The Gladiator's Master
It had been a month since his uncle had died without warning. Privately, Caelius was of the opinion that Craxus had choked on his own bile. With his death came a whole new host of decisions. Caelius hadn't wanted a new villa, especially one that needed so much work, but it did have a ludus and he took that as a sign from the gods.
Of course, the ludus was far from the glorious ones he had seen at other estates. What remained to be seen was how much work it would take to make it and the fighters ready for a grand show. He did not care for the games. Many powerful Romans did, however, and if he wanted to further his political career, what better way than to become a patron of their favorite pastime?
"Felix." Caelius turned to his personal scribe and lowered his voice. "Spare no expense on the renovations. I want no problems later that we could have anticipated now."
"I will see to it myself, Dominus. It doesn't appear as if much has been done before our arrival," Felix murmured for Caelius's ears alone. "I examined the ludus as the men gathered in the courtyard."
"I wish to see for myself before I make any decisions."
He, his scribe and a retinue of guards strode from the villa down to the short tunnel that led to the training courtyard. A strong, high wall extended from the southern edge of the villa, securing both the courtyard and the gladiator quarters. He'd viewed the courtyard from his balcony, had seen a few of the men on occasion, but his first few days here had been filled with tasks requiring his attention and this was his first opportunity to see the ludus up close. At least his wife had chosen to stay at their other villa in Caere until this one was made more comfortable. One less headache to manage.
He passed the men, who huddled together as they sat on the training ground. Some glanced at him with suspicion, others stared with empty expressions. A few hung their heads. He pressed his lips together, torn between anger and regret.
Caelius frowned as they entered the emptied gladiator quarters. The stench alone was overpowering. "Have these cells cleansed from top to bottom. One shouldn't keep animals in places such as this, much less fighting men who bring coin and renown."
"Yes, Dominus." Felix looked at the small cells. "They will need new bedding and blankets. The others are rat-chewed."
"There are rats?" Caelius turned to his uncle's overseer, Priscus. "Why wasn't I told of this?"
"A ludus will have rats, Dominus. It is simply the way it is," the man said with an oily tone.
"Ridiculous. Procure a few cats, good mousers, for down here and several more for the villa." If rats were in one place, it should stand to reason that they would appear in his new home, as well.
They moved on to the equipment room, which was in a similar shameful state. What was the purpose of owning gladiators who stood not a chance of winning?
"This place will need to be expanded. I want a bath installed for them as well. We can destroy the kitchen, but keep the dining area. Food and drink can be brought from the villa. That should help with the rats." Though Caelius couldn't see any sign of the food and water he had ordered weeks ago before leaving home. "I wish to see the men now."
Priscus wrung his hands as he led Caelius out to where the men had lined up to wait. They were an even more miserable-looking bunch up close, ill-fed with the pinched expressions and hollowed eyes of men who had lost muscle and weight. No doubt thanks to his uncle and his coin-pinching ways. Why feed slaves three times a day when he could feed them once and drink away what he saved?
Title: The Gladiator's Master
Author: Fae Sutherland; Marguerite Labbe