated the message again and again. Marcellus pressed his palm on his mouth, making sure that the words did not part from his own lips. He kept very quiet and listened. For a moment, he did not hear anything except for his own breathing, and was almost convinced that he had been rambling in his poor state when the voice returned, louder this time. It was even louder and clearer than the drums.
"You can't stay here and wait for death to knock on the door."
"Who said that?" He spoke, frightened. He peered into the darkness. Only the familiar shades of the mess that was stored inside the shed could be distinguished. He repeated his question. This time, the silence that followed lasted only a heartbeat.
"I am a friend."
"Show yourself." Marcellus demanded, rather unconvincingly.
"I'm not here. You have to come and find me."
"Where? I can't go outside."
"Well you can't stay here."
I'm going mad. Marcellus thought, I'm rambling, I'm having an argument with a decapitated voice in an out-of-use chicken-shed. And still. Still, this is so much better than to lay here by my own and listen passively to that viscous drumming that torments me day and night.
"If you dislike this bloody stinking chicken-shed so much, why not get on your feet and leave?"
It didn't come as a shock to Marcellus that his invisible friend knew what was going on in his head. Even in insanity, he reasoned, must there be some kind of logic.
"I can't. I don't dare." He answered sincerely. The truth was that he had started to regard this small wooden box as his own grave. He had buried himself in self-pity, and locked himself away again from the world because he secretly believed that to die of illness was better than a life of fear and destitution. Although some of his physical strength had returned to him by Micranus's good care, his mind had only prepared him for eminent death and eternal oblivion.
"Are you sure you want to die Marcellus?"
In the darkness, spread out in front of him, lay shards of broken pottery and pieces of glass from bottles. There was also a heavy chunk of wood with a sharp rusty nail sticking out of one side. A long sturdy looking rope dangled from the ceiling.
"There are plenty of opportunities, but no efforts so far."
The broken off iron handle of a shovel that lingered in a forgotten corner. His own rags, cut to pieces and knotted into a string of fabric to be wrapped around his neck.
"It's not the lack of imagination that keeps you from slitting –"
Trembling fingers. The shard of pottery slitting open his veins. Drops of his blood trickling on the fabric of his dirty rags.
- and cutting."
The rope tightening around his neck, cutting into his flesh as he struggled. The fire burning in his lungs and his legs dangling in the air, throwing macabre shadows on the wall.
"Stop it!" Marcellus yelled. The images forced into his head terrified him. "Stop it! Please!"
"I guess death doesn't seem that comfortable after all." The voice remarked. There was meanness in the way it spoke, in the way that it appeared to relish in the hurt of others. Marcellus could have never spoken like that. It was his voice, but not his mind.
"I know you Marcellus, better than you could ever perhaps know yourself. Let you stand on narrow ledge of a cliff, a thousand feet above a dangerous ocean and a bed of sharp rocks beneath, and you will hold on for dear life. You'll keep standing on that little square of grass and crumbling stones for eternity if you must. Everything is better than to die at once. To seize existing-"
His body buried in the ground, fungus eating away the rags he was wrapped in, penetrating his cold flesh, fat maggots tunneling through his cheeks, the skin on his skull shrinking till it became dry and brittle, his eyes rotting away till there was nothing left but gaping holes staring into the dark void for eternity.
"-Is more terrifying than anything you can imagine."
"Stop it now. Please." Marcellus wept, he had pushed the palms of his hands onto his eyes so forcefully that it hurt, but the images wouldn't stop coming flooding into his head. "Stop it. I'll do anything you say. Stop showing me this. Please."
"Anything! Just let it stop! LET IT STOP!"
And suddenly it did stop. His mind became clear, as if all the filth that he had seen had been washed out at once. Even the drums declined into a soft beat that sounded far away in the distance. Marcellus gasped in relief, his face was wet with the last of his tears.
"I want you to leave. Tonight, when the streets are dark. Get out of the city." The voice demanded.
"But I don't know the way." Marcellus said, hesitantly, afraid it might evoke the invisible fiend.
"Follow the drums. It will guide you to your destination."
"Where am I going to?"
It could have been Marcellus imagination, for there was no way that he could have known, but he was almost sure that the person who spoke to him was grinning mischievously when he answered this question.
"That, Marcellus, is a surprise."