Face ClaimToby Kebbell
Screwing the gladiatrix was far down on Titus' list of priorities, although if the consul really insisted, he figured he wouldn't be in much of a position to say no, and so he just made a non-committal sound that could have meant anything. Women were supposed to be soft and supple and curvy and fleshy as far as he was concerned, and the woman in the arena seemed to be exactly none of those things. Said woman had just inflicted the first wound of the match to the crowd's deafening cheer, but Lexus quickly fought back with a daring move that had the public roaring, young Silanus gasping and Titus chuckling. It really was different when the gladiators were having fun and not just fighting for their lives.
"She was supposed to go visit her parents, but then my sister dropped by and those plans went down the cloaca maxima. We just barely made it out," Titus complained with a glance at his son, who was busy giving his impressions of the match to anyone who would listen. "Knowing Sulpicia, she probably invited herself to dinner. If you like an audience, by all means! My domus is at your disposition." Hopefully Longinus wouldn't take him up on his offer, because that would result in a lot of explaining to do. "If not, having them come here is good enough. Bet they will be awestruck when they get up close and personal with our consul," Titus added with a cheeky grin flashed Aulus' way. "What prize does the winner get, in addition to praise and glory?"
@Sara @Atrice @Chevi @Sharpie
Ah, the insolence of youth. Luckily for Marcus Silanus, this was a 'been there, done that' sort of thing - something that all men went through (and some never grew out of). In a couple of years it would be Aulus' son with an insolent tongue, and a few years after that Publius. Possessed of unusual magnanimity, however, Titus chose not to voice the retort he would have liked to and remained on the topic of gladiators instead. "Feels like it was only a few years ago... But you're quite right, Consul. It was the year I got married." Time did pass by quicker the older one got, no matter how much Longinus wanted to pretend he was still a spring chicken. In Lexus' case, though, it did not seem to have dulled his movement or agility - he was doing a good job against the gladiatrix. She was also putting on quite the show, and giving the crowd a good run for their money as she taunted her adversary.
"Yes, and then you can tell our curious friend here what else she's talented at," Titus peeled his eyes away from the arena to shoot Longinus a sassy glance before defending his erstwhile slave's honour - whatever amount of it a barbarian possessed. "He wasn't complacent when he left my service, but if your your body slave's familiarity with his master is anything to go by, well..." he concluded with a shrug and returned his attention to the match, this time with an added focus. She was athletic all right - maybe a bit too much, even. Her muscles were probably as hard as a man's, Titus conjectured with a frown.
Come to think of it, the youths (and their elders) might enjoy seeing the fighters up close, regardless of who won. Leaning forward in his seat, Titus addressed his friend. "Say, Aulus, any chance of personally congratulating our entertainers once it's over? The boys might like it." And if their presence made Marcus Silanus feel young and puny, perhaps next time he would choose his words more carefully.
@Atrice @Sharpie @Chevi @Sara
"I am sure they are well-founded and much deserved," was Titus' cheeky response to the slap on his back. It was, however, nice of Longinus to spare him from having to introduce himself to the young man sitting nearby. "No, I don't think we have, although I've heard good things about you and your brother," he told Marcus before rolling his eyes at the mention of Britannia. It wouldn't be Longinus if the bloody island didn't come up at least once in conversation.
The reassurance that he had missed nothing of importance had him settling comfortably in his seat, Publius' lively conversation with Titus Calpurnius Praetextatus a familiar murmur. "Lexus? I thought he had retired many years ago." Titus squinted at the man in the arena whose movements almost seemed like a dance, so effortless they were. It was Lexus all right, beloved by the lowborn and elites alike. The gladiatrix was less familiar, but equally skilled and a more than worthy foe; she wielded her swords better than many a fresh legionary his gladius. All in all, a most exciting match.
"So you've placed bets? Who does our consul favour?" he grinned at Aulus, not really expecting a direct answer. Picking the right horse to bet on, so to speak, was going to be no easy feat from what Titus could see. "Drinks on me if the Thessalian wins. Shame we can't have her train a few recruits." Cocking his head to get a better look at Marcus, he addressed the lad, hoping to put him a bit more at ease should he be feeling shy. "Had you seen Lexus fight before? He was really good back in the day!" Only drove home how old they were all getting, really, as if Longinus' short explanation from earlier hadn't been enough.
@Atrice @Chevi @Sara @Sharpie
To think attending gladiatorial games was such a complicated affair! To start things off, Titus' reply to Longinus' missive had been delivered to Lepidus Cassius Longinus instead and far later than it should have, thanks to a new and particularly dense slave that had been promptly taken back to the market following the mishap. Then, for some nebulous reason not even the gods must be privy to, his cunning big sister Sulpicia had chosen that very day to pay them a visit after weeks of forgetting Titus and his family even existed - probably to discuss summer arrangements and figure out how long she, Lucius and the boys would have the villa in Baiae to themselves for. By the time he had managed to extricate himself and Publius from said visit by claiming a prior and very important commitment (which wasn't a lie!), the sun was already dipping beyond the horizon and the event was well underway.
Nevertheless, they made it in one piece and wasted no time in finding their seats - one of the perks of being a friend of one of the Consuls was that they indeed were very good seats. Titus greeted his fellow patricians and sat down, mumbling an apology about their lateness and trying to gauge how far into the match the gladiators were. "Your cousin Lepidus sends his regards," he told Longinus as Publius too saluted the others and took his seat. "What did we miss?" As far as he could tell, not a lot - the gladiator had just tried to duck under his opponent's twin swords, and neither was yet covered in blood. It wasn't every day that one could witness a gladiatrix and a gladiator facing off against each other in the arena, but the Venus' usual brand of entertainment wasn't of your everyday variety either.
@Atrice @Chevi @Sara @Sharpie
Oh, how important Zia thought herself, and how wrong she was. Titus did nothing to suppress the eye roll her stupid question elicited. As if the propraetor had nothing else to do but sit around and wait for reports on corrupt citizens. The outrage that followed his own question, on the other hand, was soothing; she was a sadist hands down, but not that far gone yet.
He pursed his lips in disdain, though the gesture only lasted a few seconds thanks to a smarting and very unpleasant sensation in the space between his nose and upper lip. "Your usual, then," Titus jeered, his mind's eye briefly occupied by a dried-up well with its walls covered in coarse sand. A rather unmanly giggle escaped him, interrupted by the sound of fingers clicking. "That would be a nightmare within a nightmare," he observed sagely with a slow nod, too sluggish to dodge or intercept the rap to his head. His belated response was a cross groan and a dirty look at Zia. "The flower, obviously." What kind of question was that? Still busy taking offence, Titus failed to notice the mass of hair flying towards him as Zia spun round and batted at it two seconds too late, after it had already struck his face and retreated. Fuck Dacians and their guerrilla tactics!
The conversation between his feisty wife and the meek slave at her door eluded him almost entirely; focusing on the words required an amount of focus he didn't possess at that time. The slave girl eventually scuttled off to do whatever her mistress had bidden her - hopefully to get the goods, unless Zia kept a secret stash under her bed. For all he knew, maybe she did.
"Get me something to wipe it off, then," Titus grumbled, obediently doing as he was told and stumbling into the room. It was blissfully quiet, and he hoped it would stay that way when he inevitably woke up in a few hours with a raging headache. A drowsy look about the space spotted something even better than a good seat, and he trudged towards it with foolish glee. "Rufus!" A big ginger cat curled up in front of the fire opened one lazy eye at the sound, then shut it again, ready to resume sleep. Unfortunately for him, Titus had other plans, and sat down next to it with clumsy movements, nearly squashing the feline. The cat eyed him again at this disturbance, and he took it as an incentive to pick it up by the underarms and dangle it from side to side. "What if I got blood on you, huh? You're already red." He looked over his shoulder at Zia and threw her a defiant smirk; just she watch him! 'Rufus' meowed his disagreement, but made no move to scramble away, seemingly indifferent to being swung like a doll.
A few seconds later Titus put the cat down, arms tired of supporting its weight, and was rewarded with a furry headbutt to his knee. "We're friends," he told Zia as he stroked the cat's orange fur, scooting in place to face her, "he's almost as good as keeping my bed warm at night as that rosy-cheeked kitchen slave." Of course, if these barbarians had proper heating, he would have no need for the cat's services... but he had, and 'Rufus' had stepped up. Besides, 'Rufus' didn't speak Dacian (though it didn't speak Latin either), which was a plus.
A knock on the door sounded before it opened quietly, and the slave girl from before poked her head in, face the very picture of fear. "I g-got what you wanted, mistress... But this was all I could find..." She took a cautious step inside, hands laden with some sort of brazier and a plate tucked between her side and her arm, making her tilt sideways. She set the brazier down with some effort and placed the plate atop it, then produced a small fabric pouch from under her clothes and set it on the plate. "Is... is that all, mistress? Or d-do you need me to light it?" It was painfully clear from looking at the girl that she was not comfortable with what Zia was up to.
An idiotic answer, befitting a barbarian. His Latin was quite passable, though, and if nothing else, at least the man had got that out of slavery. Another benefit of Roman expansion: provide few opportunities for barbarians to use their pig languages until they faded into oblivion, replaced by the civilised duet of Latin and Greek. The deferential term the Dacian tacked on sounded to Titus' ears rather neutral, as it should. Any sign of animosity would have made him more inclined to set the slave straight as to his position, and a subservient tone would have been as fake as the wares of dodgy sellers that littered the markets. "How diligent. Still a few hours to go before your work day is over, I reckon." Presuming they rested when the sun went down, all the wishful thinking in the world wouldn't make night come any faster. The thought wiped the wrinkle from his forehead, and he almost smiled.
Tarbus, the slave said. Probably his original name, but it was easy enough to pronounce, and he inconsequential enough to warrant a change. It rang no particular bell in Titus' recollection, but he filed it away for later just the same - maybe inquire in a letter to his former tribune or the now-retired camp prefect, just to make sure he hadn't overlooked anything of importance. He gave the slave a dismissive grunt and looked down at the arm being held out to him, supported by a makeshift brace. The bones had set poorly, and Tarbus might have lost some function - not that Titus was a medic, but he had seen a few injuries of this sort before and risked an educated guess. He gripped the arm none too gently and twisted it up and down a few times, then from side to side, completely indifferent to any pain or discomfort he might be causing the slave. If the Dacian and his kinsmen hadn't been fools, they might still be in their homeland with full use of all limbs - they only had themselves to blame.
Titus let go of the lame limb with a quick, careless movement, as though it no longer merited his attention. That was not the case, however, and he frowned again, shooting Tarbus a quick but hard look before before focusing on his arm once more. "Move your fingers. All of them." Time to see just what the man could still do, if he wasn't stupid enough to try and deceive his master. Titus' tone was as stern as before. "What are your tasks in this place?" Should anything raise suspicion, he could always go to Parthenicus for confirmation.
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.
Topics I Participated In
June 30th, 76 AD
Alexius life had not been going according to the plan lately. Not that he ever really had a plan, but lately, things had just taken a wrong turn. Not that it was all entirely bad, not that he was bored or didn’t have any lovers or anything like that, but he’d been feeling strange. He couldn't really explain it. All he could hope was that tonight might help. It was now about half a year ago, that he went to talk to Thessala, or rather, let it all out in a good spar with her, that he found out about the event. Thessala had heard rumors that the gang who ran the Domus Venus were considering to put up a day and night of entertainment. A private night, an exclusive night and it wouldn’t just be the kind of entertainment that the Venus was famous for. No, it would be all sorts of things. Including gladiatorial games. It was going to be a big event!
That was the first time he heard about it, back when Thessala told him what she'd heard. Then a month or so, he was invited to talk to them. It came out of the blue and he didn’t know what they wanted, it wasn’t like he wanted to be a bouncer at the Venus! Brothels were not really his thing, not at all, in fact. He always felt so bad for the women and men and boys and girls working there, forced to sleep with anyone instead of being able to choose, like he did. But the Venus didn’t want him to become a bouncer or a guard, no… they wanted to see him fight in an arena. And wondered if he’d fight a woman. Because they had managed to get a deal with a ludus about one of their most fierce and famous gladiatrices. With that, they gained his interest and then they also offered plenty of coin for his efforts.
Alexius always felt like he was in need of coin. Good wine wasn’t entirely cheap, after all. And to always have food and wine in the home to offer guests, well, that was not cheap either. So he agreed to the deal. He’d fight as a gladiator again. Purely for entertainment, there would be no Caesar there to say one should live and one should die. They could draw blood, of course, and one would win and another would lose, but killing was not on the menu for the evening. You couldn't continue entertaining people if you were dead, after all...
It was now a year since the most recent earthquake and apparently that was the perfect occasion to celebrate. He hadn’t really fought in an arena since he was freed, but everyone knew he’d never forgotten about it and he had even at times considered returning, for real, and not just for one night only. That’s what this was though. Now, he could barely wait. He'd worked hard and exercised to return to his former strength - and here he was. Dressed and armored as he’d been in the past, as a Murmillo… walking through the tunnel underneath the seats, the tunnel that led to the private arena. The tunnel that led to the roar of the crowd and a proper fight against a proper opponent. He couldn't help but smile.
@Chevi @Sara @Sharpie @Liv
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.