Longinus was not taking the news particularly well, but at least he was not trying to punch her just yet. The fact that her domina knew the truth took the venom out of his threats for sure.
"Of course Tuscus decided to promptly send you home without even a reprimand,"
"Oh, I was reprimanded." the Proconsul had been furious, in fact, just like Longinus. But also out of better options.
"And you think the men that found out haven't spread it round the legions? Spreading dissent?"
"I know for a fact they haven't. But that's the Proconsul's story to tell."
"Why didn't you just cross ranks and join the bloody Britons as a warrior woman if you were so bloody keen to fight, Aius?"
"I wasn't trying to fight, I was trying to survive. You think I should have done that and treason?" she tilted her head. Longinus was a threatening person when angered, but he wasn't her superior anymore.
"Gods you...how can... And Flavia knows?"
"She does." Aia sighed "She was not happy about it, but I'm doing a decent job of being a tutor so far. And a woman. I don't plan on being anything else anytime soon." she paused "Don't blame yourself too much. I was raised to pass as a boy from an early age."
"You've still not explained how you are now in the employ of one of most important families in the Empire."
Fortuna has the hots for me.
Aia sighed. This conversation was not going well. Longinus might not have been the cleverest of people, but even he was not dumb enough to believe her pretense. The thing with passing for a man... once they saw the truth, it was hard to unsee. Longinus kept on pacing, obviously missing the nuance of what she was trying to say.
"I will give you one more chance to explain before I write to the Governor, or better yet, wait until your domina returns and I'll ask her - lay out my suspicions. There'll be punishment plenty from one of them, if not both, I'm sure."
Well then. Aia smirked. She was sure she'd be punished if Longinus went to the domina... just not for the thing he thought. She kept quiet for a while, weighing her options.
"Some people knew, you know." she said finally with a sigh "One because he saved my life when I got stabbed in a raid. And four because they tired to beat me up. The case went all the way to the Proconsul, and he decided to take the lesser of two disasters, and sent me here. Because the other option would have been for everyone to find out a woman had been serving in the legions for years. Not that I had much of a choice."
"Lice?... Don't tempt me."
Was she getting away with this? Longinus was becoming more and more frustrated. He even started throwing things. Aia hoped Flavia Juliana was not going to arrive home early, because it would have been hard to explain how she managed to upset a guest so badly he was doing damage to the property. But at least he didn't actually ask her to show her tits like some Greek prostitute on trial.
"I think your lying. And I think you know who I am and I think three years ago we were in Britannia and I sent you to Petuaria to go and get intelligence on their insurrections. And I want to know - if your Aius' twin sister, how on earth you ended up in the employ of one of the Imperials? His connections weren't that good."
That... actually was a very good question.
"Well... he sent me away from Britannia because he wanted me to be safe." she answered tactfully, still holding Longinus' gaze. This was not really about lying anymore as much as plausible deniability. "Since we look a lot alike, it would have been... a problem, if someone somehow got the idea that there was a woman in the legions. It would have been very embarrassing for the officers to... make that kinda mistake."
For a moment, she though she was going to get away with it. Any Roman man with half a brain and half the balls would have more readily accepted that twins could look this much alike than accepting the possibility that a woman fooled the legions for years.
"And I suppose your hair. Is a new style I'm not au fait with? Or is it from where it's not grown back, from when you were lying to the legion, Aius?"
Aia stared back, setting her jaw.
Decimus would be shitting himself right about now.
"Dominus, I am confused. Are you trying to insinuate that I, a mere woman, served in the legions an no one noticed? Or that I am actually a man in disguise? Because I am willing to show you my breasts if it's the latter. No cock and balls attached."
Well, admitting her name, in retrospect, was a bad idea, but it was not like he couldn't find out the truth from the slaves anyway. The slave girl scampered away with her basket; at least there were going to be no witnesses to this exchange.
"I knew a man once, served in my legion as one of my interprexes. His name was Aius. It's a funny thing, you look almost identical to him. But the funnier thing is that I left him in Britannia, happily in service to Rome, and with his cock and balls still attached and definitely not wearing a dress."
Despite the dire nature of the situation, Aia bit the inside of her cheek to keep herself from laughing. Cock and balls indeed. Did he have that on good authority? She fixed her gaze ahead as he inspected her closer. Legion officers liked to get into one's face. It's was all about intimidation.
"Look at me. And explain how you came to be here, Aia."
"I was hired to tutor Flavia Juliana's children in languages." she reiterated with a straight face, then decided to take a gamble. If the man was so sure about cock and balls, maybe he could be swayed now. "You are probably thinking of my twin brother, dominus. He is still in Britannia."
Fuck. Fuck fuck fucking dammit to Tartarus.
The man, instead of leaving the women to their apple picking, walked closer. It was definitely him.
"You, stand up straight. And what's your name?"
Aia stood. At this point it would have been more suspicious not to, and besides she still had the instincts drilled into her in the legions. Longinus had a voice used to giving out commands. And she was used to standing up straight when he was talking to her.
"And what are you doing in the villa?"
She held his gaze, hoping to create reasonable doubt solely by confidence.
"I'm the language tutor of Flavia Juliana's children, dominus."
"... My father always wanted me to embark on the military path rather than the civilian route, citing the achievements of my ancestral blood with names such as Marcus Furius Camillus and Gaius Marius, 2nd and 3rd founders of Rome so to say. Don't misunderstand me, even if I dare say that my skill with the sword in close combat isn't something to underestimate, I've always favoured using quill and parchment, transmitting these words into oratory art, which made my mother secretly pleased since I would be honoring Quintus Tullius Cicero, the greatest orator known to man or so that's what the 'wise old men' say."
Aia bit her lips, now genuinely amused. There was no air of superiority about Lucius, but he did name drop founders of Rome like they were coins for the plebes. Honestly, Aia only had a very vague grasp on Rome's early history and great politicians; learning a language was one thing, learning millions of boring Roman names and even more boring achievements was another. But apparently Lucius was someone's someone, or something like that. Like every other senator ever. That was basically the definition of nobility.
Also, he could have just said "I like to talk more than I like to fight."
A man could have worse qualities.
They walked up a hill. It was a nice spot, different from the crowded bowels of Rome. A good place to talk.
"I apologise if I talk too much sometimes, but it's who I truly am based on my upbringing, and my profession requires me to speak a lot, as you can surely understand. Well, there's also the likelihood that I happen to share the same blood with Cicero, so it's something to take into consideration...In any case I've talked awfully about myself, so I should return the favour to you more. Say...what's your overall impression on Roman society in general; positive? negative? Is there something that we Romans should improve ourselves upon? If there are genuine concerns, I can transmit them to the Curia and see where to go from there."
"Well, that's an awful lot of responsibility to put in a Gaul's hands" Aia smirked "I thought we were here for language tutoring. But I'll make you a deal, once you can understand my answer in Brittonic, I'll tell you what I think."
@The Young Pope
The domina was not home, and neither was most of the family. Aia had a nice, lazy day where she did not have much to do, and could move around the house without having to worry about disturbing her employer's privacy. She spent some time lounging in the garden, reading various texts (her Greek reading skills needed some practice), and then promptly ran out of things to do, and started wandering around, being underfoot for the household slaves who actually did have things to do. She knew some guest came looking for Silanus, but she did not usually have business with the family's guests, unless Flavia Juliana asked her to accompany them (or, occasionally, to tutor them). The man came on the wrong day anyway.
But then she caught a glimpse of him around the corner, and her stomach dropped through the floor.
"Oh, for fucking Jupiter's sake..." she backed away as fast as she could... unfortunately running into a household slave who just had her last straw for the day, and did not see the tutor as someone intimidating enough to keep her mouth shut. She dropped a basket of apples that rolled everywhere.
"Watch where you're going!" she snapped angrily at Aia.
"I'm sorry, it's just..." Aia tried to apologize in some coherent sentences, while also trying to calm the girl enough to keep her quiet.
Of course it didn't work.
Lucius Cassius Longinus rounded the corner, and Aia was suddenly very interested in helping with picking up the apples, keeping her head down, hoping her short hair might conceal some of her face...
"Fascinating I have to admit, since usually whenever I ask these initial questions the recipient always refers back to his or her parent for inspiring him or her to adopt this passion in life, however I get the impression that this isn't exactly the same case with the likes of someone like yourself; Indeed, the Gods must've truly favored your intellect and ability to pick up languages on the go."
Lucius was definitely an acquired taste. Aia had her reservations about him, mostly because of his position in Roman society, and the talking did not help much with first impressions either. But as they walked along, she was beginning to find meaning behind his excited monologues, and he seemed like a more likable character than most of Roman nobility.
"If you don't mind me asking, do you love your own line of trade; offering languages lessons to clients who've finally realised that the world is more than just Rome, and decided to widen their senses in other words...Could you see yourself doing this for an eternity?"
"Eternity is a long time" Aia smirked at the question "I do enjoy learning and teaching languages. And I am grateful to have work at a good household. I... haven't really found anything yet that I would rather be doing."
Not everyone in Rome had a cursus honorum to climb.
"How about you?"
@The Young Pope
Priscilla examined the cup closely, with a look on her face that showed intense focus and also experience in reading signs from... whatever she was reading signs from. Aia was still not entirely convinced about the whole thing, but she could at least tell that the lady meant well. She truly hoped to help. That was often a lot more important than how accurate someone's predictions were.
“You have a lot of repressed emotions. There is this front that you want everyone to see, but there’s a different side of you that very little see. Maybe you have not realized those emotions yet, either. But you will.”
Aia arched an eyebrow. She was not wrong on the front part - Aia had to hide a lot of herself to live the life of a Roman woman - but the comment about the emotions baffled her.
"How will I know, if I don't even know that I have them?"