Face ClaimCarlos Bernard
Spotting the shift in his niece’s countenance, Secundus held back a snort. The poor thing was trying to catch their host’s attention, as though their interactions had anything to do with success tonight. This was a matter of showing Sergia off at her best, not allowing unfettered flirtation between an established senator and a young woman with no such position. Sergia came from good stock, but she had nothing else to offer- Tertius had dragged their family name through the mud, and the lack of children produced by Livia had only accelerated the fall of their star from the heavens. Besides, the young woman would not be able to convince this more experienced man that he actually held her interest- men knew when women were not interested in them.
Before Secundus could attempt to steer the conversation to a more conducive place, his brother suggested that Longinus give them a tour of the house. Secundus bit back a retort; they were united in purpose tonight. He drank more, fortifying himself against a display that would embarrass them further. He smiled at Longinus encouragingly; showing agreement with his brother without having to say as much.
"We will all be quite happy to admire the rest of your domus when we've finished with the food. Livia, why don't you tell Longinus the story you told me, months ago."
It was quite an open-ended request, but Secundus knew that Livia stored every moment worth remarking on in her mind. He had seen her use this strength of memory against him numerous times, after all. She held onto every scrap of indignation she could wield to make his life miserable; the same tended to be true for more positive events and details, and he was certain there must be something flattering to Sergia that she could discuss. To give her a moment more to collect her thoughts and recall an anecdote, he paused as he sipped his wine. Then, he continued on.
"Something about Sergia and that wonderful- was it before we retired once more to a villa? There was the earthquake...my wife tells it much better than I can," he finished faux-apologetically.
@Atrice, @Liv, @locutus-sum, @Sara, @Sharpie
Secundus' face darkened as his expression shifted. Unable to suppress his anger, he gritted his teeth rather than respond to his wife's comment. Despite the flaring temper, his overwhelming emotion remained pleasure at causing Livia discomfort. He focused on that, managing to produce a smile. Livia's insinuations were lost on him; as far as Secundus was concerned, he was the best among Vibia's men by virtue of his self-awareness. He doubted whether any of the decrepit old fools that thought themselves virile understood Vibia as a reward, bought and paid for. Some likely flattered themselves, pretending that they were offering her something special or unique. No, Secundus knew better than that; what he offered Vibia was a man who understood her, and understood the nature of their arrangement. And in turn, more than the brief bouts of pleasure that she brought him, Vibia's greatest gift to Secundus was this- embarrassing his wife in front of everyone. Leave it to Livia to ruin the impending birth of his child- well, this was her justly-deserved punishment.
"Livia has found no fault with you, dear. She allows envy to get the best of her, as I'm sure you well know, given your experience with men and their wives."
It was a dangerous sentence to utter, flirting perilously close with deadly honesty. To plainly state what Vibia was, and why he had brought her here- but that was what thrilled Secundus the most. He wanted to get a rise out of her- wanted to see Livia's mask of perfect poise crack. He smiled warmly at Vibia, now, excitement buoying him.
"I invited you here to honor us, and the gods- any offense would only come from the fool to question your contribution. A lovely performance. Thank you."
Secundus turned to Sergia curiously, watching his niece as she responded to the young senator’s overtures. Perhaps this would go well. A stroke of luck, for once. He mulled that over. He continued to watch her as he ignored the conversation of the others- looking at her now, he could see too much of her mother in her. He wondered if she would be competent to persuade Longinus, or if this entire marriage would need to be arranged by he and his brother. A horrible thought to contemplate; he wished Sergia would exhibit better manners! Somehow, the girl seemed both too willful and yet, not vivacious enough.
His attention honed in once again on the conversation at Livia’s mention of the pitter-patter of small feet. His lip curled, a fact which he immediately disguised behind another cup of wine. Perhaps Teutus could distract from Livia’s empty-headed speech and Sergia’s startling inability to display her best features. The boy had remained quiet, though. Sergia blushed, which, Secundus was deeply grateful for. That false modesty would serve her well. He suspected privately that Sergia was as shamelessly independent at heart as his sister, but she had the intelligence not to scupper her chances at marriage with any abhorrent behavior.
Longinus continued to acquit himself well. Although his sense of humor galled Secundus, he seemed quite capable of responding to all of their inquiries. He seemed quite willing to engage with Livia and Teutus, where some senators would take pains to be little more than polite. Promising, for a man to treat any of the Varii scandals as unremarkable- there were quite a few of them, after all. At the statement that Longinus would never force his wife to travel somewhere, Secundus all but glared at the man. What a naïve thing to say. Sergia would not cow to him the way a wife should if he did not demonstrate that he was not to be trifled with. Secundus had attempted to leave his wife room for grief, and had earned himself a harpy who refused him time and again. Noticing that their host had begun to eat, Secundus took a piece of bread himself. Finally. He dipped it in oil, barely remembering to pretend manners- it was less an embarrassing display than with the wine, at least.
Teutus spoke of imports, and Secundus attempted to listen; while his nephew’s words were unimportant tonight, the senator’s reaction could be. With their clan’s reputation, every move risked pushing them into a precarious position. Clear, direct communication about the boy’s work was unlikely to do any real damage, though. Secundus rarely paid attention to such matters, as politics did not care about the details of transporting spices. As dinner party conversation, though, it piqued his interest. As he ate a perhaps inordinate amount of bread, he finally felt properly engaged. This night was about Longinus and Sergia, however. He would wait for Longinus to respond to Teutus, allowing Sergia time to compose herself, and then he would redirect the focus to his niece. For now, he listened silently.
@Atrice, @Liv, @Sara, @Sharpie
Mi. Horatius, honored father-in-law:
Of course, we miss Rome, and there is much happening in our absence. We need time to recuperate, you understand. Livia is a charming but delicate creature, and she needs her little moments of reprieve. There is little to occupy our time here, and we prefer it that way. Admittedly, part of our reason for taking this vacation is for the future of our family. We are both eager to extend the family line, as you say. Indeed, I hope that we soon have good news to share with you. Life is quieter here, and my wife’s company keeps me from succumbing to the torpor of idleness. She is a welcome distraction from the vagaries of age which encroach upon me.
I am glad to hear of your efforts in the public sphere. I do hope to join you in our political endeavors, yet I simply cannot rush back home on the account of anything but my family. The young Caesar may be as promising a prospect as you say, but I have the state of my own fate to consider- a man of my age needs a son to carry out his legacy. I will rejoin you as soon as we are able, but now is not that time, no matter how much Livia and I both wish it to be so.
Perhaps you should visit us, when you can find the time. Livia is somewhat disinterested in frequent visitation, as she requires a break from the din of Rome, but we would be glad to welcome you when she has recovered more from the stress plaguing her constitution. I would hope that when you visit us, I can offer you news of a grandchild. Perhaps in a few months, when we have such glad tidings to share? My dearest apologies that I cannot give you what we have all hoped for, and my fondest regards for the man who introduced me to a woman such as Livia. Vale.
Yes, everyone was quite pleased that Tertius had arrived. Secundus smiled politely as they all exchanged pleasantries about Teutus’ arrival. Secundus ignored the envy that curdled in his stomach. He had nothing to offer as Livia launched into a digression about her father’s favorite wines. It was all very insipid, but that was part of the game. Longinus had invited them here to perform for his benefit. They were accessories for Sergia, who the young senator was evaluating for suitability. Perhaps Livia had said the right thing- Secundus could hardly distinguish between polite conversation and empty-headed nonsense; from Livia’s lips, it all sounded the same.
When the conversation briefly turned to children, Secundus allowed himself a slight smile. He would have a son, soon enough. Their arrangements would ensure that the boy would not be plagued with the same controversy and scandal that Tertius had foisted upon his family. He hoped Longinus would only be half as wise, in his dealings with Sergia. A flare of protective anger filled him, for a moment, as he looked at the man. His clumsy joke soothed Secundus’ anger; this man lacked the guile to harm Sergia, he thought scornfully. Attempting to distract himself, Secundus drank his wine; quick, greedy gulps, rather than the genteel sips of his brother or his wife. He hardly registered the taste.
Sergia began to respond, a demure smile on her lips but fire in her eyes. Secundus tuned her out completely as he reclined. Whatever his niece was saying, he imagined it would be lacking in the caution which women ought to speak, yet none the less charming for it. He had no idea where she had gotten that charisma from; certainly not from her mother. Instead, he only rejoined the conversation as he realized Sergia, face fixed in a pleasant smile that was now fading, was looking to him for a response. Now, what had the girl been saying?
“Yes, as my niece said,” whatever it was that she had said. He hoped Livia had been listening, at least. “It is an arrangement with its challenges, but between the domus here and the villa in Tibur, it is not quite so crowded as you might imagine.”
@Sara , @Liv , @Atrice , @Sharpie
Secundus nodded curtly to Tertius at his greeting. He could play civil for the length of this dinner. He had done it so many times in his youth, even though he had been a wild young man, impetuous and carefree. He had known how to put up a proper front for everyone respectable enough to demand one. He could do this here. It had been more difficult holding his tongue around his brother since his return, but he was no barbarian. He placed a hand on Livia’s waist- the touch was designed such that it would linger on his wife’s body for seconds at most before pulling back. It would seem like a loving gesture between man and wife, to anyone who did not know the couple well. A performance, for one man and one man alone.
“Yes, a wonderful surprise, brother,” Secundus said with seemingly genuine warmth. He soothed his temper as it flared under the ignominy of Livia’s and Tertius’ judgement. Instead, he trained his vision on Longinus, who was meeting Sergia for the first time. He studied the young man’s expression for anything that boded poorly for the union. His good humor seemed to relax Sergia, but she retained the proper grace and poise for such an occasion. Secundus relaxed ever so slightly, the fist of fear and rage crushing his heart unclasping. He let out a breath that he had not realized he was holding.
At Longinus’ direction, the dinner party moved as one through the space. Their host seated himself and finally offered them wine. Secundus gestured dismissively for Livia to sit before himself, as was only right. He also whispered to Sergia, that she might sit opposite Longinus. It seemed most appropriate for the two prospects to have clear sight of one another while keeping their distance, and Sergia should not join Longinus in the highest place, not yet. They were not yet married. Sergia hesitated and glanced at Livia, as she always had a habit of doing when Secundus bid her do anything. The girl doubted her uncle’s advice in all matters. Rather than prolong the awkwardness, Secundus sat down on the middle couch. He tried to steal Longinus’ attention to give the women time to decide where to sit.
“Longinus, have you met Teutus? My favorite nephew,” he added in an undertone with a wink at Tertius, as he took a swig of wine.
@Atrice, @Liv , @Sara , @Sharpie
Secundus had long awaited this day. Sergia fussed and preened and otherwise seemed to want to delay and tarry on the way to this dinner; for what reason, Secundus could scarcely imagine. She seemed reluctant to arrive there with him. Perhaps the girl missed her mother, who had declined to attend, citing her weak constitution. Secundus would have confronted her on the matter, but he had given up on trying to overrule both mother and daughter together- they were both too stubborn to listen to reason, and he needed to argue them around to his point of view by catching one of them alone. Tonight was the night to arrange Sergia’s marriage to Longinus, so Secundus was happy to leave his willful sister behind.
His niece barely spoke to him, during the day before the dinner, and Secundus happily accepted the silence. Her petulance would soon become tiresome, but hopefully Longinus would not see it before their marriage was finalized. Secundus had not seen his wife’s own flaws, until after he had married her. It was an easy mistake for a man to make, when his interests were aligned with preserving his family line and name. Livia had been beautiful and the proper lady, someone who would be an excellent wife to a senator. If only he had seen what lie beneath her mask.
He had asked Livia whether she would come, but of course, the choice was up to her. In fact, with Livia delaying as she did, simply to avoid breathing the same air as him, Secundus was rather inclined to simply leave her behind, as well. He waited, though, and the three of them left together. Both women spoke amongst themselves, quietly, while Secundus avoided making conversation with either one of them. He only said one thing to Sergia, which was that she should make a good first impression on Longinus.
As the three of them followed Longinus’ man into the atrium, Secundus’ eyes swept over the place in undisguised, unapologetic judgment as he catalogued the changes from their previous visit: what had been moved? What was new? What looked worn down? It was only a full minute of taking in the décor that Secundus smiled thinly at Longinus.
“Thank you for extending the invitation, Longinus. This is Sergia, my niece. And this is my ravishing wife, Livia.”
Secundus smiled sharply as Livia impugned Vibia’s skill level. How condescending his wife was, and at a party, in front of the entire senate! He wondered why she thought she could get away with this kind of mockery. This had been the motivation behind tonight’s festivities, and his choice to include Vibia in them. A ‘subpar musician’? He would happily parade his wife in front of the entire room and see how she fared if asked to play. He admittedly did not know much of Vibia’s musical talents, as his appetites did not tolerate much indulgence of music when there were other, more tempting fruits on offer. While Livia insulted him with puckered lips as though she needed to judge every action he took, Vibia laughed in genuine amusement. Oh, how he regretted that the mother of his children was such a sour woman. His smile curled up as Livia made a jab about Vibia’s other skills. Yes, he would need to remind Livia which of them held the power.
“Skilled with her hands? You jest, surely?”
Before Secundus had a chance to provoke his wife, though, Vibia took the cue from her suggestion and decides to begin playing. Forgetting the innuendos and barbs which had flown between the two women, Secundus simply watched the performance. He did not look at or touch his wife, instead smiling lecherously at the woman as she sang and played the Carmen Saeculare. Secundus had little understanding of music, of what was virtuous or beautiful or enjoyable to listen to. He appreciated Vibia, though, and the way that she had given him exactly what he had wished for tonight. She had stirred up the hornet’s nest, and now Secundus braved the stings.
“Magnificent,” he said breathlessly, surprisingly himself in how genuine the comment was. Secundus watched Vibia, wondering how a woman had learned to destroy others of her kind so effortlessly. The only reason Livia had not crumbled had been her own harshness; a gentler woman would have rushed off crying at such insults. “Isn’t she, Livia? A goddess among women.”
Happily cutting his brother out of the conversation, Secundus glanced at him in open disdain when he did finally speak. His words seemed helpful to their shared goal, though, and did not prick at any of his own insecurities or pet peeves, so he let the matter lie. As far as Secundus was concerned, all that mattered in this conversation was ensuring that they left with this marriage prospect secured for their niece. Longinus seemed approving of the woman they described, which gave Secundus hope that they might perhaps achieve their aim in coming here.
Longinus spoke again, turning the conversation to logistics. He asked what date Secundus recommended, and insinuated that he might enjoy hunting in Tibur. Secundus smiled thinly, ignoring the flare of anger at having to spend the day entertaining someone. Hunting with other men rarely required much talking, so he could survive such a situation with minimal reputational damage.
“We would not dare to waste your time,” Secundus lied confidently. He valued the other man’s time very little, but he valued his status as a potential match for Sergia highly indeed. “In fact, let us arrange something as soon as possible. Early next month, if you are willing.”
Vibia tossed her hair, a gesture that drew attention to her beauty more easily than any other. He wondered how long it had taken her to perfect it. As Livia called to him, Secundus responded immediately. He made his excuses to the senators and moved to join his wife and her tormentor. Vibia held her cithara, offering to play. He wondered just what Vibia had said to offend Livia, or if it had been the woman’s presence itself. That had been why he had invited Vibia, after all; to test his wife’s patience. It seemed that whatever they had discussed had incensed Livia enough to call him over.
Secundus joined the two women, hearing the tail-end of her biting remark about her smile. He supposed that comment had been intended for both him and Vibia- who he suspected would not be bothered by it. She was a resilient woman, perhaps because her position invited criticism from many women like Livia. He joined their conversation, nodding respectfully at both women. When Livia asked him about which piece Vibia excelled at, he smiled thinly. Everyone involved knew exactly which services Vibia had most often provided him.
“I am no connoisseur of music, Livia. Perhaps you should partake of Vibia’s talents yourself, so that you may judge more accurately?”
Topics I Participated In
Early 76CE. Horatius Justinus is in Rome; Quinctilius Varus and his wife are in Tibur. @Járnviðr
Marcus Horatius Justinus warmly greets his son-in-law Secundus Quinctilius Varus
I hope your little stay away from the hustle and bustle of the Urbs is agreeing with you, mi Quinctili! - we all deserve a nice break every now and then! I hope you won't resent me feeling a little bitter you have my darling Livia all to yourself! I trust her good nature and sweetness is brightening your spirits just as much as the locale. And I must admit, if you'll allow me to say so, that your own presence here in Rome is also very much missed. You are perfectly justified in taking your little holiday now, as this is as close to a quiet period as we have had in the city for a long time, but I am working ever so hard to make sure our new Caesar (a promising boy, in my opinion) learns that he can trust in me and my friends and that it is essential to cooperate with the leading men of the Senate, and I can think of no advocate for our dear values sounder or more respectable than your good self. By no means do I want to foreshorten your leisure by excessive nagging; I do not wish to be the type of father-in-law who considers that his son-in-law should be at his every beck and call. My desire to see you back in the city is motivated merely by my high opinion of you, your position and your connections. I am, as I am sure you know, very glad to have you as part of my family.
If you cannot return to Rome, I would at least be very glad of an occasion to visit you and my dear daughter in your delightful residence in Tibur (though not for long - as I say, I am needed at Caesar's side). Every day I long to be in Livia's sparkling company again. If you'll permit me to say, every time I visit I secretly hope that I will find her a mother-to-be at last! But I'm sure you are just as keen for the family line to be extended as I am, and I trust that you will inform me of any news as soon as such a happy occasion is upon us.
Do write and let me know as soon as possible of your situation. My very best regards to you both. Vale.
Longinus wasn't, by his nature, a nervous man but by the Gods he was skittish now. The meeting with Seconds and Tertius had been odd and disconcerting to say the least, but he'd persevered - sending his compliments to Secundus for a lovely afternoon and pressing his desire to meet the man's niece. He didn't know what to make of Sergia - he'd glanced her once or twice throughout the years at various functions but couldn't recall much beyond dark hair, blue eyes and a pretty face. If he'd spoken to her, he couldn't recall it and he hoped to the Gods he hadn't because the Longinus trying to court a young woman was likely to be different to the Longinus enjoying himself at a party. There was a significant chance he'd acted like an oaf back then, and winced as he paced the atrium.
The house was deserted - his mother and daughter at the villa in Formiae for the next few weeks, which suited him fine. No need to frighten the poor young woman off with his overzealous mother and miserable child. That did, unfortunately, leave Sergia in the company of only men so he'd extended the invitation to Secundus' wife Livia. But tales were told and deciding he'd rather not have to face the couple who spent most of the year oddly isolated in Tibur, he'd also invited Tertius. He liked the latter, more than he liked Secundus at any rate and was hoping the Praetor would be able to temper the moods of his guests.
Dinner was being prepared and the slaves hurried around the place, straightening a few of his odd collectibles here, and a vase of fresh flowers there. He fidgeted as he drew to a stop, tugging at the folds of his pallium and wishing he'd had a good long drink before this. How was it that facing down the Brigantes in Britannia hadn't made him sweat but the prospect of arranging a marriage did? He swallowed and waved a hand at a slave; "Wine." His throat felt as parched as a desert and he gulped it down as it was handed to him. He didn't have long to wait and stew further in his misery though, a slave entered the atrium with a guest trailing behind him.
TAG: @Járnviðr @Liv @Atrice (and @Sharpie and @Chevi if you want Attis or Mets to make an appearance at any point!)
Also figured we could jointly NPC Sergia? And come up with an excuse as to why her mother isn't at the dinner...
November, 75 AD
It had been weeks since he first met Aglaea, the nice and gentle slave to his uncle Secundus’ wife. Since hearing about her situation and getting to know her better, she was often on his mind. Wulfric knew he should make moves towards meeting his father, but for some reason, it was difficult to pull himself together to do it. Instead he decided he would meet this cruel uncle of his first, see if there was anything he find out or anything he could do about Aglaea’s situation. Both Tertius and Secundus did not sound like good men, but so far, Secundus seemed worse than Wulfric’s father at least.
He had to be careful though. He did not wish to reveal to Secundus, that he was his father’s son – that he was Secundus’ nephew. So he had to find some other excuse to visit him. Working at the market was luckily helpful. He worked in a warehouse and he found out they made deliveries to certain households in Rome. And when he asked into it from his colleagues, he found out, that they delivered to a Quinctilius Varus household. One morning, Wulfric managed to follow the cart that went towards that part of the city. Since he’d been working well and hard for a few months now, his employer had already raised his payment and was giving him more responsibility. Wulfric was to check that everything went correctly at the house. And he would. And not just in the kitchen and with the goods.
Since he was working, he wasn’t wearing his finest clothes. Just the simple daily clothes, more German than Roman in the style – he was not wearing the new and finer set that he bought recently. Anyone would be able to tell he didn’t come from here, although few might guess where he had his origins. He didn’t know the master of this house might. Once at the house, he let the others unload and stood by, looking at it all. There were mostly vegetables and grains and spices. Everything seemed to be in the correct amounts, but he still had a good excuse ready for meeting Secundus. He asked if the master of the house was home at this hour and if there was a chance to see him. The main kitchen slave said he was at home but wondered why Wulfric would meet him. She wasn’t sure Secundus would meet a foreigner though, but Wulfric said it was important and insisted.
At long last, he was allowed inside, into the fancy looking household. Well somewhat fancy. He had been to a few other places already and he’d seen nicer. It didn’t look so well-kept to him. Quietly, he waited in the atrium for the master of the house to appear, curious to see his uncle in Rome for the first time.
Saturnalia had come and gone with the fresh winter winds that whipped about the city. Although it didn't get nearly as cold as Britannia here, Longinus' body was unused to the cold after a summer spent outdoors, basking in the heat of Italia and Greece. The hypocaust was at full steam (literally) for the occasion and the paterfamilias Longinus had spent the early afternoon chivvying slaves to make his domus look presentable. It was an odd place; half-decorated in his late wife's style, a quarter under the influence of his mother with her love for garish frescos and vivid mosaics, and the rest was left up to his tastes. Tastes which bordered on the downright odd. A British battle axe on the wall in one room, some pottery he'd found en route back via Gaul in another. It was an eclectic place that had none of the polish of other Senators and Patricians his rank, but it indubitably suited him.
The slaves had done their work admirably though and it was at least tidy. After he'd waved his mother goodbye (thank the Gods) to spend the late afternoon and evening with his cousin Lepidus, Cassia his daughter going with her, Longinus was left alone with the slaves. He didn't know why he felt nervous, he'd come to his decision without much fanfare after a disappointing few months looking into the impossibility of adoption, and unsuccessfully musing over other eligible women. Maybe he was nervous because of the family? They didn't have the best reputation around, and his mother had curtly reminded him as she departed that Tertius - who'd seemed at least affable, and nice enough - had recently had a bastard born son by a slave, a son whom he'd recognised. Longinus had resisted the urge to tug at the neckline of his tunic at the remark, given he'd been in the same situation some months ago with Sestia, although that was a secret he'd take to his grave.
He'd invited both Tertius and his eldest brother here today though, and perhaps that was why he felt oddly ill at ease. He found Tertius pleasant enough but his brothers reputation preceded him. Unfortunately for Longinus, his plan required the paterfamilias and that meant Secundus himself. He hoped Tertius could temper him a little though, hence the dual invitations. Poor Longinus wasn't to know of the discord between the brothers.
A slave disturbed his thoughts and announced one of the brothers was here. "Yes, but which one?" He asked with a frown and the slave girl merely sighed and shrugged, "I don't know domine, he's tall, dark haired..." Longinus had to suppress a chuckle, "Yes dear Merula, that's very helpful." He shooed her away with a wave of his hand and jumped to his feet from where he'd been sat in the garden. Bounding through the house with his customary energy, he drew to the atrium and slapped on a wide grin he didn't quite feel. "Welcome!"
TAG: @Járnviðr @Atrice
In honor of the Volturnalia, Secundus had joined in the day’s public festivities. Senators were expected to make appearances at these things; they represented most of a man’s religious life, so he performed the necessary civic duties. However, this year, he most looked forward to the night’s festivities. Secundus had been planning this party for many days now. Several of the men of the senate had been invited to join in. It would be a night of feasting, drinking, games, and music.
Livia, as usual, had taken no interest in helping him plan the occasion. She considered any time spent with him wasted time. Secundus did not mind that. It made his plan easier. He could arrange for Vibia to perform as the night’s entertainment without it rising to his wife’s notice any sooner than the party itself. Although he only planned her to use her skills with the cithara, if any of the other guests took her up on another offer, he had not intention to stop them.
Secundus hoped that Livia would guess what Vibia was. He imagined her affronted expression vividly as he supervised his slaves’ preparations. He wanted to provoke a reaction from her- something other than the meek, mouselike behavior of recent months. For someone so bitter and angry, she insisted on remaining dormant. Perhaps she was waiting for him to show weakness. He would force her to play her hand first.
As the day’s festivities began to come to close, Secundus watched as the household finished its preparations. The party would begin soon; if everything went as planned, Vibia would be the first to arrive, with senators filing in very shortly after. Livia, who had been in her room all day, would likely want to be ready to greet their guests. He told one of the slaves to go fetch her- no need to disturb her mood before she’d had a chance to meet their guest of honor
May, 75 AD
After discovering that his money had been stolen under Aglaea's inattentive eye, Secundus had been looking for a way to find the culprit. Secundus happily seized on her mention of a male slave, Rufus, that she had spoken with shortly before she noticed the purse missing. Now, Secundus had elected to investigate the matter personally. Although they were due back in Tibur soon, he could not let this matter rest. No one could steal from the Varus family without some action being taken. It did not take long to arrange the meeting. Rufus served a master who moved in much the same circles as Secundus, and finding him lingering while his master attended to some business was easy enough. Spotting him across the way, Secundus strode purposefully towards the man. The physical description did not quite due the hair justice, he thought with some amusement.
"Are you Rufus? You spoke to one of my slaves, by the name of Aglaea. I have urgent business which requires your assistance."
Late September, 75CE
Aglaea groaned softly as she leaned over the bucket, seated on the floor of her room adjacent to Livia's bedroom. Ever an early riser, for a few days now, the woman had been woken up in the mornings with horrible nausea, yet unable to get anything up. It was a most perplexing ailment, as it seemed to disappear after a while of its own volition. Surely, the cook was doing something wrong, and Aglaea resolved to go and give her a piece of her mind. Just as soon as she was able to rise from the floor.
Life recently had been nothing but chaotic - actually, it had been chaotic ever since Secundus had come into their lives. The man sowed chaos wherever he went, frightening Livia and bullying the house staff, mumbling to himself and forcing Aglaea into the position of protecting her mistress from laying with him. Aglaea had soon decided that she would lay with Secundus and yet protect herself at the same time. Like many Roman women, Livia took silphium in order to prevent pregnancy, and like any good body slave, Aglaea was responsible for retrieving the tincture from the apothecary whenever they ran out. But unlike a good body slave, Aglaea took a small amount every time she saw Secundus, hoping with her limited knowledge of the substance that it would be enough to stop pregnancy and all the symptoms that came with it.
Her head shot up from the bucket with wide eyes. It couldn't be... but what else? No sickness from food showed itself with nausea without vomiting. And now that she thought of it, she was a few days late for her monthly cycle. Oh, God. With the sudden realization hitting her like an enormous weight, she stayed stock still for several seconds, before burying her head in her hands, weeping quietly in despair and misery. How could she ever explain this to her mistress? And what would happen to the child once it was born? How would Secundus react? Would Livia send her away and refuse to ever see her again? And how could Aglaea blame her for that if she did? It seemed a horrible betrayal without context.
She had done everything she knew to do to prevent herself from bearing Secundus's child. She couldn't bring a child into this household with a clear conscience, knowing what sort of father he or she would have. And the consequences this would have for her relationship with Livia, her nearest and dearest friend... her heart broke.
In time, the tears subsided and she began to think logically. She just wouldn't tell Livia. She could wear a tunic that flowed more to hide her bump, maybe bind the bump with cloth to limit the appearance. And then, when her time came, she could slip out of the house, have her baby somewhere safe, and then return to act like nothing would happen. Perhaps she could even leave the child on the doorstep and pretend as though it was a foundling - those were common enough in Rome. Wiping her eyes clear, and feeling the despair and nausea subside, she dressed for the day. She could act as though nothing had happened. She had lied before.
Once dressed, she slipped into Livia's room to help her dress. The day had to go on.
Late August, 75CE
It had been a good couple of months for Gaius. He’d been promoted to optio in the Praetorian guard and quickly proven himself worthy of the station. This naturally came with a substantial pay upgrade and he was considering moving from the barracks to a house of his own. He’d been touring around a nearby neighborhood, in the market for a simple domus that he could afford, and though he’d been unsuccessful, he was still in a good mood. Since it was getting dark, he decided to stop in the poppina for a drink and something to eat before returning to the Praetorian barracks for the night.
He made his way into the upper section of the establishment, pleased that he was allowed here instead of the lower section. The wine here was better as well as the service. He smiled shyly at an attractive young server, just thinking that a domus was empty without a lady to guide it. He would have to remedy that situation soon. Gazing at the woman, he didn’t notice someone standing with his back to him, and bumped into him. “Oh, my apologies,” he said, blushing as the server giggled. Then he looked at the man he’d bumped into and vaguely recognized him. “Secundus? Is that you?”
Aglaea shivered as she pulled her shawl closer about her. It was wintertime in Rome, and a chill had stolen through the house despite the efforts of the house slaves to stave it off. But there was not only a physical chill, but one that had seeped into the hearts of those newest to the Varus household, particularly Aglaea. Only a day or two after the marriage of Livia Justina and Secundus Quinctilius Varus, the latter had presented a proposition to Aglaea: lay with him in the place of her mistress, lessen her burden by bearing her master's child. And this was the source of the chill that had entered the slave's heart.
She had recently found a new faith, Christianity, but the texts of Judaism had given her trouble about the moral questions of the situation. How could she possibly take Secundus to bed and sleep well at night, with him being a married man? And, moreover, the husband of her own mistress. Though she supposed that the act of adultery was a sin reserved for those of a higher social standing - perhaps it didn't quite apply to slaves, and that was one hope she held onto. And if not, she prayed every night for forgiveness of her sins, should her acts prove to be such.
Secundus had asked for her sparingly, at least, she had to give him that. Only a few rendezvouses, every other month or so. But every time she was sent for, she felt a chunk of ice fall into her stomach. Besides her moral questions, Aglaea had been skimming a little off the top of Livia's silphium every month when she was asked to retrieve it from the apothecary. She really hadn't been educated about how much to take, so she could only hope that she'd taken enough to delay the inevitable result of her meetings with her master.
Tonight was one of those meetings, it seemed. After seeing her mistress safely tucked to bed, she'd been preparing to retire herself, when a young house slave had come to her with a message. She was to meet Secundus in the tablinum, that place where she had agreed to carry Livia's burden, after midnight when the rest of the house had drifted off and they wouldn't be noticed. Now she shivered against the cold that came both from within and without as she entered the tablinum and dipped her head to the man waiting there. "Good evening, dominus. You sent for me."
Title inspired by this song
July 75 AD, one week after the earthquake
The earthquake was a week behind him now and slaves and workers were busy repairing most of Rome – including Tertius’ house, of course. The ceiling had to be improved, he wouldn’t forget how bloody Charis’ arms had been the morning the earthquake happened… and all because plaster from the ceiling in her room had fallen down. And her fellow slaves had not helped the pregnant and pretty young Charis.
And that was just one thing that had to be repaired. There were several others too. But that was his own home. Now however, he’d been sitting in the tablinium, deep in thought. He had not heard anything from his siblings after the earthquake. He hoped his sister and her grown children were alright, as well as Livia of course. And Secundus, he supposed, but he didn’t bother considering him much. Tertius had tried his best to be friendly with his brother, when he returned from Germania, but Secundus kept blaming him for returning to Rome and not searching for his captured brother. And he hadn’t liked how Tertius had run things while he’d been away. Things had just spiraled the wrong way and Tertius was only happy to marry and move away from his childhood home.
Since then, the brothers didn’t see each other a lot. Tertius still received visits from his sister and the children of course, but not from Secundus. Still, he was worried about his family and decided to go and take a look at the house of the Pater Familias of the Varus family. Hopefully Secundus was in the countryside, as he often was.
He didn’t bother to bring any slaves with him. The travel through Rome wasn’t long to reach the old house. It was kind of strange to knock here, but he did and a slave let him in. He just wanted to see how much damage had been done here and if Secundus even cared to repair it. The house where they grew up. He probably didn’t care. Quietly Tertius moved through the house and into the peristyle to take a closer look.