An extract from Galba’s Men

As discussed Straton is surprisingly popular for a sadistic rapist. So here for all those Straton fans here is an extract from the forthcoming Galba’s Men when the fellow is being once again selflessly heroic.

Mina was convinced that this was a very bad idea. Ignorant of what Straton’s mission encompassed, she knew it wasn’t good from the overseer’s grim demeanour. Insistent that she had to follow him now, quickly, she padded behind him in bare feet and her nightgown, whip clasped in her hand.

“Straton,” she hissed. “Straton.”

He gestured for her to keep moving.

“Where are we going?”

“Mission.”

Which told her diddly-squat. He did not look right to her either. Straton always moved with surprising grace but tonight he was heavy footed, stopping to lean on walls, rubbing his forehead with desperate motions. It was hard to miss the enormous lump that had formed on the back of his head, Mina assuming the two things were connected. He was determined, though, a sack on his back containing a stack of lethal looking weapons which she hoped would compensate for his wobbliness.

Outside their destination Straton stopped and pulled out a vicious looking nail-studded cudgel. Mina’s eyes opened very wide, Straton telling her gruffly, “Could get nasty.” He handed her a lighter version.

“Whack,” he demonstrated a slap using both hands, taking a wide swing. Too wide, since he lost his footing and had to prop himself against the wall until the dizziness passed.

“Can we not do this tomorrow? You don’t look very well. You’re sort of green.”

Straton went to shake his head, but realised in time that this was not a great idea given the way the floor was rocking for him. “Needed now,” he said and then, “Help me. Please.”

He’d never used that word before, had never needed to. It fell oddly from his tongue. Mina could see he was desperate, truly desperate, and recalling the time he had rescued her from Juba, she nodded. Because that’s what friends did, wasn’t it? They helped each other out.

Characters in 5 Quotes: Lysander

Lysander in 5 Quotes:

1) Lysander was a tall man, elegantly so, well proportioned, trim. He was a pleasing addition to any room positioned by the door, with his fine voice and words. What he wasn’t was strong, nor much of a fighter. He’d never needed to be. He was an announcer, all he had to do was talk and stand; you didn’t need muscles for that.

2) Lysander, head bowed, not from respect but from the memory of the last time he’d delivered bad news to the empress and she’d flung a shoe at his head.

3) Lysander’s mother Lysandria had been a hairstylist to Agrippina, mother of Nero. Now retired she had got through a surprising number of husbands since her freedom. To be widowed once was a misfortune, twice a tragedy, five times bordered on the suspicious.

4) Apollodorus’ top breeder for the last thirteen years was going to be put out to pasture finally. The announcer was secretly relieved, though publicly he crowed his successes to anyone who wasn’t fast enough to flee; privately he had found it more and more dispiriting to have sex with girls who clearly didn’t want to have sex with him.

Freebies, as the announcer always referred to freeborn girls, were different to Lysander’s mind. If they slept with you it was because they wanted to not because they’d been told to or because of what you might be able to secure for them, a promotion or cash. They would be soft and willing, and Lysander could not wait to try one out.

5) All that seemed normal in the palace was considered quite differently in the outside world. This Lysander had discovered when he’d commented over supper one night on how Apollodorius had paired Ampelius with Penelope in the breeding programme and what a duff match it was because everyone knew she hated him and she’d been so keen not to be sown by him during the last round that she’d shoved a vinegar soaked sponge up her _. Which was the point at which Philo abruptly, and rather rudely Lysander thought, changed the subject.

A scene that hasn’t made the cut for Otho’s Regret

I really love this scene. But during my third edit of Otho’s Regret I’ve had to face up to the fact that it has to go.
The third edit is the most brutal edit. It is the point where if a scene doesn’t push the plot along it goes.
This scene has plenty of good characterisation but we need to get to the very important banquet scene quicker, so it has to go. Sob.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Philo had just sat down and flipped open his note tablet ready for a morning’s work when Verenia appeared.

“Pompeia and Teretia have gone out,” he replied automatically.
“I know I waited until I saw them leave,” was Verenia’s suspicious reply. “I need to ask you something.”
She sat down opposite him.
Recalling the last time he’d be in her company alone Philo told her, “Epaphroditus has a wife.”
A response that fluxommed her and rather unfortunately left a gap that Philo filled with, “And when he chooses a mistress he always opts for a slave girl. Sorry, Verenia.”
“Why would I want to know Epaphroditus’ marital status? I met the man once, quite by chance. I came by to ask about Lysander,” stressed Verenia.”I was of the opinion that you might be the person to talk to.”
Her tone suggested that she was rapidly changing her mind on that score.
“Oh,” said Philo feeling a hot flush heading up his neck. “Sorry. What did you want to know about Lysander?”
Verenia rested her elbows on the table. “He has invited me to this dinner at the palace.”
“Oh yes he told me, it’s an engagement party for Otho and Statilia Messalina. It should be a nice evening.” He smiled at her. She did not smile back.
“The emperor will be there,” stressed Philo.
“I don’t know anything about him.”
“He is a very nice man, very friendly and chatty and always willing to help you out whatever.”
Verenia narrowed her eyes. “You’re talking about the emperor aren’t you?”
“Oh, well Lysander’s very nice as well,” said Philo rather unconvincingly.
Adjusting her stola she said, “There is a reason why I waited for Teretia to leave. I love my cousin, of course I do but she always sees the best in everyone.” Meeting Philo’s eyes. “I’m not criticising. I envy it. I wish I could. But I’ve been taken in before. I’ll not let it happen again. You and I, we’re different. You may look like you’ve just fallen off the latest boat but I’ll wager Doris that you’re not as naively dim as you appear.”

Behind Verenia’s rather insulting rhetoric there was a truth. Though Philo maintained an expression of benign mystification during every single conversation Verenia had struggled through with him, he had worked for Nero and it had been a rare month when he hadn’t been asked to source a good assassin.

“I know,” she continued, “that you will tell me the truth. Unadulterated.”
Mainly because Philo lacked imagination and was therefore a lousy liar.
Philo flipped his note tablet shut. “What do you want to know?”
“Start with his father.”

Which was one of the odd things about life on the outside, the obsession with who your father, mother, uncle, grandfather was. Not something that discussed at the palace where a large contingent of the slaves had no idea of their parentage. Philo though he’d had a mother lacked for every other category of relative. Verenia was in luck though because Lysander was a vernae, that is a palace born slave, and thus Philo was able to tell her with confidence.
“He was a singer.”
“Was?”
“Yes he was_,” Philo trailed off.
“Was?” repeated Verenia.
“He died.”
“Yes he was died?” Her scepticism at Philo misusing a verb was well placed and the freedman shuffled awkwardly on the bench. “What happened to him?”
“Well he was, he was. Well he was executed.” Then to Verenia’s rather shocked expression, “But it wasn’t really his fault.”
“What did he do to have such a fate?”
“He was a very good singer.”
“I’m sure he was, but you’re avoiding my question. Why did he get executed?”
“Because he was a very good singer,” repeated Philo. “And Nero was a singer and he wasn’t as good.” He shrugged. “That’s all there was to it really.”
Compared to some of the executions Philo had done the paperwork for the death of Lysander’s father counted as a more legitimate reason than most he’d signed off.
“His mother was pretty keen that Lysander not become a singer after that.”
“His mother? She is?” asked Verenia rather shakily.
“Oh she’s alive,” brightened Philo. “She was a very high ranking attendant to Empress Agrippina. She is currently married to Gaius Baebinus, they have a very nice house on the Caelian Hill. He is a most successful and well respected businessman,” he supplied more happily.
“Currently married?” asked Verenia. “What does that mean? Is she contemplating divorce?”
“Lysandria would never divorce Gaius Baebinus.”
She had a much cleaner method of disposing of husbands.
Verenia, with clear difficultly, let this pass saying, “You’ve known Lysander for many years.”
“Yes.”
She fiddled with her shawl again before asking. “He is a good man?”

From her tone Philo could tell this was very important to her, crucial therefore he deduced, she’d be wanting a cracking answer.
“Err,” began Philo inwardly weighing up the relevant criteria to measure Lysander against deciding on several factors in his list before his thought processes were interrupted by Verenia.
“Oh for Juno’s sake,” she swore. “Is he emotionally cold?”
Philo blinked. “No.”
“Is he cruel?”
Another blink. “No.”
“Is he violent?”
“Gosh no.”
“That’ll do,” she told him standing. “Thank you for your help.”
Philo was midway through saying “It was no trouble” when he realised she was most likely being sarcastic and stopped himself.

Character Profile -Artemina (Mina)

Artemina, Mina to her friends is an attendant to Empress Statilia Messalina.
She holds the title of Keeper of The Towel, a job she has got via a sexual relationship with Epaphroditus.
There is some references made to a previous role involving flowers and a nursery that she was extremely keen to escape from.
Aged around seventeen she is best friends with Alex and Sporus. Maintaining a complete ignorance of Alex’s feelings for her.
It’s mentioned that prior to her relationship with Epaphroditus she attempted to seduce Philo and failed due to his running away.

She images herself in love with Epaphroditus though it is very apparent he barely even thinks about her. During Sabinus’ coup against Nero he doesn’t once think about her safety. He later gives her a dose of a nasty sexually transmitted disease.
Mina thinks the only way to progress up the palace hierarchy is by sex, firstly with Epaphroditus and later with Titus Vinius. However it is through the influence of Straton that she sees another path.

Her friendship with Straton is based on a delusion. Mina blinds herself to Straton’s nature, which might bring out the softer side of the overseer but leads her to completely misunderstand his interest in Philo believing them to be having a passionate love affair. One which she is keen to facilitate.

Mina is extremely brave, beloved of gossip and stronger than she gives herself credit for.

My Favourite Passage from Galba’s Men

And I think it’s actually funnier out of context. So I shall say nothing more about it.

The world is neatly divided between those who can make an amusing anecdote out of being chased out of the Temple of the Great Mother by a dozen Syrian eunuchs armed with costume jewellery, and those who prefer to bury the story in red-faced humiliation. Alex fell firmly into this second camp