Clio was led to the inner gardens of the household; some details still carried the signs of the earthquake, but the plush greenery was still impressive, even at the height of summer in Rome. Valeria greeted her while lounging in the shade, looking as elegant and effortless as she always did. Clio admired her for it.
“Oh, Clio, take my hand. Unfortunately, I am far too comfortable to properly embrace you, but you must forgive me and have a seat yourself. What do you think of the gardens?”
"Thank you for having me" Clio smiled, taking Valeria's slender hand in her own for a moment, before she took a seat. "I... I think the gardens are lovely. I hope the earthquake didn't do too much damage?"
Early July 75 CE
It had been months since their previous encounter, and Clio felt a little bit bad about not visiting Valeria Flacca sooner. She had been so kind when she invited her, and so exciting and interesting as a woman who wrote poetry, it felt like a mistake not to take her up on her offer to visit, and talk about literature. Still, Clio was a little bit shy, especially around someone as formidable as Valeria, and it took her time to show up at her domus. Time, and things to share.
She had sent someone with a message, asking for a good time to visit. She knew the family would leave for the summer in a few days, and she felt like visiting before that happened; waiting until the fall would really have been too much, bordering on rude. So Clio showed up at the agreed time at the Rufus household, writing tablet and scrolls in a small carrying case, dressed in a nice, simple blue stola. She felt a little nervous, about bringing her own writing to show this time. Hopefully, her prospective mentor would be kind...
Septima sometimes felt like she had already traveled halfway around the world in her dreams, through the books she had been reading since she was a child. But in reality, she was mostly confined to the family domus and the heart of Rome. And she tended to forget that others, like Clio, were even more limited in their freedom than her.
"I hope you will find such a man, domina, and that you can go on happy travels together. Is it something you often think about? Marriage?"
"Not much, honestly" Septima admitted with a blush "My sister does, and because we are the same age, it feels like I should too. But... no. Not yet, anyway."
Clio suddenly found the wished to live in a world where her dresses did not impede her observations. A world like that seemed far away and maybe even impossible. For now, she would just have to comromise. At least her sister did not look at her like she was crazy. Thalia was patient like that. Sometimes.
"I see... but still, going dressed as a boy, in public?... Besides, do you think people would believe it? I don't know if I would. You'd definitely be a very pretty boy."
Clio chuckled too as her sister touched her hair, and flopped back onto the bed.
"I know! I don't think I passed as a boy at all. Even with my hair tied up. He didn't really pass a girl either. I would have to practice... if I ever did it again, I mean. Don't tell grandfather?"
"Of course I would."
Clio smiled at her sister. They had their differences, but in the end, Thalia would always have her back. And Clio trusted her judgment. If she met Lexus and thought he was not a trustworthy person... then Clio would think twice about seeing him again.
Her next words surprised Thalia, though.
"Why would you go dressed as a boy?"
Clio blinked. Right.
"Oh, because... it's so comfortable! Much easier to move around, and you don't trip on the dress... although crouching down is not that easy." she admitted "It's just... better, for making observations. I kind of envy boys..."
Clio listened to the list of the wonders with wide eyes, and Septima enjoyed the sight. She loved sharing something incredible with others, and it was satisfying to see that they thought it was incredible too. The seven wonders were achievements of people in praise of the gods, and one day, she wanted to see all of them in person.
Clio reached out to the scroll, but then blushed and pulled her hand back.
"Oh no, here" Septima handed her the scroll "I have one at home."
"Domina, how could your wish come true? Could you perhaps visit the temples under the guise of a pilgrimage?"
"I... am not sure" Septima admitted "Most likely, if I marry a man who is wealthy enough, we could travel together... If he wants to." It was not a very promising prospect. A lot of things would have to align for her to have a husband like that.
"Maybe, if it's just that... it's not so bad."
Maybe it wasn't? It wasn't like Clio had... done anything inappropriate with Lexus. Well, other than swapping clothes. But he had not touched her (other than tumbling, but that was not his fault), and made no attempt to... do anything he was not supposed to do. He was friendly, and helpful. Clio liked the time she'd spent with him. But no, apart from the clothes, it was not as bad as it sounded. Maybe.
"If you go to see him again, I could come with you. But keep a distance. Just so you're not alone with him? Then I can also tell better what he's up to..."
"You would?" Clio looked up at her sister. That was... a good idea. She would not be alone with Lexus. And she trusted Thalia with her judgment of people. "That... I think that would be good." she nodded "I just... can't really go dressed as a boy, can I."
Clio wished someone would tell her what to do. Or not do. It would have been easier. If her sister told her to forget the whole thing, or threatened to tell their grandfather, Clio would have given up the whole idea without feeling too bad about it.
"But do you want to? If you want to see him and don't... you may be unhappy."
Would she? Clio wondered. She liked Lexus, he was friendly and kind. Would she be unhappy if she couldn't meet him again?...
"Besides, you made a promise to see him again, right?"
"Sort of..." Clio trailed off, looking up at her sister from where she was lying. "He said he would help with my observations..."
“So… are you going to do that? See him again?”
That was the question, wasn't it. Clio sighed. She felt tired now, after the adventure of the day, and more and more guilty as it dawned on her what she'd gotten herself into.
"I... don't know" she admitted with a sigh, laying down to rest her head in her sister's lap. "I shouldn't, right? It's a bad idea. I shouldn't have even told him I would."
Thalia was somehow better versed in matters of the heart than her sister. Clio would listen to her advice gladly, if she had any to offer right now...
"You meet the strangest people sometimes, sister! But he wasn't a slave then, at least? Still though..."
"I know, I know" Septima sighed. It had been risky, and irresponsible of her to play that game at the gardens. She felt like she could trust Lexus, but talking about it now, it sounded increasingly stupid to just... think so. She trusted so easy, for a girl her age. Thalia surely wouldn't have.
No, Lexus was not a slave. He was a free man, but only barely. Not anywhere near the kind of people she would be allowed t publicly associate with.
"It... it's almost too much. You don't plan seeing him again, do you? Or... do you?"
"No, I..." Septima sighed again, looking at her sister. "I... may have told him... I'd see him around sometime..."