Ario's laughter subsided into thoughtfulness. He grasped his wine glass and drained it. He liked to think that he could taste the sun in the grapes and the sea salty wind that had blown through the vineyards. Foolish, but there it was. Ario set the glass back down and wiped the corner of his mouth.
"A boys club certainly," Ario answered and plucked up the last of the bread to eat. He tore it into smaller pieces first and made two little piles, pushing some towards Turia in case she wanted a paltry substitute for her sweet. "But I am certain that the right woman could make her mark upon the guild. With effort and a little support, of course." The world being what it was. Ario propped his chin onto his fist and regarded Turia to return to her originally comments.
"And my dear. That sounds an awful lot like you never wanted to be a physician. A pity, as I'm sure that you would put me out of a job. Many could, but fortunately for me. I am charming."
There had indeed been many civil wars and Ario was hazy as to when they had commenced and when they had ended. Why they started and how they were resolved were lost to Ario, who's entire life had been constrained to either the arena or to healing. So he listened with interest, trying and failing to see where his life fit into the rich tapestry of ambitions that Aulus and Octavius painted with mere suggestion.
"No. Not in memory anyway. My family were pirates on the western coast of Germania I believe. I do not remember much of that time. Just a homestead on a hill and the feeling that this was a thing I was not allowed. And I remember boats." He smiled faintly. "We were not very good pirates and Rome has the sea well under control, from what I hear."
"Have you two seen each other since you," he glanced at Octavius. "Came back from the border?" A slight frown, warm with sympathy, creased his forehead. It must be hard to have friendships forged under the pressures of war and to have those friendships separated during the gardens of peace.
"And have you," this time he glanced at Aulus. "Had a chance to miss it all?"
"The Guild," Ario answered without hesitation. It was not morals that dictated his answer, but practicality. The coin he had was earmarked for things that were greater than the mere ownership of other lives. He needed to be prepared to dine with the upper classes of Rome and to woo them with beautiful baubles, if he thought that they would be amiable to such gifts.
"If they're interested and if your youngsters show us any ability..." He half smiled and shrugged. No point forcing this path on them if they showed neither desire nor ability. His pale eyes flicked back to Turia when she reached for another sweet and was instantly and silently scolded for doing so. Ario raised his eyebrows and plucked the sweet Turia had gone for and dropped it in his mouth, his typically devilish eyes twinkled at his daughter and her mother.
"You never showed much interest Turia," Ario said around his sweet. "Why is that?"
Serendipity. Fate. Punishment.
Ario struggled up onto the white sandy beach on all fours. Water dripped from his face and tunic, his hair was flattened onto his skull and his face was all but drained of colour. He tasted the sea. Sharp and disgusting tang that he remembered on some primal level. As if the taste of the sea water had been an integral part of his life, sometime. As if his family had been even worse at pirating than he had remembered.
Serendipity? Fate? Punishment? Ario didn't know what had put all three of them on the same journey. Well, put Tamm and Turia on the same journey. Ario had simply tagged along, curious about the medicines that might be found amongst the nomads.
The storm that had broken their boat was being whipped away by the cold wind that threatened to rip at his clothes. It sliced straight through to his bones. Ario's back undulated and he coughed, vomiting up the water he had swallowed. He let himself fall to his side and closed his eyes. Exhaustion blanketed him but the voice of his trainer berated him. Told him that he could do more. That his endurance was greater than he knew.
Punishment? He didn't know what they had done wrong. Where was Turia?
Ario yanked himself up. Forced himself to his wobbly feet. Sand encrusted one side of his body and face. Gritty and scratchy. He tasted it on his lips.
"Turia!" Ario croaked. Flotsom skidded up the beach with the waves. Ario wobbled back to the water. It didn't occur to him to worry about Tamm. Tamm was indestructible. Like granite.
Ario accepted the wine and dormouse last of the trio. He snacked on a bit of dormouse almost immediately after picking it up. He had had a few poorer patients who forsook the promise of a better sale to solve the immediate problem Ario's services to pay for. He'd returned to his home with a few dormouse that had been fattened in glirariums that smelt of the food the mice had been fed. He idly wondered if these dormice had been fattened up in the shambling top floor of an insula.
"I don't come here often, not unless any of my friends invite me. Memories." Ario smiled briefly and changed the subject. It shouldn't be hard for these two men to fill in what memories Ario was referring to. "Is that where you two met? In Raetia?" Ario asked and sipped his wine. Delicious, of course, and with origins that were probably less suspect than what dormice presented.
"That's on, ah, near? The border?" Near where he had been born but he suspected it wasn't on the ocean. At one point in the past, Ario had looked at the provinces and guessed where he might have been born based on his hazy memories. Raetia wasn't familiar to him for that reason.
Ario laughed with his eyes twinkling from humour.
"Well, I think that's up to Vena!" He turned his head towards Vena and reached out to touch her wrist.
"I'm sorry. They are yours! Well, in all the ways that count." Except in writing, which counted considerably. "And I suppose we do not know them well enough to begin recommending them to Turia's friends." He glanced back at Turia with a smile, always inviting her into conversation lest she feel left out.
"Nothing of great interest," Ario answered and shook Aulus' hand after standing up. He had had to tear his eyes away after having settled into the contentment of watching other men perform. Not a bit of resentment clung to him as he faced the pair. Ario knew his station, was thoroughly cognizant of it when faced with togas and imperial colours, and his branded hand in an unmarked one.
"We were discussing my usual clients. They're the poor and the middle classes usually." Freedmen and citizens both. Typically, no great patrons parceled out their coin to Ario for his medicines and an admonishment to pay their proper respects to the gods. He had not the high manner and smooth words of the very great physicians. The one's who served the greatest men in Rome.
"You have returned to Rome then?" Ario took his cues from the other men. Sitting when they sat and adopting an appropriately deferential posture.
"From where have you returned?" He asked. Part of him suspected that a good Roman citizen would probably know the answer to that question. But Ario was neither good, Roman, or a citizen.
Ario had been about to ask about the tutoring. What talent had his friend displayed? What was Phaedo teaching him? If there were two slaves of physician talent to be found in the heated darkness of Domus Venus, Ario might be able to convince some of his friends of his rank to pool some coin together to buy them both and thus share the tutoring. Plucking a single anomaly from the bed however? He doubted he could curry enough genuine interest, not when there were other youths who were probably cheaper to buy.
"I have tutored," Ario grinned in the shadows. "I tutored retiarii before I became a medicus and yes, I'll tutor now and then though I've never been a dedicated tutor to a student." It wasn't hard to guess where Phaedo was angling. It was probably where the boy had been angling during their whole time together. And why not? He seemed intelligent, and even if he wasn't, his eagerness would make up for it. That's what Ario had found in himself. Not particularly bright. Not particularly suited to any one thing, but he was tenacious enough to turn average talent into something effective.
"Would you like me to tutor you? Your friend too?"
"The- oh," Ario quelled his answer without fuss and indicated towards the newcomer, gracefully relinquishing his audience with Octavius to a man of clear rank. Clearly someone who belonged amongst the imperial party that populated the box. He could not so successfully quell his nerves in the face of another imperial man. It had been easier when he was a young man. Full of himself as he hid behind the mask of the gladiator, comfortable in a role where he was nothing more than a tricky entertainer. Here, he was to put himself forward, as himself.
Ario looked down at the entertainment while the other two spoke and forced his thoughts away from musing over changes in circumstance the lofty differences in status. Instead, he thought of how lovely the men looked in the arena. How tanned their backs were and the strength in their limbs. He knew their hands would be hard from use at violence. Punching, grappling, training and rope use.
Ario continued to look cheerful in the face of implied child cruelty and sale.
"Good owners, my dear." Ario stressed gently and lifted his cup to drink. An enterprising insect wandered over, seeking crumbs from bread or the side of cheese. He waved his cup negligently at it. Sending it on it's way.
"Do you know many of the other household slaves?" He fancied there was a loose network of slaves connected by their masters.
He would enjoy spending time with Vena's kids. But he'd discuss that later.