By the time they left the villa the midday heat had abated and the air was pleasantly cool. As they walked down the Via Plenium Aquila stopped to investigate the place where the senator had died, identifiable by a group of children pawing at an area of blood-stained cobbles.
As they passed the gated archway, one of the porters kicked the guard awake and they heard shouted curses behind them. The street narrowed and other avenues began to branch off on either side of it, but they could reach the River District by following an almost straight line from the senator’s villa.
The alleyways and narrow streets which they passed through after leaving the Via Plenium were occupied by an entirely different class of Roman. Men lounged down alleyways or in doorways. Full-figured women leaned out of the upper windows of brothels.
Aquila scolded Hanno for staring at the naked forms which displayed themselves and whistled down to the passing men. Armed heavies could be seen lounging in and around these establishments, ready to rush in on anyone who failed to pay for the women’s services. Aquila kept a tight grip on his stick and a close eye on his companion.
Keeping to the same straight route, enquiring after the Thracian from those they passed, they eventually met with a chaotic scene. A squad of soldiers were having a heated confrontation with a mob of locals.
Hired thugs stood alongside prostitutes and local businessmen. Clubs, sticks and knives were brandished above the heads of the crowd. The soldiers stood in close ranks, shields thrust forwards and hands on the shafts of their spears. They had apparently been patrolling when the mob had barred their path.
In the midst of the shouting, an officer sprang out from among the ranks. He cried out an order and the squad surged forward after him. Their shields winded those they impacted with. The combined weight of the soldiers drove back the crowd and forced a space between them. Through this gap they forced their way and the first pairs of sandaled feet pounded towards Aquila and his young companion.
They rushed into a doorway and watched the wave of shields, red tunics and helmeted heads sweep past. The soldiers were chased by a disordered mob. Large men ran as fast as they could to catch up while women threw stones and hurled abuse at the soldiers’ retreating backs. Soon the hubbub faded into the distance.