Hearing of sisters made Valeria feel as if a small piece of herself was missing. She had always wanted one where she only ever had a brother who was far much older and more of a joke target than a relation. “Oh,” Valeria let out another one of her loud laughs at Clio’s admission about her sister, but then admitted: “well, I can understand that curiosity.” In some or many ways, depending on the angle one looked at it, she had been the same. It was less of a hunger and more of a child’s curiosity about what all the adults were referring to. She was more comfortable with the subject of intercourse than someone ought to be but when bodily fluids and all shapes and state of genitalia dominated her imagination and time, she had become almost like a soldier who no longer felt phased by the sight of disembowelment and rotted flesh; it was merely passing fact and nothing else to dwell any further about. “And towards marriage as well,” she added, considering it as well and in that moment, thinking or rather knowing that Sulpicia likely thought similarly. “But it is a big change. I’m happy where I am now, but I feel that someone ought to enjoy what they have when they have the rest of their life to live in a union.”
“And I wouldn’t have suggested my help if I wasn’t willing to help you out,” Valeria answered following her words with a laugh. “Of course, I am. The more writers you know, the better.” Valeria rose to her feet, stretching her legs. “Do you have somewhere to be or can I pull you in to walk a little with me?”
“Oh gods, do you make me feel so old,” Valeria sighed, brushing her jaw with her fingertips, feeling as if she had seen the ages come and go in a moment’s flash. She helped Valeriana up onto where she was sitting, then pulled her over in her arms. Truly, Valeria didn’t feel old, she had only endured three decades of life so far, but she was reminded of just how quickly it was going by. Her father had become elderly, her mother wrinkled, her children grown – a phenomenon accompanied with every fleeting disbelief that the realisation of ‘did that come out of my vagina?’ gave, and her half-brother dead. Nymphias’s behaviour was understandable. Until a certain point, everything still made sense, the world fell into place, and she hadn’t had the same slow introduction that Valeria had to the truth, that nothing made sense at all.
Nymphias was indeed young but not as young as her soft features and light voice fooled one to feel. Sulpicia, by comparison, felt wise beyond her years. Still, being a three-time mother, Valeria often saw the reflection of her own children in the eyes of anyone largely younger than she was. If it had been Sulpicia asking her the same, she wouldn’t have played the snark. She often did play as if she didn’t care as much as she did. It was certainly manipulative, but it was Mother Nature’s doing. “Well, fine,” Valeria agreed after a pause as if she had made a difficult choice of it.
“Wipe those tears. I’m not telling you to be like me, we don’t need any more of those,” Valeria said. “But consider what I said. You can’t be glowering and looking hurt all the time. It won’t help you.” Was this going to turn into an entire lesson?
Valeria had purposely made it be known that she had a surprise in mind, offhandedly as if it were an afterthought, as if a surprise was as easy as a roll of the tongue. She rapped her fingers and had a devilish grin on her face, a look more appropriate for the wake of a devious murder plot rather than anything that might resemble normalcy or even innocence. But beyond ‘I have a surprise for you’, she had said very little else to her husband, not what time, whether it would be that day, or what the nature of what she had in store. If it left him anxious or shivering with anticipation, then she derived more pleasure from it. She often felt satiated by watching others squirm, whether it was Landicus’s foul written word or her own love of a little mischief.
Something was clearly being planned, however, and even in the days ahead of her little slip of an announcement, she had to keep not only the preparations out of Titus’s attention but her children’s, although Sulpicia might’ve come to some level of conclusion, being that she was reaching the age to grow suspicious of any degree of ‘alone time’ between their father and mother. Of course, there was perhaps the occasional overhearing her mother’s burst of laughter and “you call that a penis?” through the walls when Titus wasn’t home.
But if there was anyone that had a closest idea it was Vibia. After a back-and-forth, she arranged for the courtesan to arrive at their home in the evening and be met by a servant that was definitely not Nymphias until Valeria was able to join her. When the same servant had come into the chamber that Valeria had been in, reclining in candlelight with Titus, she leaned over to observe who it was and gave a quick “thank you, so-and-so” before they could stop, catch their breath, and open their mouth.
At that moment, Valeria seemed to grow a sudden amount of energy as she drew up to her feet. “Are you ready for your present?” she asked with excitement carrying through her voice.
@Liv and @Sara
The most of anything that was red that Valeria could have been sucking off of her thumb would have been what little pigment was left on her fingers from earlier, but it was hardly enough or of the right consistency to fool Nymphias. She didn’t want to simply fall into complacency and let the bloodthirsty woman do as she pleased with them but the moment that she simply called her over, she knew that there was little she could do in the way of delaying the predetermined. She walked over like a guilty child, hanging her head before holding out her hand for inspection.
Porcus’s mewling metaphorically cut her with guilt, even more-so when he cast his pleading eyes in her direction. At this point, she hoped that Titus missed.
“Unfortunately, I have no interesting name more to offer beyond the one that was given to me: Valeria. But it is pleasant to meet you, Septima – or Clio, if I may call you that,” she replied, purposely softening herself a little as her overall sense of the girl was that she was timid or more introverted in nature. It was probable that the gesture was far too familiar, after all could she really be counted family or a friend? But she imagined after a while their names became easy to interchange and mistake for another, just in the way as she imagined their faces might. “If you ever find yourself in need of guidance in your writing, I implore you, you should find me. And you are, of course, invited to my domus at the Domi Quirinalis. Your sister is invited if she shares your interests in the written word.” Partly, Valeria saw it as an opportunity for her daughter to meet someone else her own age and in some way, it offered her a fresh blood where her current circles might feel stifling. Valeria certainly would have welcomed it but she never had that opportunity: most of the girls she had associated with in her youth were women she still associated with in her adulthood, a lot of which were privileged women who thought themselves layered simply for hiding away their anger or drinking issues.
“If it is to be the gardens, Titus,” she spoke as if to remind him, resting her chin briefly over her hand. “Then it should have been your head under there, not your fingers. Or you could have made filthy use of that scroll which you so effortlessly predicted the ending of.” She followed her words with a tilt her head and a playfully scolding look, sensing the subtlety, and while it was acknowledged, it was also rejected – for the morning, at least, as it was highly likely she would surprise him later, tackling him in the hall in the manner of a perverted old goon. For now, for all the flippancy, her mind couldn’t truly rest and the energy to set it aside wasn’t there. She mightn’t have realised it herself, but she simply wanted to relax. Her son was likely to recover from whatever sickness he’d dredged up from the Tiber or the ‘cesspool of human shit’, as she lovingly thought of it. It was also just as likely that Valeriana would catch it. Children becoming sick was never unusual and after three children, she had grown more comfortable with the idea. Her father, on the other hand… illness was very unlike him. Her husband had extended his much-appreciated help, but it still couldn’t quite remove the fidgety, anticipatory feeling she felt beneath everything else for the future.
“You’d be surprised at what my father has read. He’s read Landicus before.” And with great disdain and very likely far more if he’d known that Landicus was in fact his daughter. It had certainly been by that milestone that she considered her writing to have ‘made it’. “As for Landicus, the man himself, old age has not caught up with him yet. He is still the envy of Rome, still with all the flexibility to suck himself and remarkably with no flaccidity or broken bones despite his age. But he is bored, very bored. When you’ve fucked everything from lions to portly tavern wives, you find yourself unable to top the last conquest,” Valeria explained. “He’s thinking of writing an ode of putrid feet and how they make his son’s cock stir, a praise of his sons who are now able to take the helm of perversion for when he is gone, even though he will hopefully outlive all of Rome’s virtuous naysayers.”
“Mistakenly,” Valeria repeated with a light and amused snort, her mouth then twisted into a floppy side-grin. ‘Mistaken’ was the frantic claim that someone gave when caught in flagrante delicto. If it wasn’t what it looked like, it most certainly was. “You needn’t avoid him on my account,” she said, pressing a hand to her chest as if she were touched by the gesture and the thought but really, it was a mixture of confidence in her husband and perhaps, even in herself. In the sense that she had never been a woman to concern herself with jealousy, which gave her a bit of a couldn’t-care-less quality but her late brother had such an influence there. His parting legacy was that he’d been so desperate for a lay, a brothel in town needed a scraper to pry his balls from the bricks outside. Or that was just Valeria’s story. Still, it was hard to be surprised by people.
“Valeria Flacca,” she said as she observed Vibia with the tilt of her head. It wasn’t a name that would be hard to discover. She was a writer even as Valeria Flacca, though she didn’t simply suspect, she knew anyone read her poetry. Landicus, on the other hand… Sometimes she would drop his name to reap the fruits of a filthy imagination, namely the laughter and the horror, but also out of sceptical and morbid curiosity. “But are you leaving me so soon? I ought to know your name as well. How on earth else would I ever remember the woman who offered to join my beautiful husband and myself in his prison?”
Valeria watched Nymphias with a brief observant gaze, almost morphing into her father in how he wrinkled of his nose in judgement at the sight of something (usually people) that he wasn’t fond of. ‘You could at least pretend to like it’ was what she wanted to quip but decided to save the crack wise. While Valeria was quick to laugh, she was equally as fast at becoming peeved. The last thing she wanted or needed was to feel guilted by an adolescent, especially a slave no less, when she already had one to deal with. Still, she wasn’t heartless. While she was keenly aware that she couldn’t understand the feeling precisely, she could at least grasp how life must currently seem to the girl. But Valeria could only extend empathy so far before the logistics of it became questionable. There were plenty of men in Rome who advocated for the release of slaves from their bondage, yet never considered how the impact would be on their assets. Valeria was critical of many things, an idealist in many ways, but her head was still on its shoulders and not in the clouds with the birds.
“No need to be so glum,” the woman voiced with animated fatigue. “A word of advice, from an older woman to a younger one, you need to be stronger than that. If you don’t, you’ll fall behind. Not just in Rome, but in life.”
“Yeah, fall,” parroted her daughter over the ashes and decimation of her mother’s ex-wax tablet.
“Valeriana, come here.” She put her writing aside and held her arms out, before she turned her head back to Nymphias. “You see, when you’re young and beautiful, looking lost and forlorn is heart-tugging... for a time, then eventually, you find yourself aged and then a sad girl’s tears don’t work anymore. That being said, how often does my daughter make you want to cry?”
“Oh,” Valeria expressed as if she had the sudden realisation of a mistake before she broke into yet another laugh. “Of course not, my apologies.” It wasn’t the girl’s lack of marriage that she found humorous but rather she had let her tongue run in the same way it did even in the presence of her children, though it was only Sulpicia who was of the age to understand half of what she said, as evident by the change of the colour in her cheeks. Her own mother rarely acknowledged the existence of sex. If she hadn’t been influenced by curiosity, fond of mischief, and in possession of an older brother like Gauis (who was comedy bound in the flesh, if you asked her), she might not have turned out so perverted a child herself. “I can tell you it’s nothing you want to hear from an old woman you’ve just met.”
Her fingers idly held the ends of her wig, straight and deep red (at least on that section of the wig), as if she were thinking but really, it was a pause before she changed the subject away from petrifying her company. “You’re very clearly clever,” Valeria commented then mused. “All your interests are very worldly, very present in physical reality.” It took maturity to expand towards the academic willingly, it gave an impression of intelligence, but then most quiet people often did – and the young girl did seem quiet, at least by Valeria’s mileage. Perhaps for all their silence they absorbed more information and for someone so young, it served as a precursor to wisdom. It made her curious about the grandfather that inspired her. “I don’t think I’ve asked after your name either. Here, why don’t you sit?” Her hand tapped the stone beside her.
“Oo, I like honest,” Valeria said, as if Nymphias had suggested something daring, and while that was certainly true, she didn’t feel that she would be getting any candour out of Nymphias anytime soon. Not when the young slave girl had repeated a promise not to gossip after Valeria told her not to gossip, an act of parroting which the woman found unnecessary. Slaves often did so, perhaps something about it was intended to set their masters’ minds at ease but after years of it, it was one of the things that made Valeria feel bored very quickly. With that, Valeria began fishing again through what she had written down on paper and as she silently skimmed through each, determining which or what she would share first. “You probably won’t understand a single thing I say, but I like my poems to be cohesive and unified, a collection that is almost like one large story.”
She glanced between her daughter, busy butchering and disembowelling the wax tablet, and Nymphias on the floor. “Did I ask you to sit?” Valeria voiced, accompanying her words with a perplexed expression. Such an act might have been ignored if it were a personal slave that she had known for years, considering that the familiarity and friendship in some cases allowed that leeway, but it was different with a new slave, a completely new one, who had yet to learn much. “Stand up, stand up,” she commanded with hurried waves before purposely waiting as if someone had hit a pause. “Now sit down, girl, because I told you to.”