Looking perhaps as drawn and fatigued as he felt, Titus entered the baths with no smile and a heavy heart. Working hard to forget his pain, he was beginning to wear himself out. But he wouldn't have admitted it. A "desk job" in Rome could hardly be as taxing on a man as life in the frontiers, with the constant threat of hostilities and the lack of creature comforts. This was Rome, a city of marvels, such as these opulent public thermae! Even though he felt more exhausted than ever he could recall, under the most arduous of assignments, he refused to allow himself to see the toll Caesennia's death was taking on him, both emotionally and physically. He wore a month's worth of beard that was a sign of mourning, and he had a thought to have it removed. It was yet just another reminder of the grief he kept bottled inside, and it was itchy now that the weather grew warmer. A good soak and a massage seemed to be in order, a way to cleanse himself of mental distress as well as what little actual dirt and perspiration might now adorn his body since he had bathed the day before, in his own home. Every such banal activity served as a reminder of the domestic bliss that had been, and which now seemed to have been rent, leaving a large, gaping hole in the fabric of his daily existence. It was better, easier, to do as much as he could away from his home, despite knowing that really, he should be there for more hours of the day than he was. Attia at least needed him, needed to be comforted by him. The twin boys were only infants and knew only their nursemaid's comforts.
But, for now, he would bathe here, and as he entered and moved to the vestibule where he could pay the small fee and expect to be taken in hand by one of the slaves.
That hug...lingered, longer than a more normal, every day, commonplace greeting type hug. Titus was not given to much in the way of outward displays of emotion. But for a moment, he clung to Octavius, his older cousin, a man who was like a brother to him, really. Their bond was one of family, but it ran deeper than just that, much deeper. Men who serve together, fight together, face death together, form ties that tether soul to soul. He clung to Octavius, his fingers briefly twisting in the dark fabric of his tunic. It was not over long. But it was telling, and as he pulled back out of that embrace, the lines on his face deepened. He nodded, in acknowledgment of Octavius' words - words that never could say enough - but Titus had been there himself. Offering condolences where pain was deep and palpable always seemed so inadequate. But words, and the comfort or presence, was all one could offer.
He knew too that Octavius himself had once, years ago, gone through what he must now endure, and he knew, Octavius really understood, and was sincere in his sentiments.
"Yes, you are right," he replied, as he gestured for Octavius to sit. "Life remains. Precious life. That must be the focus now." His words were not empty. His children were the reason for moving on, moving forward, trying not to dwell on the past. Like so many in his family, he had lost so much, a decade before. All a man could do was to keep his eyes turned towards the future, and do what he could to make sure his children, and grandchildren, and their children, would have what they needed to carry the hopes and dreams of their ancestors forward into time.
He took his seat again and smiled wearily. "Twin sons. I have indeed been blessed." It didn't quite feel that way, but he supposed he should be feeling that way. Perhaps in time, when the pain of loss eased (if it ever did) he would find more joy in his boys.
"Titus Flavius Alexander Minor and Lucius Flavius Alexander Caesennius." He had a bemused look on his face. "Another Titus for the family," he said with a tiny smirk. "I think I shall call him Flavius, otherwise we'll never know which Titus we're talking about."
"Africa," he had replied briefly. "And from there I came to Syria with Jullus, to support Quintus." His tone reflected the somber feeling such memories evoked. He left them there, to return to dust as the bones of his family had, all those years ago. For a moment, he caught an image of Caesennia, as she had stood, bidding him good bye, no more than a girl then. It would be several years before he'd been able to return to her, marry her, bring her back to Rome with him. And now...
"I do believe a drink is in order," Titus said, changing the subject to something less painful. "I'm sure you must owe me one or two. Come. I can't remember when last I ate. It might be a good thing to put some food in me as well." And it was true - he would lose himself so thoroughly in his work that he would forget to eat, or ignore the food brought to him by the slaves, either at his house - which he was avoiding - or here at the Basilica. He had risen and clapped Aulus on the shoulder, smiling, working through emotions he chose not to show.
"And so how is Horatia? And the children...?" he asked as he let his friend precede him out of the office he too had once occupied.
"I had heard that you were stationed there," he replied to the information supplied, regarding Raetia. "We were practically neighbors! You should have hopped aboard a river barge and come for a visit." His light hearted tone was accompanied by a small grin, and he chuckled over the comment about Caesar's lapse in judgment. "Well, good thing you're here now, Aulus. You can set me straight. By Jupiter, these legal cases make my head swim. You'll have to tell me how you managed to keep your sanity, hearing all these endless suits!"
Yet, when Aulus put that last question to him, Titus' expression tightened and at least in his eyes, the strain of what had transpired showed clearly. He sat on the edge of the desk, fingers twined together, hands resting loosely in his lap.His gaze dropped to the floor. "I've been better," he said, in a candid tone edged with some hint of the sorrow he felt. "Admittedly, I've been worse too, I'm sure. Though I can't recall when. At least...not since the purges."
Titus' head jerked up at the sound of someone entering his little cubicle of space. It was unexpected and he was ready to be grouchy about it - especially at whatever slave hadn't managed to catch the intruder before he'd made it this far without accompaniment or introduction. But at the sight of his old friend, the irritation evaporated instantly and instead he smiled broadly. It had been a rough month - perhaps the hardest he'd had since the purges of the civil war. Yet he was the kind of man who threw himself into work in order not to dwell on grief, and to look at him, one would not necessarily know how deep his recent loss had pierced his heart.
He rose with arms outspread and moved from behind the table at which he had been working. "Aulus! You old dog! Where did you pop up from?" His voice, like his expression, gave no hint of sorrow, only perhaps a faint edge of weariness. Long hours in his new position helped to keep the sadness at bay, for the most part.
Titus was a stoic man. He had not cried, not once - since the first moments when it became clear that the bleeding was sucking the life from his poor wife, until the moment Caesennia's ashes were gathered up, to be placed in a funerary urn and buried beside the marker he had commissioned. He had not cried, but he had grieved, and he grieved still. It had been a week to the day since his twin sons had come into the world, hale and healthy, bawling lustily and hungry for life, while their mother fell deeper and deeper into a lassitude that would never raise. As he held first one and then the other, his eyes had glanced only briefly at their red, wrinkled, squalling faces, and then returned to fix on his lovely wife, her beauty drained and fading, as the physicians and mid-wives tried in vain to staunch the hemorrhage brought on by the birthing process. There was as much blood as he had ever seen, flowing from dying men on the battlefield. He had known almost right away that she was leaving them, that fate was taking her from him, and their children. Little Attia had not even a chance to say good bye, Titus choosing to keep his young daughter from the sight of all that gore, as the others worked to try to save her. All in vain. She had exchanged her own life to bring two others into the world. That was the lot of women, and the men who had participated in the beginning of their end, by creating life, could only watch and mourn.
Titus sat in the atrium, a cup of wine held idly in his hand, unconsumed. He had eaten very little in the past seven days. He had kept busy with making what arrangements were needed. Now Caesennia was truly gone from the house, except for the new tablet in the small alcove dedicated to his ancestors. Tia, his daughter, was off somewhere with her nurse, still uncomprehending and almost inconsolable for missing her dear mother. His sons were in the care of a nurse and a wet nurse, a slave hastily purchased for having a baby at her breast and seeming ample milk to spare for two more mouths. He would rouse himself, soon. It was not within him to sit and despair. He had loved his wife dearly. She had been a treasure. But he was not given much to outward displays of feeling.
When the slave came to announce that his cousin had appeared, Titus lifted his head and nodded, saying to bring Octavius there, to the atrium, and giving order for more wine and another cup to be brought. He set his own, untouched, on the small table beside him, leaning forward, eyes fixed on the spot where his cousin would soon step through under the covered porch. It was a sad time indeed. But he welcomed Octavius' company. He had news to share beyond what was already known - news he'd not had the chance to relay to his cousin, although he suspected Quintus would have already filled his younger brother in on the appointment which had occurred literally the day before Caesennia had gone into labor.
Titus chuckled at Paulus' observation. "They make for a good story, I guess. Whether it be true or not." He then nodded at the man's sensible suggestion. He drained off what was in his cup, and felt he should be getting back to his wife. She fretted a lot these days, understandably. That was one reason he sought some peace outside his home. But he was a dutiful husband, and very much cherished Caesennia, who was a good woman, an excellent mother, and an attentive wife. So he would go back and sit with her and hold her hand and listen to her small complaints, and spend time with their precious little girl too.
"I will do so. You seem to have a good head on your shoulders Faventinus. I look forward to doing business with you in a month or two." Titus rose and clapped the man lightly on the shoulder in a camaraderly way. He pointed at the jug. "The rest is for you. Think of me with every sip."
He laughed at his own joke, then departed, paying for the wine on his way out.
Titus acknowledged the good wishes with a nod, whether he truly believed in any gods or not. He was undecided on that point. But he said, ”Yes, let us hope.” He did not finish with, “for a son,” though that was his heart’s desire. Like most soldiers, he was possessed of a bit of superstition. He didn’t want to ‘tempt fate’ to be a fickle bitch and hand him another daughter.
He took a sip of the mediocre wine and suggested, ”Tell me where you are located, and when the child arrives, and we are set to move for the summer into a villa, I’ll send someone around and you can come speak to my wife.” The man seemed pleasant enough, and Titus thought that he could send some business Faventinus’ way. He was sure the man was neither more honest nor less, when it came to such dealers.
”I have quite a lot of items I’ve brought back from many campaigns. Perhaps you could also have a look at those, and tell me what you think they’re worth. I’m sure I don’t need to keep all of it. Maybe you’d be interested in a piece or two.”
Titus' eyes roamed over the various persons that the dealer pointed out. He wasn't really in need of slaves at the moment. His thoughts were really elsewhere. Octavius seemed a bit more interested, talking with the dealer, and then apparently taking the man up on his suggestion of a private viewing, at home. He mentioned some of the things he would require in anyone he purchased, and Titus thought the list sensible. "I'd think that might work best," he chimed in, agreeing with his cousin. "A viewing at your home, though, not mine, cousin. I'm afraid my wife is already a bit fractious. I don't think she'd be in the mood to have a bunch of slaves trooping in and out."
He'd leave Octavius and the dealer to work out the details. His mind was on that short sojourn, into the hills of Campania - the earthquake, the men he'd spoken to, the two boys now left fatherless. He wondered...
His eyes drifted back to Rufus, who stood as correctly as a slave should. That was Rufus all over - well mannered and respectful to a fault. Titus had no complaint of the young slave. None whatsoever. And he'd said as much to Gaius. He'd say it again to Octavius, should his cousin be giving any thought to buying the red head.
Some came forward, others pulled back. Many were just onlookers, and Titus spotted a few familiar faces, besides that of the young princess. Flavia Juliana, his cousin, and her young step-daughter, Caecina Tusca - neither of them seemed to welcome an approach. He assumed the young woman was not married yet. Being away for the better part of fifteen years meant that sometimes some news of what was going on within his huge extended family fell through some crack or other. Jullus' daughter was married and was by no means too old to bear more children. But it was a task fraught with dangers and she was already a mother - was it two or three now? He tried to recall as he loped past them, with a solemn smile but nothing more.
Scipio and his wife, he saw, the man a contemporary of his cousin Octavius and raised for some part by his aunt Annthea, Octavius' mother. He was fairly sure that Apius had children, yes...several, he thought. He saw the couple speaking with one another but he wouldn't run up and smack Apius' wife with the goatskin tether unless he knew for sure - unless she put her hand out for him to strike it. He hesitated.
But then there was one, a woman not of extremely tender years, as told by her hands, which were stained with ink. Hands that were definitely extended towards him, desirous of the blessing the gods could bestow. He ran up and struck with accuracy, and gentleness, no need to be harsh. The slimy skin hit hers, and Titus was already moving on. The women's head was bowed, her face turned aside. It wasn't for him to poke into her affairs. His task was only to act as a conduit, in some bizarre way, for the gift of fertility, nothing more.