“Don’t speak unless spoken to, and do not wander off,” Fabius barked without turning around. The looping folds of Fabius’s purple-striped toga hugged the curves of his back, hips, and thighs as they marched through the disorienting maze of rooms, reception halls, and grand corridors nestled between the public and more private areas of the imperial residence.
Silent but watchful, Bryaxis remained three steps behind. Slowly, a set of bronze doors at the end of another long, torch-lit hallway came into view. After Bry readjusted his dull tan tunic and calmed the misbehaving hairs on his head with his fingers, he took a deep breath and followed Fabius up the three broad marble steps leading to the archive rooms. A stout guard stationed before the grand portal immediately recognized the red-haired general; with a respectful nod, he opened one of the massive doors and moved to the side to grant them entry.
“Greetings, Commander Fabius. It’s been a long time since you’ve visited the Emperor’s archives,” squeaked the tiny man seated behind a large oak desk, its worn surface nearly obscured by piles of scrolls and scraps of papyrus. Bry remembered this pleasant fellow from those days he and Lucius had consulted the archives. Bryaxis squeezed his eyes shut as his brain raced to recall the archive magistrate’s name.
“Greetings to you, Sextus Pollio.” Fabius fiddled with the folds of heavy wool draped over his left arm before reaching across the desk to shake the elderly man’s hand. “I’m delighted to see you are still with us. You received my letter, yes?”
“The gods have permitted this aged fool to survive another day to relish the honor of welcoming the Lion of the Lucky Fourth to our precious collection. After your correspondence arrived, I took the liberty to make preparations in anticipation of your visit, sir.” With an old man’s pained grunt and noisy bones, Pollio pushed himself to his feet and pointed to the sunlit space off to the side. “All imperial copies of the records from the estate of Lucius Petronius Celsus have been arranged on a reading table in the study room. I do hope you find whatever you’re looking for, Commander.”
“As do I. May wise Minerva guide me, Pollio.” Fabius shared a hopeful grin. “Bryaxis, follow me.”