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Lauren

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Lauren last won the day on January 30

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  1. Late February 75CE Domus Augustorum Augustus – the original Augustus, the one with the jug ears who used to go by the name Octavianus – had been a humble man. Or, rather, he had made a great show of being a humble man. Romans respected humility. So, when you had cast down your enemies and almost literally had clawed your way to the top over a pile of blood-soaked bodies and could now stand on the summit and proclaim yourself the most powerful man in the world, you had every reason to give off a good show of being humble - particularly because everyone knew you didn’t actually have to be. In this way the first Princeps, self-proclaimed son-of-a-god and restorer of the Republic, ensured that his house should keep the trappings of a respectable, private dwelling atop Rome’s premier hill, the Palatine. If he was looking down from Elysium now he might rightly be bemused at what had become of his sedate, understated house. Since his passing, his successors had thrown that Augustan understatement to the four winds. Now the Domus Augustorum was only a fractional part of a monolithic, sprawling palace complex that, like some marble and gold beast, had devoured the Palatine and made it its own. It was in this labyrinth of luxury that the current Augustus and his family (not to mention the sprawling, seething mass of state officials and functionaries) lived, loved, worked and, often, died. The traffic ascending the Palatine hill was – as always first thing in the morning – an ordeal. When the Augustus was in Rome he, like any other prominent citizen, would hold his own salutatio. Except, unlike everyone else, the salutatio of the world’s most important man was one that everyone else was expected to attend as…well…everyone was his client! Of course not everyone attended every day. Well, not unless you really, really wanted to see the Augustus or were some Royal Family nut. However, not going at least several times was noted by the relevant authorities and seen as a distinct mark of disrespect. Now comfortably settled back in the capital, Sestia was very much aware of her duty to make an official attendance at the Augustus’ salutatio not only for the benefit of her and her sons (who she had brought with her, dressed in their best) but also as she was under direct orders to do so from her father. Her father was one of the Augustus’ oldest generals and had supported him through the civil war. Rewarded with a comfortable proconsular governorship and a bride with Imperial blood for his son, Sestius Vaticanus had every reason to rejoice in being an official Amicus Caesaris, a friend of Caesar. He had made sure his daughter was fully aware that he would expect her to attend on the Augustus and convey his respectful wishes to her in a more social context than his official missives would do. The latter were probably only read by civil servants anyway and likely never got anywhere near the gaze of the Princeps. As her litter had slugged painfully slowly through the traffic jam Sestia had become more and more fretful of the upcoming event. Likely there would be so many people there she would not be seen but their names would still be enrolled and she could consider he duty done. Her sons were doing their level best to drive her to madness, forever squabbling and hitting each other. Several sharp words had been needed to restore order, together with the threat of a thrashing if they did not behave. It was an honour if the boys were to be noticed and could do wonders for them in the long term. Yet if they messed around and showed themselves to be nothing more than mischievous boys it would be a huge black mark on Sestia’s social reputation and would surely be the gossip of the city for days. She considered chucking them out of the litter and proceeding alone but suppressed the urge. The sight of the palace up close shocked them into a better behaved silence. Vaticanianus huddled protectively close to the skirts of his mother’s light pink stolla. As was to be expected, she had donned her finest clothing for the trip – an elaborate and expensive stolla complemented by a palla of eastern silk in a lighter pink, delicately laced with floral patterns and its hem hung about with silver discs suspended from small pearl chains. She held her palla in place as she craned her neck up to look at the top of the huge structure, where flocks of pigeons rested on elaborately carved lintels soaring above. Already a great crowd of toga-clad men and elegantly dressed women were being officiously (and none too politely) pressed into an orderly line by Praetorians in full dress uniform. Her sons stared at them with the fascination of boys for military gear. The queue of people progressed slowly through a side entrance which led directly into the Praetorian Guardroom where all visitors to the Palace had to come through. A series of desks were set up and the queue, once it reached the head, was then split up: when an official behind a desk became free you were called over to them. “Name?” the Imperial freedman behind the desk asked in a gruff manner, probably the hundredth time he’d asked it that morning. He didn’t even bother looking up. His stylus was poised ready to add the name to a growing list on a roll of papyrus. “Sestia Vaticana, daughter of Sestius Vaticanus, Proconsul of Africa; and my sons Lucius Afinius Gallus and Gaius Afinius Vaticanianus.” The notary huffed, clearly expecting a shorter answer. Sestia noticed him quickly scratch down “Saffia Laticana & others” before he waved her aside imperiously. A Praetorian guardsman beckoned her and her boys forwards and, with more diligence than was necessary, proceeded to frisk her and her sons for concealed weapons. He, of course, spent more time ensuring there was nothing in the folds of her dress than was decent but she couldn’t do anything other than glare at him the while. Smirking, he too waved her on and she and the boys joined the river of people carried on by press of humanity up a vast marble staircase into the Aula Regia. Sestia had been here before but it never failed to make her feel star-struck and terrified in equal measure. Her sons – this being their first visit – could do nothing but gawp. It was almost impossible that such a structure could have been built by man. The Aula was a vast rectangular room, much like a basilica, with an apse at the far end. Its walls rose 30 metres (98 feet) upwards where a coffered ceiling hid a pitched roof higher still. The coffered ceiling was set into painted squares, gilded with gold and made to look like a star-spangled sky. The ceiling was supported by a large number of columns made from single pieces of purple porphyry, traced with veins of white into their otherwise dusky, molten complexion. The floor was a sheet of shining marble, set in beautiful geometric patterns. The light, from windows high up, hit it and made the floor shine as if it had been made of burnished gold. The walls were set with yet more marble. In places this was carved with friezes of historic or mythological scenes. Niches in the wall held colossal statues of gods and Emperors past and present. There was that jug-earned Octavian again, frozen in finest Carrara marble, six or seven times life size, holding a winged victory in the palm of an outstretched hand that was about the same size as her youngest son. Evenly dispersed around the periphery of the room were palace slaves and Praetorians. The hall frankly hummed with the noise of hundreds of persons all talking together. Their voices carried up to the ceiling and were amplified by the cavernous interior of the magnificent surroundings. Sestia grabbed hold of her boys’ hands firmly to ensure they did not wander off and pushed her way through the press. It seemed like half of the Senate must surely be here this morning. There were faces from all corners of the Empire and beyond. Ambassadors too. Barbarians from the north, with thick gold torques, tattooed limbs and thick woven cloaks and trousers. Emissaries from the eastern kingdoms, faces made up with kohl and swirled up in flowing robes. Ebony coloured Nubians, skin shining in the light. Even faces from races Sestia could not even guess where they were from. Swarthy men with red dots on their heads and bushy grey whiskers. Surely the entire world must be represented here? Generals, senators, businessmen, princes. Some clutched armfuls of scrolls, clearly hoping to hand their petitions to the Augustus directly. She passed a group of angry looking Judeans, dressed in black, angrily disputing with an Imperial official who continually tried to push back into their hands a number of such written petitions. A veteran soldier stood in faded, slightly dated parade uniform. When he turned Sestia noticed he was missing his left arm and left eye. Presumably he was chasing a pension or other preferment now he had been invalided out. There were old persons, children, single women and groups of men. The press of people was oppressive. As she pushed her way further forward the press of people ahead of her soon formed a natural wall and she couldn’t go on. She was stood a few metres back from the monumental apse under which sat the Augustus on an oversized curule chair. To his side stood his senior Praetorian officers, perhaps the Prefect or some of his deputies. The Augustus’ chief freedmen and advisors also stood to one side. The official nomenclator a respectful distance behind his master, able to whisper in his ear the names of persons who came into the Imperial vision. A cordon of guards kept a vacant space in front of the apse. If you were summoned by the Augustus you would be ushered through into this openness where you would not only be under the gaze of the Mighty Personage but also under the scrutiny of hundreds of pairs of jealous eyes from behind you. The Augustus was busy talking with a man Sestia did not know. This man’s audience was clearly at an end, although he clearly did not think so and had more to say. A firm hand on his shoulder from a Praetorian made it clear that if he decided to say more, he would be doing so from a cell. “Mater, I can’t see, I want to see Caesar!” Vaticanianus whinged, tugging at the hem of her stolla. @Chris
  2. Was it wrong that Sestia was taken aback and almost a little excited by the young girl’s father’s reaction? You could tell that the legate was a man much used to authority given the quick and draconian orders he was willing to give, even to his own daughter. There really was not much harm done. Such urns were ten a penny at the river-side warehouses. It was not some priceless antique. If it had been it would have been foolish of her to leave it out, particularly when there were children around. Although the girl had taken responsibility for the accident she wouldn’t have put it past her youngest son to have had more than a passing involvement. It would not have been the first “accident” he had been involved in that he had let another take the blame for. However, she did not want to undercut Lucius Cassius’ parenting. It was a shocking faux-pas of parenting generally to either discipline the child of another or else undermine the discipline placed on a child by their own parent. She knew that Lucius Cassius and his daughter must have a strained relationship at present. Men who spent long periods commanding others in theatres of war tended to forget that not everyone was a soldier. Children were to follow commands, yes, but they rarely did so with the obedience of an indentured legionary. She stooped down and took the little girl’s hand, lifting her head up so they were looking eye to eye. “That was very kind and brave of you to say sorry but, honestly, please do not worry, there is nothing to forgive. Accidents happen! You are not in trouble at all.” She kept hold of the girl’s hand as she stood back up again and turned to her father. “All good generals should allow themselves to be swayed by some mercy. I don’t think this young lady should have to tidy all this mess up, especially when she is a guest under my roof. Now, I am not trying to interfere with the rights of a father, only I would hope you would do me the favour of overlooking this little accident, too. Especially when she is dressed up so nicely it would be a shame to have it messed up. There is a time and a place for disciplining young women, I think, and this is not one of them?” There were, in her experience, many ways to try and soothe the hot-headedness of men. Distraction almost always succeeded. With men like her father, getting him onto the “good old days” derailed him for hours. With her late husband, an appeal to his belly would always overturn the dictates of his head. Others were distracted by feminine wiles. So, her final comment with its double meaning – although verging dangerously into the territory of harlotry (in the eyes of the prudish and chaste) – might hopefully have the appropriate effect. Besides, she had been a young girl not that long ago and had had a stern, disciplinarian soldier for a father. His punishments had been severe, if not brutal. A caning at times, on other occasions the punishment was more psychological – being made to stay in her room with no company, sometimes for days on end. Whilst she did not think anything of the sort were taking place here, she would hate for the girl to remember always the time she had been forced to clean up shards of pottery and piles of soil when slaves looked on. Sestia could appreciate the likely intention in Lucius Cassius not to create a pampered princess but, in her experience, often the more you tried to prevent something, the easier you brought about the feared result unexpectedly. She led the girl over to her father and, once close enough, heard him make the offer of a reciprocal visit. “I would be happy to accept. I have clearly set the bar very low, so you ought not to have trouble in finding means of entertaining me to better effect?” @Sara
  3. Lauren

    New Ideas

    She smiled as the woman was able to throw out the names of ancient authorities with the ease of someone wholly comfortable with the subject matter. Sestia could not think whether she had ever, in an off hand manner, been able to reference Hesiod. She was not even sure whether she was able to reference Hesiod full stop. The woman clearly knew what she was talking about and possessed the depth and breadth of literary culture that she was deeply envious of. “Yes, the person I was speaking with has just returned from the legions in Britannia and he was saying just how war like those people are. Some paint themselves blue which is most peculiar. And blue of all colours! How odd. But also how strange if they worship Apollo too? I’ve heard it said somewhere that all the Gods of all the peoples are pretty much the same at heart, they just have different names, just like some flowers and animals are called different things in different places but are still the same, really.” She stopped for a moment, thinking that over. Yes, she had heard it said before but she wasn’t so sure it was right. How the Olympians compared with the animal headed Gods of Aegypt she didn’t know. “Except for the Jews,” she said slowly. “They only have one God. I don’t know how he gets it all done if everything is left to him.” Her smile grew. Whilst it sounds very bizarre, Sestia had never actually met a twin before, at least not to her knowledge. She found it strange how two people could look almost exactly alike as twins were meant to. “How interesting, a twin!” she giggled. “Are you the type which look alike even if, by the sounds of it, your interests differ?” “I have two sons,” she continued. “I have always found it rather upsetting that they have had a better education that I have but my father was not one to believe in the benefits of educating a daughter. I am glad to see that not all men have the same view,” she said, indicating towards her. “Both my sons are mad keen on military history and, if their spelling was better and they had more patience, I am sure they could write books of their own on it!” @Chevi
  4. Fortunately the fracas was soon past. She sighed, relieved. “It is the problem with public games,” she said in measured tones, “gives the plebs an excuse for a day off and the opportunity to drink for free. What do people expect? I imagine the Watch will have a busy night ahead of them.” She was just grateful it was nothing more serious. The mixture of blood-filled games and free flowing drink was rarely a mix designed to placate people. Not for the first time she wondered whether the government’s policy was really correct? Did these spectacles really placate the masses? It was a thin line between keeping them happy and instead riling them up. The events just now showed how quickly petty criminality could spring up when people were pumped up and drunk. “Oh, I wouldn’t waste their time on Fronto,” she said, smiling along with the joke, “if he has any sense then knowing the trouble he will be in he will now be halfway to Ostia to board the next ship for Syria. Sadly I am no stranger to this. I am sure he will slink home later tonight, hoping I am asleep and then will bother me with abject wailing and excuses in the morning until I relent. He plays off the fact I am too lazy to find another to replace him and demote him to somewhere more appropriate like one of our rural estates…or sell him off to the mines.” She was conscious of saying nothing further, knowing how quickly the boy picked up on words and ideas, as evidenced by him repeating of the previous faux-pas. “Dacia,” she said, “how wild! Now that is properly untamed country, so I hear?” One of the Empire’s more recent conquests, this mineral rich province formed a dangerously exposed salient of territory, thrust like a spear into the belly of the frozen, forested vastness inhabited by ferocious barbarians. Not just the bearded, brutal Germanic savages found along the Rhine frontier but the more mysterious and equally brutal Sarmatian steppe horsemen. From what she had read, the Dacians themselves had been a tough nut to crack. Bull necked savages, armed with fearsome flaxes, they fought half naked with only drunken valour to protect them. Even defeated they still posed a threat to the Empire and showed a distinct reluctance to be civilised. The province was held down more with force of arms than any other, save perhaps Britannia. Few were the cities and wonders of civic life that had grown up there. “Was it not awfully dangerous?” She thought back to her meeting with Governor Praetextatus earlier that day. His province of Rhaetia had been set back from the frontier. Calmer. Enjoying the fruits of civic virtue and progress. A place he had felt happy bringing his family to. She thought also of her father in the long-owned province of Proconsularis. It was so pacified that it was seen as an extension of Italia. Funny, considering it had once been the heartland of Rome’s greatest enemy. “I assume you did not bring your family there?” She couldn’t imagine the Valeria she knew being willing to abandon the luxurious trappings of the capital for a berth in a wind-swept Dacian barracks with icicles hanging off the bedposts and nothing to do but count trees. “How is Valeria,” she finally asked outright, her curiosity getting the better of her. “Do you have any more children besides this adorable one?” @Liv
  5. She coloured in a pleasing way at his comments. She felt a little butterfly of excitement fluttering in her stomach. This was the sort of thing she read about in the more trashy scrolls that she pretended she didn’t actually read but in fact devoured them voraciously. Of course her parameters were not so stringent that no one could fit the bill. Some nights, lying alone in the large bed of the house and listening to the unending stream of night-time traffic below, she wondered whether she might in fact take anybody to husband. Many widows, she knew (although she didn’t know any personally) used the licence afforded to them by lack of immediate male authority to entertain a troops of no-strings callers, or even in a reversal of the usual order of things, start poaching from their own male slaves. She blushed at the thought. Whilst it had its appealing aspects, it was a sure fire means to natural opprobrium. She could only imagine the wrath of her father if he ever thought that she was dallying with a boyfriend for personal sport, as it were. There was probably some arcane law in the Twelve Tables that he would rely on to slaughter the boyfriend and then cast her into the Tiber, presumably tied in a sack along with a snake, a monkey and a chicken in the manner of the nutty Romans of old who seemingly had little to do but concoct bizarre punishments for various things. She was digressing, as was usual when she was flustered. The urge came again to give a witty riposte. Or why not develop the theme a little more? It was a little unorthodox and rather bold, of course, to think in such a way after only such a short return to acquaintanceship but it hadn’t prevented the thoughts from cropping up. Even before returning to Rome the idea of marrying again had planted itself firmly in her mind. Not just for her own reasons but also practically speaking for reasons of maintaining her own freedom of movement. She knew her father would probably have none of it but, with suitable distance between them and a desire to move quickly, there would not be much he could do. Her sons may be an issue but they were still in her power. But now that this had been said – even if it were a joke – it still gave her new eyes with which to look at the man in front of her. A Cassius Longinus was a name steeped in nobility. Yes, there was the issue of the “bad” one who had had the misfortune to try to kill a man who became a God and, well, it hadn’t worked out well for him. Still, it hadn’t caused the family that much loss, besides them now having to carry that weight around with them. The family was still noble. Presumably still rich. Lucius must be very wealthy indeed. Seldom did generals return from war as paupers. Noble and properly Roman. Her family with its nouveau-riche background and Phoenician heritage could scarcely expect better than that in a match. A general too, her father would surely like that. Her sons could benefit from the connections…Then there was the personal level. How would she feel about a husband like Lucius Cassius? Running his household, attending functions as his wife, doing her wifely duties...she only realised now that she was biting her bottom lip. She immediately stopped and blushed deeper. It was in this way fortunate and unfortunate in equal measure that their conversation was terminated abruptly by a clatter from outside. She stood up, readjusting her dress to fall properly over her curves. Brysias hurried forward and busied herself re-arranging her mistress’ hair. For once, Sestia let her. Rolling her eyes in a long suffering fashion she indicated for Lucius to follow her. She ought to see what was going on. It then occurred to her that she hoped no one had been hurt. That would really sour things. Still, she couldn’t hear any tears so, unless one, other or all of them were dead, there was presumably hope… They reached the covered colonnade of the peristyle garden. Off from here were the doors to a number of private rooms: the study, her children’s’ bedrooms, Brysias’, hers. In the open centre was the beautifully maintained new garden, hung heavy with climbing plants and tiers beds of flowers with succulent, rich and heavy colours. The floor of the colonnade ran the full length of the square with a series of new mosaics. Split equally into four sections, each compass point’s side had a different season: Winter for the north, Spring for the East, Summer for the South, Autumn for the West. Each season had suitably topical scenes frozen in tessellated beauty. A hunt for Autumn – a boar fleeing from the hounds and spears into a forest dipped in autumnal reds, ochres and golds. Summer was a riot of leisure. Charioteers careering round a track, farmers hard at work in vineyards, women exercising in sportswear in a gymnasium, men likewise in their own. Winter was picked out in greys, blacks and whites where – unlike the other seasons which were noticeable for their abundance of images – was noteworthy for its absence of much at all. Now, lying across the cornucopia of life in Summer, were shards of broken pottery and a great spattering of soil and tendrils of plant-life. At regular intervals along the four walls large urns had been placed on copper tripods, fashioned into the images of lions and leopards. Inside each urn were plants native to Africa – long, spikey leaves stooping and trailing down the sides. Clearly one had been –accidentally or intentionally – overturned. The result of which was an almighty smash and mess. No bodies appeared underneath it which was something… “What on Earth is going on here?” she asked in the sort of motherly tone that strikes fear into a child caught out. @Sara
  6. Lauren

    Water

    Now that was interesting, Aelia thought. Tutor to the children of a proconsul. She kept up with politics only in so far as it was helpful to know who was on the way up and who on the way down and whether any of those going upwards might be in need of a mistress. Often many an aspiring politician took one or several as status symbols which was perfectly fine with her as they were only too happy to bestow on her decent gifts which would, if nothing else, help pay the rent for a few months at a time. Land a suitably big fish and she could leave the lower Esquiline forever and set herself up like some of the better members of her class, with grace and favour flats and houses in pleasant, upmarket districts of the city. “Oh, now that is interesting!” she said, “what is his family like? Does he have many children for you to teach? Any brothers? Senatorial families can be so very strange it always fascinates me to know what is going on with them and how they live.” She did not need to add the obvious “how very differently from the way we live…” to it. Reaching the end of the pavement of one block, they hurried across the road and reached the safety of the other side, managing to avoid being run over my handcarts or litters that were thronging the street in both directions. Carefully using the blocks of stone set up as stepping stones, they avoided having to navigate the filth of the street. The government slaves in charge of the old, sacred right of keeping the crossroads clean and its gods appeased, were nowhere in sight. Due to budgetary cutbacks they had probably been culled and drafted into something altogether more unappealing like cleaning the Cloaca. The shops lining the street were doing a busy pre-lunch trade. The smells of cooking meat drifted out, mixing with freshly cooked bread and the acid, pungent assault of fish sauce. It made Aelia’s stomach churn and not in a good way. A group of children ran past them, barging them aside as they whooped and hollered off round a corner. An old blind man sat on a stool outside a shopfront, slowly weaving a basket. How he could tell the different coloured straws to use Aelia could not tell but somehow he had managed to create a beautiful, vibrant pattern. Her other question was a funny one. The official party line, of course, was “yes.” Aelia, the pin-up girl for the Whites, was a true, blue Roman rose. The sort of proper Roman woman that – had she not been an actress, of course, and therefore outside the pale of polite society – you would happily bring home to meet your mother and then have raise a large brood of strong, sturdy Roman sons to fill the legions and conquer the world. The fact that she was actually not from Rome at all was hastily covered up by herself and Proculus, both because it was very bad for business. The Roman Rose actually a Greek! How shocking and disgusting! That said, her profession was all about the dichotomy between reality and deceit. On stage people knew the parts she played were fictional, the emotions counterfeit, yet they still lapped it up. Most of her lovers knew that her ardour was probably feigned but they overlooked it. When people flocked to the promotional events to see a true Roman floosy they probably knew, as well as she, that she (like most of the other famous low-life women of the city) were only Roman in their current address and certainly not in their heritage. It was one of those secrets that is no not-secret that no one ever bothers to point it out. Dodging a man staggering down the street, carrying a tray of dubious-looking pies, she saw no harm in being honest with her new acquaintance. “Nah,” she said, still adopting the slang and slurred tone of the Aventine, “I’m from Greece originally. My dad was from Athens, not that I knew him much and not that I’ve ever been there. But the people here prefer to think I’m from Rome and it’s better for business if I am so if I’m asked then, yeah, sure I can tell you a lie about how I was born up here on the Esquiline and my family is so old and Roman that my great-great-great whatever grandmother gave a saucy smile to Sulla. Sometimes I forget myself what my actual story is!” “You get out to plays much?” she asked. She wondered what sort of woman she was. Seemed like a bit of a bruiser. One not unused to a brawl or two. Women from her part of the world seemed to be like that. She was probably a blood-sports aficionado then but she thought she’d sound her out. @Chevi
  7. Lauren

    Squeaky clean

    Sestia had the grace to look a little shifty as the other woman probed a little deeper. It had been foolish of her to think that her playacting would be fool-proof. She might be able to pretend to be a freedwoman companion but her voice automatically gave her away as a child of privilege. Using more rounded, careful and embellished Latin, not the more blunt, melodic urban slang and patois of the city’s lower quarters. Also, for someone who claimed to come from Africa, her accent was decidedly Italianate. If she was really choosing to be pedantic she wasn’t even doing a great impression of Brysias who was, in any event, Parthian by birth. “Yes, I am from Rome originally,” she said quickly. “I grew up with my mistress’ family on the Esquiline. When she moved to Carthage, I went with her. Now she is back, so am I,” she said, almost as an explanatory fait accompli. The bath was now filling up with other bathers, leaving the two no longer alone. The babel of different voices, languages and accents all barrelled up into the great vault of the room and echoed back. The pipes feeding the warm water into the pool gushed merrily and the pleasing gentle steam continued to rise off the surface of the water. Sestia took a moment to rest her back against the edge of the pool and look around. Although this was not one of the city’s premier establishments, the owners had still gone to quite some considerable lengths in beautifying the place. Plinths in the wall houses (knock off) replicas of famous statues. As befitted a female bath-house, the statues were of female subjects – goddesses in elegant poses, most in a state of undress, showing off enviable figures, still taut and firm in the correct places yet sensuously curved in others. Idealised figures of traditional female beauty. Or, rather, what the male sculptors presumably imagined their ideal female pin-ups to look like. A brief look around at the occupants of the room gave the lie to that – women came in all shapes and forms and very few adhered to the marble stereotypical perfection of these statues. Around them, the walls were painted in pleasing pastel colours in various matching patters and designs. Quotes from ancient poets ran around a strip at the top. Sestia wondered whether anyone actually took notice of any of these. A female attendant was shuffling along the periphery of the room, mopping up the larger pools of water shed by passing bathers in a bid to minimise slips. Despite the noise, some of the grunts and slaps from the nearby massage rooms could be heard, where clearly overzealous staff were taking out frustration at low wages on the fleshy limbs of their unfortunate clients. “Lusitania, that is an awfully long way to come,” Sestia said quietly as she soaked. She did not know much about it save that it was further West than the Spains and, beyond it, was the great expanse of ocean that ran to the very edge of the world. Only recently(ish) pacified, it had been home to a ferocious Celtic people who had held the Romans at bay for many years, and the Carthaginians before them. “What is it that you do then? You don’t seem to speak of it with any resentment, it is something you enjoy?” @Liv
  8. Aelia was always too paranoid for her own good. It was not necessarily her fault. The fact that she was always one step away from a possible disaster had bred in her a highly string defence mechanism, like it probably did for all females in this line of work. As she had thought only moments ago, it was not unknown for one or two bad words to whip up a frenzy of righteous indignation against the morally-defunct harlots – as people saw her type. Whilst some might have thought that there was no point crying over spilt ale, so to speak, she happened to think differently. There was a growing rumble which became a steadily building roar from the crowd in the stands, rising live the swell of a great ocean wave, as a new pair of fighters entered the sands below. A gaudily painted man dressed as Charon had strutted onto the sand accompanied by some equally fantastically dressed assistants. The new fighters waited whilst this troupe elaborately and acrobatically danced their way on, walking over to the slowly groaning and partially mangled remnants of those unfortunates who had engaged in the beast fights and – shall we say – not come out of it very well. The people in the stands about her were now stood on their feet hooting and pumping their fists, they knew what was coming. The wounded bestiaries lay on his back, his chest and stomach a torn mess from getting far too close to the bear he had been – until the last moment – expertly goading. Seeing the cortege approaching he lifted his head then slumped back, raising a shaking, blood encrusted hand in a plaintive gesture. The hooting from the stands got louder and louder. Charon got closer, he and his team clowning about and playing up to the stands. In his hands the figure playing Hades’ doorman was holding a thick, lead-headed mallet, which he was bouncing menacingly in his hand. He stood over the prostrate figure and looked to the crowd. The noise was like something from a cattle market, a deafening cacophony of wild, bestial screams. Charon did a little twirl and – smack – brought down the mallet on the injured man’s head. Any crack that would have carried up from it was lost in the sickeningly pleasured screams of the crowd. The fallen man was definitely dead now. Continuing his macabre, blood stained dance, Charon twirled away whilst his assistants sunk hooks into the corpse and started dragging it away, leaving a sickening, bloody trail on the sand in its wake. The spectators around her were laughing. One handed his neighbour some coins with a sullen expression. “Told ya,” his friend said with a smirk, “bears don’t like Gauls, makes em fight better!” Whatever his sullen friend replied, Aelia did not hear what with all the hubbub. She shuddered slightly. When people were this blood drunk they could do almost anything. She looked back at the man she was speaking with. He must surely have been caught up with all that but now was looking at her expectantly. “Yes,” she stammered a little but then restored herself to her normal voice. “I prefer the professional bouts, though, there’s more skill in them, although I can’t say I recognise any of the names on the programme?” @Atrice
  9. Sestia could feel a pair of dark brown eyes boring into the back of her head, sending a concentrated beam of pure judgment and disapproval at her. She was in many ways frankly surprised that the uppity Brysias had not caused some minor scene in a bid to derail the conversation. Well, there was still time. Even her minder got bored and day dreamed from time to time. She doubted she was making eyes at Longinus’ attendant across the room. “Ah, the lot of an only child can be a difficult one,” she commiserated. She had a brother, one whom she loved greatly, if only because he had been her only true and proper companion in her childhood. Her father had placed a huge burden on his shoulders, expecting him to become a younger version of himself, wanting him to take to command seamlessly and become another great general in his turn. When her brother turned out to be a very different breed indeed, her father’s wrath and anger had never simmered down to this day. Her brother preferred a quiet life and had no interest in politics or military matters. He had been very lucky in managing to be given the hand of a daughter of the late Imperial house by whom he now had a sizeable brood of children in whose veins Imperial and Sestius blood intermingled. Perhaps the knowledge of this helped cause him and his wife to keep away from Rome as often as they could. “I have a brother who I esteem greatly but he prefers to keep himself and his family away from Rome when he can.” She felt girlishly embarrassed all of a sudden at the final question he posed. It was her fault, for her careless, cheerful talk had taken this turn and he had only picked up on it. She felt the conflicting pressures of wanting to retain a proper decorum yet at the same time feeling the need to throw out a witty rejoinder. With regards to the disapproval she already likely had from her attendant she felt there was little danger in adding a little more to it. As they say, you might as well be killed for a sheep as for a lamb. “Hmmm, a good and valid point. Young, rich and indulgent is a tricky trinity but I can’t imagine that it is impossible. Perhaps I should have my steward go out and post an advert in the Saepta, requiring all eligible men who fit the above criteria to present themselves at the Domus Afinii Gallii for appraisal.” A sharp intake of breath from behind her demonstrated that her shadow was reaching breaking point on the biting of her tongue. Any more and she risked shearing it clean off and probably shattering her teeth too in stress. “No, no, money doesn’t bother me,” she said, taking another sip of her drink. “My late husband left me quite well off. Besides, in my experience, a balance sheet is not the best bedrock of a marriage. As for my preferences, well, I should think that they are actually nothing too unachievable. A husband who does not complain his joints hurt in the cold. One who does not believe the evening over at sunset. One who has teeth and so can still leave a mark…on his food,” she added mischievously after a tiny but pregnant pause. @Sara
  10. February 75CE The drunken cheers of the crowd continues, with the steady drumming of applause, as the actors retreated from the stage. Theatre slaves were already rushing forwards, goaded on by sweating freedmen, with shouted orders flying round to have the stage cleared of backdrops and props. Others stood ready to wash the stage down. The crowd, a riotous Friday night one, had taken great pleasure at hurling bits of food and general rubbish at the villain. The immediate backstage area was packed with stacks of ropes, miscellaneous props and painted scene backdrops. Several baskets of gaudily painted masks were mounted precariously on bales of well-worn costumes. A slave hurried forward with a tray, bringing classes of wine to the thirsty performers, who fell on him like vultures. The play itself was a new piece. One of the cheap pieces that two-sestercii hacks churned out in prodigious quantities to slake the thirst of the lower orders for bawdy farce. The playwrite was one of several the Proculus Players worked with. His membership of the Guild of Writers was probably tenuous and he was certainly unlikely to be winning laurels to have his work set alongside Terence, Plautus and Sophocles. Yet his work was the sort of rot-gut, mass appeal nonsense that the plebs lapped up as it had a little bit of everything. She had noticed that it wasn’t just the plebs who were coming to see it either. The equites and senators might think themselves to be grand and superior – and they probably were when they had to be all solemn and well behaved around their wives and families – but the menfolk were just as bad as their lower order neighbours: they wanted to see flesh on show, hear cheap jokes and enjoy a traditional sing-song. The plot was utter bilge. It was highly unlikely that the writer had been in any way sober when he had written it. If he had been, then he should have been, because what he had created was enough to shame someone with even a modicum of talent. The piece rejoiced under the unnecessarily elaborate title of Ptolemy’s Ptroubles. Set in Aegypt, as the name suggests, and in the fantastical days before its conquest by Rome, it centred on the taboo and frankly ridiculous habits of the decadent dynasty and mysterious, ancient land. Good, honest, hardworking Romans liked to laugh at the ridiculous mannerisms of be-nighted foreigners. The Aegyptians of old posed a perfect basket of things to mock. There was much made in the play about worshipping cats and dogs, always guaranteed to get a laugh. What produced more bawdy titillation was the close-to-the-line-indecency of the Ptolemaic habit of incestuous intermarriage. Couple this with your standard identity swapping, mistake-laden farce standard tropes and you had a recipe for a bed-hopping round of tortured jokes. They became more amusing the more the audience drank. The theatre manager had ensured that there was enough wine on hand to ensure almost none of the audience were not at least partially tipsy. Aelia had played Berenice, married to an uncle-who-was-also-a-grandfather-but-never-explained-how called Ptolemy (as were all the male characters for “humour’s” sake), played by Scylus. The actor had brought the house down with his brilliant portrayal of a miserly old dotard, avaricious of money, looking to cheat Roman merchants (boo hiss boo), jealous of his young wife whilst busily trying to seduce his sister-who-was-also-his-aunt-but-never-explained-how called Cleopatra, played by Maxima. Scylus’ make-up was spot on, with long grey wig and a tie-on beard. He played the part pretending to be almost stone deaf which the audience loved thanks to the mistakes that engendered. Grumio and Dromon played eunuch priests of Cat-God and Dog-Goddess, fleeces stuffed under their magical robes to make them look grossly overweight. Their asides focused on a series of over the top duels between the powers of their respective animal god to beat the other. Romans, who hated the concept of effeminate eunuchs, had a good cheer and pelted the stage with rubbish as the pair engaged in magical incantations designed to restore their manhood and seduce Berenice and Cleopatra respectively. Then, enter stage left in Act Two, the swaggering figure of “The Legate”, played by Cleander. Playing the part of a visiting Roman legate, always attired in full military fancy dress (complete with oversized sword), he represented the very epitome of brash, Roman masculinity. Scylus’ Ptolemy and the clowns’ priests were busy telling the audience how they would cheat this boorish fool of his money whilst, unbeknownst to them, The Legate was busy giving Berenice and Cleopatra what for. The play ended in Act 5 (by which point most of the audience was stone drunk) with The Legate returning to Rome, taking off with him the temple treasure and leaving the Aepytian women about to bear Roman sons, who the cuckolded respective Aegyptian men would be forced to look after. After a big sing-song of a popular tavern tune about Anthony and Cleopatra the show was done. It was certainly not the Theatre of Pompey or Marcellus and a highbrow audience but the pay wasn’t bad. The play’s fast paced jokes and over the top bawdy rumpus required a large degree of stamina and almost acrobatic flexibility. Tired, Aelia downed the first cup of wine quickly and reached for another. Her “dress” could barely be called that. Two thinnish strips hung over her shoulders and protected her modesty (barely), which gathered around her waist and fell into a short skirt in an all-in-one ensemble. Long laced sandals ran up her calve. Scylus wandered by, throwing his wig and beard aside. “Another night of fine art,” he scoffed. The clowns staggered past. Grumio walked and few paces further than Dromon. Then both ran at each other and, thanks to their bulky fat-suit padding, bounced off each other and landed in sprawled heaps on piles of curtains and drapes, laughing. “Oh, poor me,” Dromon chirped, putting on an impression of Scylus’ voice “I’m a real actor, don’t you know!” Grumio picked up on it and carried on, in the same voice “I just didn’t like it because it was too close to home and, you know, I can’t get it up anymore.” The bystanders laughed. Scylus looked daggers at them and wandered off, grumbling. Maxima flounced past, looking wistful. “There were some right propa’ people of quality in the stands though, did you see that?” she said with her Aventine, fish-wife drawl. Suddenly the larger than life figure of Gaius Julius Proculus entered the bustle. Clad in a toga unnecessarily, he was this evening sporting a huge auburn curled wig that clashed in a ghastly fashion with his bushy grey eyebrows and the make-up he had plastered his face with like an old trollop. The rings on his fingers clinked as he gave elaborate and effusive greetings. “Darlings, sensational! They loved it! Such good work! All of you, angels, all of you!” His foppishness was natural. His exuberance was intrinsic. You had to listen to him and then dial whatever he said down by about ten times. If he was happy it was only because of the high turnout and, thanks to his contract, this meant a handsome sum for him for their work that evening. He clapped his hands, chivvying them along. “Come, come; quick, quick, you know the drill,” he said as he flapped at them to move into the theatre’s atrium. At the end of opening night it was traditional for the cast to be invited to an after-party. They were often quite wild affairs. Other actors would be there as well as the better elements of the audience. Local worthies who didn’t mind being seen at such thing. Many high class men liked to come along for rough and tumble fun. The criminal classes always liked these too. In short, they were a fine melting pot of the high and the low all doing a good job of wanting to be bad. Dutifully, they followed Proculus through towards the door between backstage and the atrium. Always one to make an entrance, Proculus thrust it open and, in a loud force, declaimed: “ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Cast!”. Sighing, Aelia decided that she might as well get drunk if only to make the time pass quicker.
  11. Lauren

    New Ideas

    Sestia was happy for the help and gratefully accepted. The shopkeeper had by now finished his unexpected clearing up and had returned to his central position, although he now was clearly keeping an eye on her – giving her a looks as if to say “I know you’re trouble!” She ignored him and stood back as her new helper busied herself scanning the shelves with a quick and practiced eye. She read through the labels with fantastic speed, mouthing to herself the titles and authors as she ran through them, slightly pulling out any which may be of use so she could return to them later. All Sestia had to do was stand back and look grateful. “Land beyond the north wind,” she repeated. “That is a pretty name for it. Could it be that it is so far north that it is actually beyond the wind?” she could not conceive of something that far north. The furthest north she had ever gone was to one of her late husband’s estates in what had once been Cisalpine Gaul, now incorporated into the province of Italia. She remembered looking up at the towering huge peaks of snow capped mountains in awe. She knew land lay beyond this but still could not help but wonder if structures like this formed a wall around the known world. Mountains so high that no one could climb or cross them. On the other side would just be nothing – the edge of eternity. “I have heard that it is very misty there, like the clouds sleep on the earth, maybe that is because there is no wind?” she said, just wondering aloud. Yet again this week she found herself wondering what this strange land was like. It sounded quite terrifying. Untamed. Cut off from the rest of the Empire by sea. Strange coloured natives baying for blood. So far north that there must be nothing but snow and ice. What on earth was there for the Empire there? What did it actually benefit anyone? Did the Empire just want it because it was there? A universal imperium? Even the Deified Augustus had seen the sense of setting fixed limits. The thought crossed her mind of her sons being sent off there for their first, upcoming military postings. It made her shudder. “Well, thank you never the less Sept – I mean, Clio. That is a nice name. Is it a nickname? It is the name of one of the Muses, isn’t it?” @Chevi
  12. Lauren

    Water

    Despite herself (and despite her splitting headache), Aelia gave a loud, unexpected, trilling laugh. Fun? Yes, it could be fun. Great fun. Yet it also came at a very large price to oneself, no matter whether the coin was good or bad. She looked at this Aia quizzically but still smiling broadly. “Yes, I suppose it can be fun. I am my own domina. My money is mine. My time is mine. I enjoy acting and music. But – well – you’ve just seen what it can be like. Lowest of the low,” she giggled, waving her free hand airily. “Might not need a man to validate myself but I still need one or two to keep me from harm. Likely to get some form of abuse when out and about.” She clicked her tongue. “It is as it is.” It was, however, reassuring to be speaking to someone who didn’t mind. Truth was that a large part of the population didn’t really care about nefas status. The problem was that the part which did tended to be both vocal and violent. Some actors and actresses had achieved fantastic wealth and power, regardless of their status. Many had thoroughly middle of the road lives. Not destitute. Finding a wealthy enough knight or freedman to become a mistress or even wife of. It wasn’t truly bad. She wasn’t a slave. She’d hate that. She was a citizen and possessed a degree of rights, no matter what the traditionalists may like to think otherwise. A Gaul, then. Being a non-Roman would probably explain her pragmatic approach to actresses. The native Gauls probably didn’t even have professions of that type. It would explain her auburn colouring and the light splay of freckles on her face. She had mentioned a mistress. The term could be quite loose. Was she a slave or did she just have an employer? Some slaves were hired out by their owners as tutors. Make some extra money for the masters as well as for themselves. Aelia was forever a nosy and inquisitive person, hungover or not. “Who is your domina?” she asked. It may be that she had heard of her. The good thing about being a regular item of city gossip was that you naturally kept abreast of all other gossip at the same time from those scurrilous sources. “You have your own classes then? Teaching children I’m guessing or is it tutoring adults?”
  13. Lauren keeping: Sestia Vaticana, Aelia dropping: n/a
  14. Sestia made no move to slink off his hand. Well, things had taken a strange turn so one further lack of propriety would not a disaster make, she thought to herself. She smiled gently at his words. In many ways she was in no position to complain but, concurrently, in many ways she had ample grounds to. Raising children without a paternal figure was not impossible. Even in homes untouched by tragedy, more often than not a father may be away soldiering or administering provinces without his family for years at a time. Wives back home just got on with it. In cases when mortality had claimed the spouse it was still not an impossibility. How many poor women on the Aventine struggled to raise large broods of children without a man? Could she then really complain at the intermittent stresses her children occasioned her when – unlike those poor women – she had an army of slaves to take them off her hands and a comfortable income to mean she did not always have to look over her shoulder. Thinking like this reassured her but at the same time also made her feel somewhat selfish for stressing in the first place. However, behind the smile she did still worry. Her eldest was now soon, legally, to be a man and – knowing him – would expect to take the administrative reins of his family and his patrimony without guidance. Longinus may have seen such young men many times before, and so had she, but that did not mean that legions of them did not spring up with sad regularity. None were as blind as those who would not see and few people saw less far than those flushed with the first tastes of freedom and youth. She might make light of it and joke but there was a kernel of actual worry – no, fear, even – at what her son may do with his position. Oh, not that he would hurt her or anything, don’t be silly. Rather, as the head of the family she, and her activities, were to a large degree dependent on what degree of leniency he would show her. Once he was a man he would take charge of the finances. If he wanted to lessen her allowance or cut her off completely he could. He would also have charge over the slaves and the bulk of the clients he had inherited from his father. If he ordered his slaves not to let Sestia out of the house then they were obliged, for fear of their lives, to follow his orders. Whilst she hoped it would never even come close to this, she knew that the fact he knew he could do that rested in the back of her son’s mind. She let out an involuntary shiver. She briefly creased her brow in silent frustration, again fuming at the sour turn the evening had taken. She tried to shrug it off with a fresh smile and a resetting of her composure. “Ah, so you have one of those mothers, do you?” she asked, wryly. “I find them oddly intriguing. Shows me how I ought not to be!” she joked. Her own mother was hardly protective. Fiery in her earlier days, years of relentless passive aggression and outright fights with her ill-suited husband had tempered her ardour and cooled her manner, honing the edges off until she now acted with glum, morose acceptance to much of what came her way. It was not that she did not love her children but she seemed to take less interest in them than she might otherwise. Since leaving Carthage she had heard nothing from her, whereas she had been bombarded with authoritative letters from her father. Even whilst she had lived with them in Africa she had seen little of her mother. She busied herself with her own affairs – engaging in Gods know what religious sect or other – or otherwise immuring herself in her suite of rooms with only her body slaves for company. She wondered whether her mother would care much if she wrote to her saying she had remarried, even if she wrote to say she had remarried the Augustus himself. Very little could pierce the dark veil of depression. “Gallus takes the toga virilise next year and then I am reprieved as head of the household. I suppose I am free then, subject to his decision of my future. Oh, there is still my youngest to concern myself with but he is following hot on his brother’s heels. You’ve seen what he’s like. If it wasn’t because he is still too short to mount a horse without help he would already be off, run away to join the legions, I imagine. I don’t see him hanging around long after he is able to make his own way. My eldest won’t be one to wait for decades before marrying, like his father. He will prefer to get on with it, I’m sure, and so a new woman will appear and complete my displacement. I hope that brings liberation rather than resentment. I have seen it go both ways in others.” She tapped her finger against her chin, as if in thought. “Hmmm…how would I rather occupy myself? Now that is difficult. A rich indulgent husband would be, I suppose, ideal. I have dealt with a husband far older than me, perhaps I should go to the other extreme and find one much younger” she teased. @Sara
  15. Lauren

    Squeaky clean

    For all her foregoing emotions, Sestia now felt her hackles rising slightly in the way they really ought to have done sooner. This Safinia had seemingly not taken her apology – which she had no requirement to have given in the first place, she felt – with any form of grace but instead a sort of lumpen sullenness. If it has been the real Brysias talking to Sestia in this sort of manner she would have boxed her ears for her presumption. Then flung several items at her for good measure as she ran for cover. She appreciated that those of the lower classes had different codes of behaviour, morals and etiquette but she had not thought they were wildly different from those of the senatorial class. They were all Roman after all, weren’t they? Safinia’s question was not much of a question. It was blunt and curt, the verbal equivalent of being hit with a bat. Where are you from could be read in a myriad of different ways but it was probably not the sort of social pleasantry that she might otherwise have expected if this encounter were perhaps being replayed at a dinner party. Her skin colour marked her out as being certainly not from the capital. However, there were so many faces of different colours in Rome that it was not as though she were some sort of oddity. African had reached high positions in the senate and the equestrian order since their incorporation as provinces from the days of Scipio Africanus through until Augustus. Besides, whereas she and her kind has the dusky hue of the ancient Phoenicians mark on them, it was not as though she were an arresting jet black like the numerous Nubian and Axumite slaves one saw ten-a-penny these days as fashion symbols. Yet to proper Romans of Rome their circle of “proper” people ended at the limit of the city. Beyond the pomerium everyone was just a different sort of barbarian and existed either to be laughed at, exploited or condescended to. She was about to get on her figurative high horse and say that, most recently, she had come fresh from the Proconsular Palace of Carthage and that if dear Safinia were a slave she ought to be more polite because she would find her owner, buy her herself, and then make her life miserable. She was about to say something along these lines when she realised that it would only likely make her sound like she was deranged, given as she had just held herself out as being her own lady’s maid – in, it should be pointed out, a misplaced bid to be nice. Well, there were ways of getting around it, she supposed. “Yes, she can be quite nice when she wants to be,” she said with a smile. “We have just moved back from Carthage…that is in Africa,” she added. The other woman probably knew it perfectly well so it was a silly and pathetic barb but she was now feeling stroppy so she said it anyway. “Have you been given the same luxury or are you lucky enough to make your own hours?” @Liv
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