Face ClaimToby Kebbell
Playtime was over. Cultellus had apparently had been touched by Titus' little impromptu speech, or had simply had enough of the affront, and was keen on asserting his authority by having the tax-collecting posse imprisoned. Not a moment too soon, Titus silently agreed as he watched the Dacians gleefully stomp out of the hall, poking and prodding their new captives and taunting them with loud jeers. He almost wanted to order a slave to wake him up in the middle of the night just so he could go and very literally piss on the holed-up Densus and his friends; then again, getting a (mostly) uninterrupted night's rest was even more appealing given not only the aches and soreness he was beginning to notice more and more as adrenaline wore off, but also the aftermath of the brawl come the sobering light of morning.
Zia's stern tone brought him out of his petty revenge reverie, and Titus shot her an unimpressed look. He would have rolled his eyes, but feared it would aggravate the throbbing coming from his nose and so replaced it with a one-armed shrug before spitting out some more blood, oblivious to the stray droplets that found a new home in his wife's dress. "Less of a problem than you think. Send the gold directly to the propraetor along with a message about having uncovered a corruption scheme and you have bought yourself a couple of weeks to get your story straight while he investigates the claim." Gods, how he hated the way he sounded! He would have to get this nose thing looked at in the morning and get it set right if it no longer was where it was supposed to be.
Her next question had him shooting her a decidedly more impressed look. "Will it help?" Titus wasn't sure he knew what he hoped it would help with: pain relief? Drifting off to sleep? Forgetting about the chaotic evening for an undetermined amount of time? All sounded like great options from where he was standing. He assented with a woozy nod. "Sure. Lead the way." The gods knew where Zia was going to produce it from this time - but she had better be quick about it, because Titus had an inkling that the moment he leant against a steady surface and closed his eyes, it would be a few hours before he opened them again.
As they left the great room, his mind embarked on a drunken tangent. When it concluded its reasoning, Titus couldn't help but stare slack-jawed at Zia's form in front of him, wondering to himself just how... she was. How... How...? His overtired brain tried to find the right word and came up blank, and in doing so let go of its fragile control over the filter between thoughts and speech. "... Did this turn you on?" was the incredulous question that escaped his lips, accompanied by a rather befuddled, wide-eyed and clearly less than sober gaze.
The clear spring morning had heralded perfect weather for chariot racing, and young Publius had wasted no time in using it to his advantage and dragging his secretly rather entertained father to the Circus Maximus, where they could join the excited crowd in cheering for their favourites and jeering at their least-liked aurigae. The end result, a smashing victory by the Whites over the Greens, brought no particular joy or sadness to Titus as a Reds supporter, but Publius was over the moon and would happily extol Menelaus' virtues and prowess to anybody who would listen. So endearing was he with his boyish enthusiasm that Titus figured he could try to pull a few strings and get them a backstage tour of the stables; to look at the ten-year-old's unabashed joy, one would think his birthday had come half a year earlier.
With the approval of those in charge and after they had been treated to thorough explanations about everything from the best horse breeds to how chariots were actually made, Publius went off with a slave in search of his idol, whilst Titus was more or less left to his own devices. He had no particular desire to meet charioteers and his interest in horses did not extend beyond their usefulness, so there was little for him to do. He had half a mind to leave for a quick visit to the nearest baths just so he could shrug off that unbearably hot toga and come back later for his son, when the sight of a man leaning against a passage across the wide yard brought about a flash of recollection.
Of course. One of the Dacians he had added to his collection of slaves two years prior - part of his property now, as much a possession as the domus on the Quirinal or the gold ring on his little finger - was working here. An afterthought, really, although if he prodded his memory, Titus thought he remembered it was the tall dark one with the crippled arm, and grew slightly curious as to how the man was faring. If that arm turned out to have healed to a greater extent that he thought was possible, perhaps the slave could be assigned more intensive tasks - and if not, Titus had got no word of complaint from Eppius Parthenicus via his secretary, so letting things stay as they were was just as viable. No news was good news, and the old saying had proven true to the point where he had all but forgotten he had leased the former warrior to the faction in the first place.
His curiosity was piqued, though, and he found it appropriate to indulge it by crossing the yard at a leisurely pace. Titus' only greeting to the Dacian was a lazy smirk and a quick look of general appraisal. "Don't let me keep you from your work, slave." Idle hands made for an idle mind, which was never good as far as slaves were concerned; especially not relatively new ones like this one. To his credit, the man remained impassive like a marble statue, showing no obvious signs of anger or discomfort. "What was your name again?" He took a few steps closer, arms folded over his chest and mocking smile giving way to a furrowed brow and a tone that brooked no room for disobedience. "Show me your arm."
What a good show the publicanus was putting on, at times mellow and at times spurred to action. Apparently his precious little pride was wounded by the insinuation that he might be less than incorruptible, which at first was amusing to Titus as he watched the other man grow quiet. Until Densus bit back with some choice accusations of his own and a pointed finger - then it was no longer amusing.
Hah! Like this poor excuse for a Roman had any honour to begin with! Titus crossed his arms and glared back, brow furrowed in patent displeasure. He didn't consider himself the most patient of men to begin with, and the way this idiot was running his gob was quickly exhausting what little he had left.
A disgrace. Well, no need to state the obvious in front of everybody. Then again, it wasn't any worse than what Titus had called himself time and again in his internal monologue, so why did it sting so painfully?
Why did it make him see red?
His body seemed to move on its own. Before he realised it, he had stood up and reached across the table to grab Densus by the collar and bash the man's head against the table, hard enough that he hoped it would leave an indentation on the wood. "Easy for a civilian to say, isn't it?" he growled between gritted teeth before pulling him up again and delivering an impressive (for his state of sobriety) right hook to the tax collector's odious, ruggedly handsome face and wipe that arrogant grin off his face. Titus thought he felt something crack pleasantly, but adrenaline and the ruckus that had erupted all around them made it impossible to tell if it had been his fingers or Densus' cheekbone. Hopefully the latter. He thought he heard Zia say something to his side, but whatever it was, it would prove ineffectual.
Chaos surrounded them. What had once been a tense but civil gathering had descended into anarchy, with pockets of Dacians and Romans going at each other not unlike the descriptions of fierce Gauls of old. At least two tables had been upturned, and Titus found himself rolling on the floor, mouth mysteriously full of blood that he noticed an instant later was thanks to Densus' fist making contact with his nose. How they had ended up down there he couldn't tell, but Mars damn him to Orcus and back if Titus wasn't going to teach this cunt a lesson he wouldn't forget!
Seconds passed, or maybe hours. Cultellus's voice could be heard here and there, drowned out by the sounds of a good old fistfight, but it wasn't until one of the musicians, presumably commanded by the chieftain, blew on his tuba with all his might that the fighting ceased as curious heads turned towards the sound, leaving limbs idle. Titus treated Densus to a kick to the jaw for good measure as he stood up, wobbling more than he would have liked but nevertheless satisfied to see a bloody tooth fly out of the publicanus' mouth at speed.
"He was calling you all thieves and liars," was Titus' innocent justification as he wiped some blood off his face, only succeeding in coating his hand with it. Spitting out a not negligible amount of the thick fluid before it made him sick, he continued in an unusually nasal tone, appealing to Cultellus and Zia's sense of pride. "You welcomed him and his men with a banquet, and he thanked you for it with insults." Gods, his nose was really hurting now. Maybe it was broken after all. "Are you going to let him walk away, boasting of how easily you were deceived, pockets full of your gold and your wives' jewels?" How supremely unfair it would be if these barbarians did nothing to this crook, when they had had no qualms annihilating a legion.
In a more subdued and infinitely more tired tone, he cast Zia a pleading look. "And even if you are, can we please go to bed now?"
What a bore. Attratinus didn't take the bait, much as Titus expected he wouldn't, and deftly navigated any implications surrounding possible matches for his daughter. It dawned on Titus with a hint of alarm that he had possibly been spending too much time round Longinus if he had grown used to every interaction being so... animated. "It is as you say, there is plenty of time. I'm sure you will select an appropriate candidate when the time comes," he agreed in a conciliatory manner, taking another sip of his wine.
Mars Ultor, why did acquaintances have to be so interested in his political inclinations? Sharing his opinions amongst friends was one thing; doing the same with a near stranger who could or could not end up being trustworthy was quite another. What did he expect Titus to do, proclaim a plan to enter the Senate and go on a stabbing spree? None of this could exactly be expressed out loud, of course, but he had a duty to entertain his guest and that included humouring such topics. He shifted slightly in the sofa to get more comfortable. "I used to love playing with toy soldiers as a child, guess that part of me still lives on," Titus chuckled, his humour genuine. "I find it all quite exciting, to tell the truth. There are those who think it's nothing more than men with swords and shields hacking away at each other, but it teaches you a lot. Discipline, strategy, resilience, how to think like your enemy and see through their subterfuges. Tests your mettle. Wouldn't you say those skills are useful in a civilian career as well?" The circles they moved in were as much of a battlefield as the edges of the empire - only rumours and intrigue were the weapons of choice.
And if this little piggy was sniffing for rumour fodder, he would find none. Titus let the loose half-smile on his lips disappear into his usual resting bitch face as the girls' happy squeals sounded in the background. "Indeed. My sister-in-law is a first cousin to our esteemed emperor," he expanded drily, all previous traces of cheer gone. "I would not, I'm afraid. I'm not a betting man, much less one to question Caesar's judgement of young men he knows better than you or I could ever aspire to." His cup had run empty, and a quick glance at the attending slave saw it promptly refilled along with Attratinus' cup. "Would you place a bet?" Titus rather thought the man already had.
Letter dated 21st of February 76 AD
Titus Sulpicius Rufus to his dearest friend Longinus, birthday greetings!
No invitation for a celebratory party has arrived yet, but I'm sure that can be explained by a disoriented slave rather than forgetfulness on your part... although you have just grown a year older, so that's not outside the realm of possibility. Ageing takes a toll on mental faculties, I've heard.
I've heard a new search was afoot, and I do hope it comes to a fruitful end and that you rejoin the ranks of the happily dutifully married. I will be expecting a full report at your earliest convenience.
In the meantime, I hope your birthday present succeeds in lifting your spirits when good wine no longer can. Should you be displeased with it, do not return to sender as it makes my youngest cough and wheeze like she caught her grandfather's affliction and I don't care to witness that again.
Farewell, my dearest friend and brother.
The letter was delivered by a bumbling Briton slave along with a small wooden crate that wiggled suspiciously at random intervals.
Women were idiots, and the one sat next to him more so than any other. The urge to admonish Zia for her hubris was too strong for Titus to overcome, and although he switched to his faltering but improving Dacian just to be on the safe side (might try and affect closeness while he was at it, because that was the most ridiculous thing of all), he took great delight in it. "Good job telling to him you have more bracelets. Now he will want all them." That was the worst thing about tax collectors, the more you owed the more you owned. Out to bleed people dry, the slimy lot of them.
It turned out their guest's exhilaration wasn't solely due to being thoroughly fed and entertained or to the quality of the vintage on offer. Titus knitted his brow, feeling fooled and foolish all at once. Why the Dacians had kept quiet about the wine to him was obvious, but no less annoying. The flower was pleasant enough even if it led to unnerving and absolutely regrettable experiences, but poppy? That was a game changer. He would have to go digging thoroughly one of these days, maybe even interrogate a slave or two.
Densus, on the other hand, seemed to be none the wiser as he undressed the slave girl with his eyes - and none the wiser in more ways than one, for Titus knew that in spite of being a looker, this particular girl was no more animated than the marble statues that populated Rome. Whether it was thanks to ineptitude or inexperience, however, he didn't know, and had not been interested in finding out or remedying it after a lackadaisical, highly disappointing tryst. But that was for him, and eventually Densus, to rue and for Zia not to find out, he supposed.
"Indeed! Your generosity and kindness tonight are beyond anything I could have expected or hoped for." The publicanus stole a final glance at the slave girl before raising his cup in a toast his cronies were quick to join in on, praising Cultellus and his kin. Titus had to bite the inside of his lip hard enough to taste metal in order to stop himself from producing a derisive snicker, and instead mimicked their guest's gesture at thrice the speed, washing the blood down with his unfortunately unadulterated wine.
The compliment seemed to get tongues loosened and conversation flowing, the rudimentary exchanges punctuated by boisterous laughter and exaggerated gestures. Further down the table, an inebriated Dacian seemed to be having great fun demonstrating the size of his balls whilst one of the tax collector's goons was already pulling his tunic up and his subligaculum down for a comparison. Titus rolled his eyes and figured he could see if the publicanus was disposed to mindless chitchat; get him talking about little things so his tongue might loosen. "So where did you grow up, Sextus Densus? Not in Rome or Italia as far as I can tell." Nor Gallia, nor Britannia, and probably not Dacia either for obvious reasons. The man didn't seem to mind the question, and his mouth widened in a grin. "Ah, because of my accent? You're quite right! I grew up in Noricum, although my father was from Gaul." For some reason the answer did not surprise Titus, though he politely nodded and kept inquiring as to the man's family, childhood and life in general - as if he gave a rat's arse! Still, the knowledge that Sextus Densus was divorced and childless and was now coming up on his second year in Dacian territory might turn out useful; no destitute widow and offspring or close connections that might want to investigate his thereabouts should he... mysteriously disappear. He hoped Zia had made the connection too, but if not - and this time Titus couldn't blame her, as Densus' increasingly slurred speech was starting to present a challenge even to him - he could always clue her in later.
Talking led to drinking which led to more talking which led to more drinking, and hopefully the publicanus was now sloshed enough to be as forthcoming about his duties as he had been about his private life. Titus wasn't entirely sober himself, but as he looked at his now empty cup and mourned the lack of sleep aid in it, he reckoned he was still in better shape than the man sat across the table, who was now blinking owlishly as he turned his head this and that way over his shoulder, almost as if he were looking for someone. "How have your duties been progressing with the other tribes? Got many of these?" he pointed at Zia's bracelet with a playful wink. "They're surprisingly well-made too, aren't they? Bet they'd be worth a fair bit if you were to sell them."
Did he sell them? Or did he keep them? Or did he deliver them to the imperial treasury as he was supposed to?
Titus was a poor actor, but this Densus fellow was a boring one; his 'make sarky comment first, apologise later' gimmick was getting tiresome. Could he maybe be drunken into passed-out silence? Titus took a sip of his own drink, a little surprised that fingers hadn't melted off given the acid that Zia exuded. Too bad they all couldn't go the way of the previous publicanus, himself included.
At the man's biting words, Titus felt his cheeks heat up like a fire had been lit under his skin. The nerve of this arrogant provincial, thinking he could call him out like that! He regretted not having got the old man to lace their guest and his posse's wine, but quickly moved on to pondering how best to get rid of the nosy bastard. Doing away with a tax collector and the subsequent loss of revenue would surely set the imperial treasury on Densus' trail, which would result in comeuppance for the bloody Dacians. Exactly what Titus wanted, then.
Or was it?
Bemused by the sudden indecision that welled up inside of him - and more than a little unsettled by the image of a very familiar four-year-old nailed to a cross and crying for his mummy that his mind felt the need to supply for some reason -, he put it aside for later brooding and settled for giving the publicanus a predatory smile. "I would be happy to. It is never a bad idea to pick up new skills." Such as cutting off Sextus Densus' hands and tongue, for example, before sending him back with the taxes due; that would require access to a sharp blade, though, and Cultellus and his gang still didn't seem too inclined to humour him with that. "When would you require my assistance? After the feast, or perhaps tomorrow? I don't know if you're the type to mix work and leisure." He gaze Zia a quick keen look, then affected a rueful smile. "Guess that's goodbye to your bracelet, honey." As if she only had the one! "Rome's unforgiving appetite for gold is well-known," he added, shooting Densus a smirk.
The man took the implication in his stride and waved a hand as if to say such things were beneath him, then raised his cup. "It would be discourteous of me to go into details of my work when you have been so kind to welcome me with good food and drink." And quite the farce, his dark blue eyes seemed to say. "Why, it might give you time to hide your precious goods before I got to them!" he chortled, slamming his fist down on the table and sending drops of wine flying everywhere. Sextus Densus too had his own farce to keep up, namely that of feigning a certain degree of drunkenness and the crass humour it brought. Titus' fingers tightened their grip round his cup, wanting nothing more than to smash it on the man's face, but he reigned in the impulse and instead inched closer to Zia to whisper to her. "Think the wine's not agreeing with our guest, dear...?"
"Yes, earlier than usual. I was in my early twenties. Looking back, I think it has its merits." No great ideological gap, for instance, although women weren't really expected or supposed to have strong political opinions. No burden of care for either party either, since both had been in mostly good health since - barring his handful of souvenir scars and the dangerous business that was childbirth. And there had been other benefits not intended for disclosure in polite company. Speaking of which, Atratinus deserved to squirm a little for sticking his nose in others's business. "You know, my wife was older than my daughter is now when we got married. I'm sure you didn't mean to imply my father.in-law didn't do a good enough job there," Titus innocently suggested, taking a sip of his wine before shooting his guest a sardonic smile. "Or were you perhaps putting your eldest forward...? Although that is a bit too young. Younger than me, even," he added, stifling a mean chuckle with more drink. The man did have a point - one so valid that it was exactly why Titus had been waffling on the subject. How could he even start thinking of suitable husbands when the would-be bride was still a child in his eyes (and, he suspected, would always be)?
His fellow patrician's next question left Titus a little puzzled by the perceived scepticism. Jealously? Hardly, given the distance in Atratinus' behaviour with his young daughter. "Because I wished to have them near and was in a position to do so," he explained with an almost inquisitive lilt, as if the answer was obvious. They were his family, how could he not miss them? "My wife enjoyed the change of scenery too, said it provided inspiration for her writings. Mind, they were quite safe and away from the troublesome areas. It was no emulation of Germanicus and Agrippina, if that is what you were thinking of." All right, maybe it had been in an instance or two - but Publius had been so excited to see a whole legion and an actual camp, and the men didn't seem to have minded fielded his excited, puerile questions; they were probably picturing their own boys doing the same.
Titus raised his cup in a quick, silent toast to the deceased young Sempronii and formulated an equally quick and silent thanks to the gods that such pain was alien to him. "My apologies. I didn't intend to bring up unpleasant memories." The change in topic saved him from more awkwardness, but he did wish Atratinus would have chosen a different subject. It was a question he had asked himself over a thousand times in the past year, and although he had mostly made peace with the conclusion he had reached, he still wasn't sure it was the right one, or if there even was one. But such musings were best kept to himself, or gingerly shared with his faithful body slave after much imbibing. "I'm not nearly as ambitious as my good friend Aulus Calpurnius Praetextatus," Titus acknowledged, drumming his fingers on his half-full cup, "but I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy my time in Dacia. I don't think I would say no to another commission, whether there or in another province. And in the mean time, it's been entertaining to watch the fray from the sidelines and catch up with all that's happened while I was away. What would you say has been the juiciest development?"
Atratinus' little girl was going to make somebody a perfect Lucretia some day, if the way both her father and other little girls bent her will to theirs was anything to go by. Titus knew as well as both Sempronii who was in the right, but a stern talking to and subsequent punishment was to come later, in private. He watched the two girls for a few seconds as they left with their nurses, thinking to himself they'd be on good terms again when Gessilla and her father eventually left, necklace back in their possession. Atratinus' statement went acknowledged with a minute nod and a hum that could have meant anything.
"No, I've got another one who turns fifteen this year. And then a boy in the middle. But Valeriana is the most spirited of them," Titus smiled diplomatically, although his tone belied a degree of amusement. "All credit to their mother, though, since I wasn't always around. You know how it is." Or did he? They hadn't crossed paths anywhere Titus had been, and he couldn't recall his guest's allegiance during the civil war - if he ever even knew it in the first place.
He popped another grape into his mouth. "I was lucky to have them close by when I was in Dacia, however. Might also explain why my youngest is so lively," he chuckled. More freedom from the pressures and expectations of society for the mother and a lot more quality time for the baby, who naturally learnt mostly through mimicry; hence Valeriana's flair for theatrics. It would be probably squashed out in time as she grew up, but for the time being, Titus didn't want to set that particular process in motion just yet.
Time to do the polite thing again and turn the conversation back to Atratinus; Titus wasn't deep enough into politics that he could just harangue sanctimoniously about his own family. "Are Gessilla's siblings as polite and tactful as she?"
It sounded as though there was no love lost between Atratinus and his daughter's mother, even though they were no longer bound my marriage. Hadn't they learnt to be civil to one another? Or maybe this was what civility looked like. How fortunate Titus was not to know. "I'm sorry to hear it. But the most important thing is that you're all in good health." Both of his guests looked well, even if the little girl was very (too?) prim and proper. Again Titus contemplated the fact that maybe it was his family that was the outlier, but he'd rather have a boisterous child running about than a little lamb like young Gessilla.
Time to interrogate said boisterous child, then, and do what Atratinus' raised brow was bidding him even if he honestly couldn't care less. Schooling his expression into a more serious one for the other senator's sake, Titus gently lifted his daughter's chin so she would look up at him. "You met Gessilla and had a fun time playing together, didn't you?" Valeriana uh-huhed in agreement. "But did you forget to return her necklace when you said goodbye?" Big blue eyes widened with the kiddie variant of indignation. "No! She lent it to me!" Titus narrowed his eyes a fraction. "And until when was that?" Valeriana didn't miss a beat. "Until the next time we met."
He suppressed a sigh. A 'he said, she said' story and whilst Atratinus probably had the right version of the facts, Titus wasn't any more willing to doubt his daughter in front of an audience than the man his own offspring. Taking advantage of her father's momentary distraction and slackened grip, Valeriana turned to blink innocently at her friend, tacking on a charming smile. "That's what you said Silla, isn't it? But I can go get it, since now is the next time." To Titus this sounded like a very sensible resolution, and it was his turn to shoot Atratinus an inquiring look. Hopefully his fellow senator would be satisfied too.
Topics I Participated In
May, 76 CE
The sound of a footfall, shod in a boot of leather, crunching the rimed dead grass underneath, as the winter wind tugged at his cloak. His breath, frost filled clouds coming from nostrils, and lips slightly parted. Gathering ice crystals on the beard about cold-dried lips. In his hand, a long spear, as with stealth he approached the den. One tender plume of vapor standing proof of the sleeping bear therein. His weapon raised on high. Eager but still cautious signals, man to man, with steady hands and keen eyes, as they encircled the lair. A final sign, and the hunters moved forward at speed and thrust the cruel tips of iron down, through spaces between logs and earth. Those holding the silent dogs some paces back felt the urgent tug at collar and lead, as the hounds quivered and lunged with anticipation. A wounded roar. A bellow. And the spears withdrew and pierced anew, bringing the creature stumbling out into the thin air of a day far too early. The dogs released by their handlers, baying with frenzy. The spearmen quickly retreating. Several bows twanged in unison and sharp tips found their marks. Blood and foam and an ever insistent cry of rage. Tarbus once again moved in, with the others, on all sides, and quickly the death blow was dealt. Bending over eagerly, to peer into the face of his prey. But instead of hair and fangs and eyes dimmed to the sun evermore, he saw another face, fair and fresh yet washed with blood and sorrow on her brow…
Tarbus woke with a start. His heart was pounding in his chest, and sweat suffused his face and back. Another muggy day in Rome was set to begin, the sun just beginning to peep over the rooftops of the grand city of splendor. In the stables it was still dim, and quiet, the horses only just beginning to shuffle about in anticipation of their own day to come. He sat up, having no desire to return to a sleep beset by nightmares. Two years it had been, but always the same come nightfall. He rose and brushed stray bits of straw from his one piece of clothing, a simple tunic spun of rough cloth. He slipped his feet into a worn pair of sandals, and moved to begin his own day, one that would be like all the others, since his arrival in Rome.
Much later, when many, but not all, of the never ending tasks that were required to keep and train and race multiple teams of horses entered and competing successfully at the Circus were seen to, he stood for a long moment, leaning against the frame of the wide doors that gave into this section of the stabling. He gazed at the sky, the sun now tilting down into the west, his own gaze fixed to the east. To home, so far away. More than a month’s march, if one also had the use of a boat to cross the water. His fingers went to the simple, serviceable iron collar about his neck, a weight he had grown accustomed to physically, but which served as a constant reminder. He was clever enough to realize, that was its main purpose.
Many people there were, in that moment, milling about. But his dark eyes immediately caught the presence of a newcomer. A face he hadn’t seen more than a handful of times, and not since before their arrival here, was still etched in his memory. He knew the former legate at once. But to look at Tarbus, there was no sign of emotion. His face was like stone, though the eyes moved to follow the progress of his owner as the man made his way across the yard.
Early January, 76AD
Lucius glanced over his shoulder at his daughter, gripping tightly to the hand of her slave, "Keep up." He ordered with the authority of a man speaking to the senate rather than a six year old girl. Gessilla hurried her pace as much as she could, as did the slave and Lucius flicked his head back around to in front of him, eyes scanning the almost-deserted streets. It was barely afternoon but nobody was about, odd. Then again, this high up the Quirinal, there were sparse few shops and eateries - only the domains of the uber-wealthy. It was also bloody miles from anywhere interesting which explained the distinct lack of plebs that usually could be found crowding the streets.
It had been a short walk over from the Viminal where he lived, but it seemed like it had taken hours with his youngest daughter in tow. Gessilla had been adamant that she didn't want any trouble, and that she didn't even like the ornate shell necklace the other little girl had taken from her. Lucius didn't care given it had been a gift from Gessilla's mother - Lucius' ex-wife - and he wasn't going to become embroiled in another argument with the harpy because his daughter had been careless or foolish enough to give away a family gift. But unfortunately for the little girl, whose father he was striding up the street to see, he was now in a foul mood. He'd sent a slave over to the domus of Titus Sulpicius Rufus to claim back the lost shell necklace only for said slave to be turned away by one of Titus' own. Lucius' boy had been clear that the foreign slave in Titus' household (description - tall, scrawny, haughty, definitely not Italian) wouldn't even admit him, and reiterated that whatever the little domina had taken from Lucius' daughter was now the little domina's to keep.
Slaves! Lucius was exasperated. He'd now had to take time out of his day to come all the way over here for what? A bloody, stupid necklace - gifted by one bitch and refused to be returned by another. It was enough to make him want to pull out his hair.
Fortunately for Titus, Lucius was a master at schooling his expression and demeanour into something more polite than he felt as he knocked on the main door of the house and was hastily admitted to the atrium. The benefit of dressing finely and not being a slack-jawed slave boy, he supposed. He squinted in the light as he was admitted; it was a grey, drab day and the light in the domus wasn't much better. He could hear Gessilla fidgeting behind him with her nurse and Lucius cast a glance over his shoulder, raising a brow at her. She stopped immediately and stood still, respectfully. Another slave loomed into view and cast the trio a curious glance. "Salve sir, may I help you?" Lucius quirked his eyebrow again and gave the slave an appraising look. Gods, what idiots did he have in this house? Surely he should have fetched his master the moment he heard a Senator was in attendance?
"Yes." He managed neutrally, "Please fetch your dominus and his youngest daughter. Tell him Lucius Sempronius Atratinus is here to reclaim something that his sweet little thief took from my daughter." He said the latter words with a smile, which was sickly sweet.
For the fifth time that day Titus had to shoo away Betua's anxious form that kept hovering about the entrance to the kitchen. Yes, it was her territory as much it was his possession, but there was a tradition to uphold. If she found the results of said tradition inedible she was free to go and serve something up on the sly. If Titus had to be honest, though, he thought he and this three helpers were faring quite well and did not warrant such levels of worry. Valeriana had helped pluck a chicken with unfettered, gleeful abandon, tearing out the feathers in small but forceful fistfuls before gathering an amount she deemed sufficient and running off giggling, possibly to disturb her indisposed mother. Publius was surprisingly adapt at peeling fruit and vegetables; in another life he might have made a fine tailor, or perhaps a medic. Still, the boy was just the right amount of both careful and daring with a blade in his hands. And Titus? Well, he had finished plucking the chicken, quartered it - clumsily, yes, but he was no butcher -, taken out the nasty bits and tossed the good ones into a big clay pot where onions, lentils, carrots and chestnuts awaited company. Copious amounts of garum and red wine and a handful of assorted herbs and spices, selected with no concern for how well they would go together but merely for their fragrance, had followed suit and the pot, properly lidded, had been placed in the oven to work its magic and hopefully turn all that food into a passable stew.
At the same time, his eldest hadn't been idle either, and had prepared quite the artfully decorated platter of assorted cheeses and cured meats before moving on to dessert: apples boiled in a mix of red wine and honey with chopped walnuts and more honey on top, and some stuffed dates and preserved plums on the side in case someone didn't fancy apples. Titus felt a surge of parental pride well up inside him: if his attempt at preparing a meal for the slaves failed, Sulpicia would save his honour by making sure they would still have something decent to eat.
The clay pot was smelling like it might be done cooking, and after a moment's deliberation with his son on how they would take it out of the oven without incurring serious burns, Titus spotted two thick and seemingly well-used squares of leather hanging from a hook just by. They served their intended purpose and soon enough the pot was set on a table and uncovered, belching out a great curtain of steam. It smelled like food, which was a start. As he portioned the stew into two big bowls Titus dipped his ran his fingertip along part of the edge of the pot and brought it to his mouth to taste. All right, so maybe he had been too careless with the garum and the gravy was a bit saltier and thicker than intended, but he had had worse. All in all, it was a valiant effort; he was pleased.
Now all that was left was to serve it to the critics. He picked up one of the bowls, Sulpicia the other and Publius the charcuterie platter and the three of them made off into the triclinium, where bread, wine and olives had already been freely made available to the servants. Titus had the feeling it wasn't only just Betua's expectant look that was trained on him, and that made him a little uncomfortable - nobody liked to be judged, after all. But a natural inclination for resting bitch face and years of making intentional use of it meant his expression remained mostly neutral, even as they placed the food on the table and began ladling the stew into individual bowls for the slaves' convenience.
"Dinner is served, my fine ladies and gentlemen. I hope you'll enjoy it."
@Chevi @Ejder @Sara @Sharpie
I suggest no set posting order since there's a few of us. Also, feel free to NPC Betua and any other slaves!
6th of October, 75 AD
Given the tragedy brought on by the earthquake only a few months earlier, Titus didn't quite feel right celebrating his birthday with huge festivities or partying from dusk to dawn - besides, this was no milestone year, just the passage of time signalling that he had officially grown older. The previous day - the actual day of - had been spent with family, featuring a relaxed and pleasurable evening with far too much food including Betua's mouthwateringly good placenta cake, and only a tiny hiccough when Valeriana loudly and vehemently expressed how unfair it was that she received no gifts, skilfully ignoring the fact that it wasn't her birthday for that to happen.
Tonight's celebration was simple as well, though less child-friendly. Going out for drinks with friends was also very agreeable, even more so when they had a decent-sized chamber and an own dedicated servant all to themselves. Drinking alone was no fun, though, even when it was Falernian and Caecuban, and Titus busied himself with deciphering the multitude of humorous scrawls on the walls and snacking on bread and olives before the others arrived - his stomach would thank him later.
@Echo @Sara @Sharpie
Feel free to ignore posting order!
Late July, 75 AD
The problem with boat trips was that they, without exception, were all far too long. The moment Titus stepped aboard a vessel whether big or small, civilian or military, his stomach began to threaten to make its way out of his mouth and quite literally abandon ship and jump overboard. It had not yet succeeded, though it wasn’t for lack of trying. He knew all the tricks in the book and had tried each of them at least once, some to greater success than others. Travel on an empty stomach. Fix your gaze upon a far-off point in the horizon. Close your eyes. Try not to move your head. Press down on the inside of your wrist, approximately in the middle. Press down on the area between the thumb and the index on the back of your hand. Promise Neptune a great many sacrifices. Curse all the gods and threaten to withhold sacrifices.
In the end, what worked best for Titus was lying on his back, eyes covered by his arm so he resisted both Sol’s unforgiving rays and the temptation to open them and look about and make matters worse, and distracting himself by reviewing what was to come. Aenaria had better be all the touts promised and more, or else he would personally drown them all once they were back on the mainland. Thinking objectively on it, they were probably right: a number of quality vineyards that offered wine tasting tours, quaint little towns, pristine beaches and hot springs and therapeutic mud capable of healing tiredness if nothing else. He looked forward to spending a few days there and sampling all those portents; it would give him the fortitude to mentally prepare himself for the journey back.
Fully aware of how childish he looked and just as equally unbothered by it, Titus readjusted his head on Valeria’s lap and repeated the plaintive question he had posed some three-quarters of an hour earlier, though he kept his arm in place as a sun shield. “You spot land yet?” Any similarity to their children's 'are we there yet?' of some days prior was purely and entirely coincidental.
15th of July 75 AD
It was hot. Oppressively, suffocatingly so. Hotter still thanks to the weight on his lap and upper body, but Titus didn't mind. Ever since the earthquake, Valeriana refused to go to sleep on her own, her young mind understandably afraid of the ground suddenly opening up again and making people and objects alike fall to the floor and get hurt the moment she closed her eyes. The heat had got the best of her, though, and she dozed peacefully against Titus' chest, her own small one rising and falling in a steady rhythm, head resting on his shoulder as he ran his fingers through her fine blond hair in soothing, repetitive motions.
Tarracina, the halfway point od the journey, was still a few miles away, and Titus found that mental depictions of sandy beaches, lapping waves and a fresh, maritime breeze weren't enough anymore to keep his brain occupied and stave off boredom. Standing up and moving about was unappealing for more than a few reasons, the most important of which was currently mumbling something that sounded suspiciously like 'globuli' before turning quiet again. Titus smiled down at this daughter's sleeping face, comforted that her dreams were populated by sweets rather than disturbing recollections of the chaos that had followed the earthquake.
That left conversation, then. In hushed tones, so as not to wake Valeriana up. He turned his head towards Tranquillus, and to the topic that had been floating about his mind for the last few days. Even in the heat, he could still have some fun. How to broach the subject, then? With a little foreplay to ease the matter in, or straight to business? Tranquillus was a good slave, Titus reasoned. He did not deserve such blunt attacks on his dignity, even if he could withstand them. So it was in a jovial, conversational tone that Titus spoke softly to Tranquillus.
"I never thanked you for making sure everybody was safe in the aftermath of the earthquake. Our young gardener in particular was very appreciative of your support, or so he told me." More like had had it coaxed out of him, but that was irrelevant.
Letter dated one day before the earthquake that might postpone plans, delivered by a blonde male slave named Himeros.
To Titus Sulpicius Rufus from Tertius Quinctilius Varus
I hope this letter finds you and your family well and that we may meet soon again. Perhaps either with our families or in another context. I enjoyed the visit from you and your friend Lucius Cassius Longinus regarding my niece. I still have not forgotten our interesting conversations.
I am however writing with a request on behalf of one of my slaves. I am certain you remember Charis, who served you the tisane while you were here. You and your friend discussed one of your slaves, that is also from Britannia and we have discovered, that your slave Nymphias is in fact Charis’ sister. Charis has shown very good behavior lately and finally seems to have adapted to her new life here. Therefore, I have decided to reward her with seeing her sister once more. The two appear not to have seen each other since Britannia. I would like to invite Nymphias to come here, perhaps together with you, if you can find the time. We could become further acquainted and our slaves could spend some time together in my domus.
I hope you will give my idea some thought and look forwards to reading your reply regarding this very interesting matter and progress.
Sincerely, Praetor Tertius Quinctilius Varus
Thermae Mercuari, Caelemontium, 75 AD
Comfortable as the bathhouse in Titus' domus may be, it did not offer the full range of amenities the great public ones did. For one, there was not enough space, and for two, it would have been a tremendous money drain. So whenever he was in the mood for a more complete experience, the public thermae it was. First a nice workout at the palaestra, followed by the warm, hot and cold rooms and several bouts of mindless small-talk with random patrons in between. The final step in the process was a short stint in the laconicum, where Titus was currently enjoying the dry heat and relishing the rare feeling of having his mind empty of mundane thoughts, or any thoughts at all for that matter.
"Titus!" An unfamiliar voice shouted from behind him, and he turned his head in the off chance he might be the one the other man had called out to. His suspicions were proven wrong, as the man who had presumably shouted was now waving enthusiastically at somebody in the other corner of the room, his flabby belly jiggling at the same frequency as his flabby waving arm. The fat man reminded him of an overly excited dog with its full-body wiggles.
Out of the corner of his eye Titus saw that his neighbour had also turned round and then resumed his earlier position as he had made the same discovery. They really were a dime a dozen; the gods must be amused. "Guess that was neither of us," he chuckled, just loud enough for the other man to hear.
Formiae, late June 75 AD
After close to three days on horseback, Titus would have been lying if he said he didn't fancy a nice long walk to stretch his legs, and maybe even a massage. Attis had kept pace surprisingly well and without much complaining, or perhaps he had complained but Titus was riding too far ahead to hear it. His shoddy hearing helped with that, too - blessings in disguise, such were the gods' mysterious ways.
The villa in Formiae was very nicely kept, and not a thing seemed to be out of its proper place - testament that the master did not live there full time, as its current state would have been impossible to maintain had that been the case. The slaves, on the other hand, seemed displeased that yet more visitors had come to disturb their existence with even more needs to be attended to.
Ignoring the doorkeeper's repeated excuses that his dominus was unavailable, Titus gave the man a look that could have made a legionary wet himself and brushed him aside to walk past, not bothering to wait for his friend's body slave to explain the situation to the doorkeeper. Attis could stay behind and elucidate the other slave or he could follow and help find his master quicker.
"Longinus!" he called out as he made his way to the atrium, ignoring the scandalised glances some slaves shot him. Good thing most villas had a very similar layout. "I'm here to return Attis to you, I can't stand him anymore!" And find out what in Jupiter's name has got into you.
The end of 74CE
It was strange to be in the domus without the dominus there. It was not Tranquillus' natural state to be alone in the household. He would have followed his master like a shadow to his visit to a friend's house, except Titus had another job for him to do. This morning, Tranquillus had to accompany Sulpicia Flacca for a visit to a relative's home. She was too young to wander Rome unescorted, and guards or a female body slave alone were not good enough company for a girl of noble birth. So, believing that he could manage fully well without a body slave for his visit to Longinus, the head of the household ordered Tranquillus to escort his daughter instead. The tutor would not have been much help in an altercation, but he was tall and stern enough to look the part.
The visit was shorter than expected, as the relative was not feeling too well. Tranquillus and the young mistress returned home by lunchtime, and since the dominus was still away, there was not much to do for the body slave. He sat and read, organized things, finished some errands that needed finishing, and felt somewhat awkward with the unexpected afternoon off. Tranquiulls liked to plan his days off ahead of time. How inconvenient.
When Titus finally arrived home, with a new acquisition in tow, the look on his body slave's face was not unlike that of a household dog perking up for his master's return.