The two men moved out from the doorway. The majority of the mob had dispersed. A tall man with long dark hair dominated the scene. He stood a full head taller than the rest who congregated around him in small groups.
He owned the brothel on the corner and soon ordered the women back inside, the men following after them. The tall man was left alone in the street and Aquila approached him. Coin was offered in exchange for information about the fight with the soldiers and the whereabouts of the Thracian.
After he received his payment, the brothel owner cooperated fully. He revealed that he had in fact employed such a Thracian. He used to guard the doors at night, his savage appearance serving to deter any violence against the owner or his female employees. In return he had free wine served to him at the door and a woman to share his bed when business was slow.
The previous night one of the women had been turned out on the street. She had been drinking heavily and to such an extent that the men she serviced had refused to pay. As the owner had watched her leave, the Thracian ran past and knocked her down. She cracked her head on the cobbled street and the Thracian had disappeared into an alleyway.
“I wouldn’t go outside right away. At least not until I rounded up a few of the lads.” The owner continued, “I thought he might have gone mad with drink or been in some barbarian blood-rage.”
Aquila and Hanno were shown into the alleyway in question. In the narrow space they encountered a gruesome spectacle. A muscular figure was slumped in a crouching position. High, filthy walls surrounded him on three sides.
His head was titled unnaturally far back and his throat had been torn open. Gashes had been opened in his arm and thigh. Congealed blood clung to his skin and covered the ground beneath the corpse, kept from drying by the slick mud on the earth and his clothes.
“Soldiers did that.” Their guide spat on the ground. “If you want to know why we were after them before, soldiers cut up the Thracian. One of my girls used to service the soldiers at the city barracks and she recognised the shape of the wounds. A Roman soldier’s sword makes holes like that and we’ll get them for it.”
Aquila also recognised the shape of the wounds. But it was impossible to tell whose sword had made the injuries. It might have been the dead soldier’s he realised. The soldier’s body had been positioned so that Aquila had not seen whether his sword was still in his possession.
Before departing they were shown into a room where a woman lay motionless on a bed. A blood-soaked bandage was wrapped around her head. The unfortunate woman sweated feverishly and breathed shallow, rasping breaths. Other than these frail movements, she was motionless and unlikely to recover.
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