by Donald S. Crankshaw
"One thousand sesterces! I'm selling you a home, not a horse!" Titus Fabius Didimus
If you're spending that much for your horses, it's no wonder you're broke, Septimus
thought. What he said was, "It's twice what Crassus would offer."
"Crassus would at least have the decency to wait until the house was on fire before going
that low," Didimus muttered. He dabbed his round face with a handkerchief despite the chilly air.
The heating pipes that ran under the floor did little good if no one stoked a fire in the furnace.
Septimus propped himself a little higher on the dining couch and gestured around the
room with his free hand. Frescoes gave an illusion of depth to the wall with painted hallways
leading into the distance, and a small shrine held figurines of gods--Septimus recognized Mars.
"When's the last time you spent a night in this house?" he asked. "I know for a fact that the only
slave that stays here is the one you chain to the doorpost to watch the entrance. The rest either
refuse, or run away when you try to force them."
Didimus waved his hand in what was supposed to be a negligent manner, but only
succeeded in looking spastic. "Superstitious Gauls. I just need to buy more Greeks."
The girl bringing their food and filling their wine looked Greek, but she acted as nervous
as her master, refusing to meet Septimus's eyes and scurrying about as if afraid to stand in one
place for too long. She and the door slave had been the only two he'd seen since arriving, though
there had to be one in the kitchen making the food. Even so, it was all dishes that could be
prepared quickly: cold bread, boiled meat with dipping sauces, and plenty of spiced wine, not
nearly diluted enough. The cook had certainly not been at work since the dark hours of the
morning, not in this house.
"I also hear that you had some priests from the temple of Mars perform a cleansing,"
"What of it?" Didimus demanded. "Of course I wanted to get rid of any spirits this place
may have accumulated since Marcus Regulus's death."
"Especially Regulus's own. But that wasn't the only cleansing you've tried, and after four
attempts during the past year, you must be wondering how effective they are. I'd think that if any
of the priests could cleanse this house, they'd have managed it by now."
"And you think that Babylonian witch of yours can do better?"
"If she can't, that's my problem, isn't it? Let Mercury judge me if I'm trying to cheat you."
Septimus tipped his cup to pour a splash of wine on the floor to honor the god of commerce.
After that, it was just haggling. Didimus let the house go for only twelve hundred
sesterces. Septimus had been willing to go as high as fifteen.