The feast continued all through the night; Verina had been waiting patiently to speak with Commodus about the frontier. Right when she was just about to ask, a tentative servant tapped Commodus' shoulder and whispered in his ear, "Forgive me for the intrusion, your highness, but a certain person wishes to speak with you… privately."
Commodus' tone turned serious and his eyes narrowed, "Of course, tell the man I will meet with him in a moment."
Verina looked at her husband concerned, "What is going on, Commodus?" He did not hear his wife, but instead began to get up from his seat before anyone else noticed. She grabbed his arm. "Commodus, please tell me, where are you going?"
He looked back at Verina very tensely. "Nothing of your concern – political matters with an adviser." He yanked his hand away from her and left the room, leaving Verina bewildered.
A half an hour went by and still there was no sign of his return; the banquet continued nonetheless. She did not eat or drink anything during that time, but instead shifted uncomfortably in her seat, waiting. It seemed all she had ever done these past three months was wait for him. Getting up from her own seat, she left her place. In the hall, Verina noticed that the rest of the villa was empty; it appeared that everyone was still in the main hall. The music and laughter echoed hauntingly through the halls, beckoning her to return as she ventured away from the celebration. Walking down the long hallways filled with torchlight, Verina stayed close to the walls to hide from view in case someone came across her. Carried in the wind, she heard what sounded like an intense conversation going on inside a living room near the end of the hallway.
She rolled her eyes and thought bitterly, "Those useless tenants, I told them to mind the guests and stay in the dining hall." Walking inside the room, she was surprised to find no one. "But how?..."
Suddenly, Verina heard people walk in from a courtyard connected to the living room. With only seconds to spare, she quickly hid behind a large embroidered decorative curtain adjacent to the door she just entered. Though she could not see their faces, she instead recognized their silhouettes cast in front of her off the curtain. One man walked in and lazily sat in a chair, cleaning his sword. He wore the armor of a high-ranking general. The other man could not stop pacing back and forth nervously. She immediately recognized him as Commodus due to the gold laurel crown he wore on his head. In the shadows, however, the crown looked more like the shape of a demon's horns.
Her husband spoke coldly to the man seated, "Are you sure that my orders were carried out as requested? The last thing we need is a spy."
The general replied, still playing with his sword, unwavered, "Of course, your Majesty, from Spain and back we had no problems, I assure you." Verina recognized the general's voice as none other than Quintus.
His statement managed to calm Commodus down slightly, but still his voice had a hint of doubt. "Your men were not followed?"
He looked up at Commodus and spoke sinisterly, "I made sure of that personally."
Commodus stopped pacing, now fully at ease, and, putting his hands behind his back, spoke with dark pleasure in his voice, "Excellent, Quintus, you have proven yourself loyal once again." Behind the curtain, Verina noticed him take something out of his pocket to give to the general. "…for your never-failing leadership".
Quintus opened what appeared to be a small bag; she heard something small jingling inside. It was money, probably more than a thousand sesterces. He immediately looked back up at Commodus, very pleased with himself, "You are far too kind, sire."
Commodus nodded, "There is more to come once we arrive back in Rome."
Taking out a knapsack, Quintus also had a secret of his own. "Speaking of which, I almost forgot, your highness, I also have a little something for you." He threw the bag to Commodus, who quickly caught it. He chuckled and said sarcastically, "I thought you might have use for it, a gift from Spain to their new ruler."
Commodus looked down at the bag and opened it, staring at whatever was in it for a few seconds in silence. Quintus leaned forward in his chair, concerned, "Is there something wrong, my lord?"
"Not at all, my most trusted general. On the contrary." Commodus looked up at the general. "This will be perfect."
The general immediately relaxed again in his chair. "I'm joyful to hear that, sire." Suddenly taking out the sword, he pointed it at the bag in Commodus' hand and said in frustration, "Some of my men had to go through hell to get that little keepsake for you."
Commodus chuckled under his breath and spoke to him, almost amused, "I assure you that your men's determination will not go unrewarded." Verina could practically feel Quintus grinning greedily as he put his sword back in the sheath; in his mind, this only meant one thing – more money.
"I better return to the main hall. As of now, Quintus, this exchange never occurred. I am never to hear of this nightmare again, do you understand?"
Quintus got up and solemnly bowed. "Absolutely, my lord. Rome is now as it should be." They departed just as quickly as they entered, both going their separate ways.
At the rest of the party, Commodus acted as if the meeting and its exchange were nothing out of the ordinary and his demeanor suspiciously changed back to normal. Later that night, Verina lay in her bed. Staring at the dark ceiling, she pondered in her mind exactly what could have happened at the front, causing him to change so. These and many other troubling thoughts granted her barely any sleep for the rest of the night.
Hello all :) OK! First of all I would like to say thank you so very much for waiting patiently on this chapter..I hope that it didn't disappoint. Secondly, I must confess that I underestimated how long it would take for me to complete and upload the next chapter. *nervous laugh* On the bright side I am learning to better multi task and balance stuff. In the end though as the french say... "C'est la vie!" ("That's life!") and one must take it as it comes.
For future reference, It might take me a while to update or submit a new chapter due to other commitments that are going on right now...so if you could bear with me that would be totally amazing.