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Lucius Licinius Macer

A Morning's Business

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Late March 74AD

The House of Lucius Licinius Macer

Macer let out a short grunt of contentment as Crito, the barber, applied the warm towel to his face. On this crisp March morning the heat of the towel was giving off gentle wisps into the cool air. With practiced hands the Greek freedman patted the towel on his jowls. Leaving it in situ he turned back to his counter, whistling distractedly as he used a small bowl to whisk up the shaving lather to a fine froth. Taking a brush of horse-hair he whipped away the towel and began lathering Macer's cheeks and chin up with the whitish-grey ointment. Macer always enjoyed visiting Crito's barbers. Not just because it was right outside his house. Not because, as a family freedman, he owed him his patronage. Rather because, sat on the chair facing the small street, he could watch the comings and goings of the world as it came alive each day. He fancied himself a local Caesar on a petty throne. Many of the people hereabouts were his clients or staff. His bodyguards kept them at a deferential distance but, nevertheless, they still bowed and qpueeked their greetings and good mornings as they raced to their daily businesses. As usual, Macer's steward, Dexippus, stood at his master's side and kept a careful eye on the entrance to the insula over the street, calling out to any of its residents who were late on their rent. 

The froth applied, Crito called out to his apprentice who hurried to him with a bag of razors and a whetstone. Continuing his whistling, Crito set to honing the edges of the blades on the stone. Despite the tunelessness of his warbling, Macer recognised that he was whistling the theme of one of the most popular tavern ballads at present. A fine drinking song, "I love her, but I'll not do that!" A raucous and increasingly vulgar ballad to titillate the plebs although he couldn't suppress a wry smile at some of the verses and had to admit it had a catchy tune. He had even caught his somber steward humming the tune late at night as he sat hunched over ledgers and invoices. 

Crito gently tilted Macer's head and with a flick of the wrist ran the blade across his cheek with a soft scraping. His almost effortless grace came with years of practice. Good Crito had once been his late father's personal groom. Freed in his will, Crito had wanted to remain close to the family in whose service he had spent the majority of his life so Macer had been perfectly happy to turf out the last occupant of his domus' taberna, a drunken leather-worker, and install Crito here in his own establishment. It did a fine business but it was accepted that it would be off-limits whenever Macer and his entourage required his ministrations.

The barber wiped the blade, coated in froth, on a towel hanging from his belt. His apprentice brought a tray of weathered pottery beakers full of spiced wine and handed them out to the few bodyguards and hangers-on that Macer had brought with him. Even though this was literally outside his front door, it was appropriate for a man of means to travel in company. For his clients this was part of their job. They would attend his morning salutio and be at his disposal until he dismissed them, each with a small monetary gift and, for the chosen few, perhaps an invitation to dinner. As for the slaves...well...this was their job. What else would they be doing?

Another rasping stroke saw the brittle stubble removed from his pink cheek. "You did send for him, yes?" he said. The remark was aimed at Dexippus. In speaking he accidentally ingested some of the lather and spat it out, pulling a face. Crito dabbed Macer's lips and continued his work. "Of course, dominus. I sent your litter to collect him directly." Macer grunted and gave a short nod. Crito, his aim spoiled, tutted slightly and with a firmness only allowed to a master barber, pulled Macer's head back into position.

The man had been recommended to him - actually, well, no - recommended to Dexippus. One of the Saepta Julia's best auctioneers and general men of business, or so he had been told. Dexippus was a fastidious and careful man. He would have been sure to do his due diligence thoroughly. He reported that his place of business was legitimate, well stocked and staffed and, more importantly, was regularly frequented. The bankers had been checked to and gave him a clean bill of financial health. A good start. 

Macer had been long from Rome. Too long for any of his old connections to be of much use. No senator could rightly engage in business. It was deemed unseemly. Not only that but it was a perfectly valid reason for the transgressor to be struck off the Curial Roll by zealous, pompous censors. That didn't stop half the House of Hypocrites from regularly breaking these conventions. After all, how were the rich to stay rich? Exactly. There was nothing wrong in engaging in mutually advantageous partnerships. Having the appropriate face on an enterprise. So, whilst he had called the respectable gentleman to him with a view to re-furnishing his domus as part of his hunt for a new, younger bride, his secondary (and more pressing aim) was to sound out prominent local businessmen as to their openness to engaging in some money-making. Legitimately so. Well, almost. Legitimacy was in the eye of the beholder anyway. 

Crito was by now finishing up his art. Slapping his cheeks with some perfume Macer whinced at the sudden sting on his bare skin. A commotion further down the street suggested that his guest may be arriving. Handed a towel, Macer scrubbed his cheeks himself whilst Dexippus handed coins to Crito. "A pleasure, as always, my friend," Macer said as he stood.

@Sharpie

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It should not need to be said that Paulus Annius Faventinus did not often travel by litter. Equally, it should not need to be said that he was glad that he did not have to walk up to the Esquiline, but could leave that to others. It was a pleasant enough day, if a little brisk (it was still only March, after all!) and he twitched his pallium straight as they neared their destination.

Apparently not straight enough; he had brought a slave with him and the boy was panting a little, flushed from the journey up the hill. He still managed to dart forward as Paulus descended from the litter and adjust the folds a little, determined that his master should not look anything less than his best for his meeting with a Senator. Paulus waved him away with an impatient gesture.

He let the slaves bustle around him, imperturbable to their fussing and stepped forward with the clear expectation that his own slave would follow him and the others could sort themselves out.

There was a knot of men outside what looked like a barber's shop, with one man the centre of focus. Paaulus ignored the other - clients, hangers-on and slaves, no doubt, and nodded civilly at the man who had just risen from the barber's chair, if his newly-shaven face was any clue.

"salve! Do I have the honour of addressing Lucius Licinius Macer?" he asked, clearly not expecting a negative answer.

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"You do indeed!" Macer said in a booming voice, loud enough to fill the street. "You must be Paulus Annius? Of course, of course!" He strode across the street and helped the man out of the litter, extending his hand in greeting, clasping the other in a firm grip. "Do bear with me one moment whilst I dispense with the frippery," he said to him, much quieter, with a wink.

Backtracking his steps he bade farewell to his band of loyal clients thanking them all for their attendance that morning. They retreated a respectful distance before waiting for Dexippus to dispense the daily financial dole which they had all been after. Macer returned to the businessman, beaming a smile. "That is better. Now, please, do come in!" 

He led his companion into the domus of the Licinii, past the ornamental Aegyptian obelisks that flanked the front door and past the surly porter into the atrium. The black and white mosaic tiles of the floor gave off a pleasing glean in the morning sun. On the far side of the court a slave was busy washing them whilst another swept. Keen to ensure a good first impression, Dexippus must have ensured that the lazy staff were up earlier than normal to clean the common parts of the household to a higher than normal standard. Someone had even taken the time to buff the statue of Venus in the impluvium to half a shine. Macer spotted a passing slave and called out "refreshments to my study, for two" The slave bowed and retreated backwards, out of sight.

"You are, I am told, in the antiques and decoratives trade?" he asked. "You may find much here of interest, besides the antique man in front of you!" Macer was intentionally walking through the atrium slowly, allowing his guest time to soak up his surroundings. Not out of boastful pride but rather in the hope there were items of interest to the gentleman. He was always happy to discuss art. "Here, take a look at these," he said with almost boyish excitement.

He gestured towards a row of funeral masks of dead ancestors of the gens Licinia. His own father was up their at the penultimate end of the line. Next to that of his wife. He stopped further up. "Here, Marcus Licinius Crassus. Not a direct ancestor, of course, but he lacks his own these days. Augustus saw to that, the gentle soul. They say the Parthians poured molten gold down his throat after his defeat at Carrhae. Perhaps an apt end for him if you believe all they say about his avarice. Not that that in itself is a crime about these parts!" He chuckled.

"Perhaps we have a chair here that once graced his triumviral backside? What is the word for that in the business? Provenance! Howe would that be for provenance, eh? Might sell well, perhaps?"

@Sharpie

Edited by Drusus

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No indoor voice, Paulus noted, only to revise that a moment later. salutatio, then - the crowd of clients and hangers-on who were expected to attend their patron every morning in exchange for financial aid and occasional business advice, the men who would, in turn, support their patron when he ran for election or in any other way he required them to.

The door of the house was flanked by Egyptian obelisks that Paulus noted looked genuine, rather than some of the fakery knocked up in a back alley of the Subura or the Aventine and passed of as genuine to any incredulous idiot whose had never been closer to Egypt than the Temple of Isis and Serapis.

"I am indeed in that business, sir," he agreed levelly, and raised an eyebrow. Licinius Macer was not far off Paulus' own age, indeed Paulus probably had another five or six years on top of the other's age. Self-deprecating, likes being liked, was Paulus' next thought.

"Crassus, Crassus, rich as Croesus?" If the mast was true-to-life, Crassus hadn't looked much out of the ordinary. "I believe everyone would like to be richer than their neighbours, sir, whether on a small scale, or a larger one."

The house had some very nice things, even just in the atrium. The question was, what was the reason for selling, and selling (seemingly) anything Paulus wished? It could not be to bring in money to pay off debts; the first things to be sold in a slide into genteel poverty, would be the slaves, who required food and clothing as much as any human did, if not so much as a citizen.

Selling in order to refurnish - perhaps he was thinking of marrying, and a wife would like to have the chance for a clean sweep. If so, Paulus could potentially profit from supplying the needs, and he did deal in things as nice as these, although not to every Marcus, Gaius and Quintus who wandered in. He would keep an eye out for items as tasteful as these (and Licinius Macer had as good an eye, perhaps, as Paulus himself, if he had been responsible for furnishing the place).

Perhaps he had merely inherited and was looking to put his own stamp on the house... Paulus dismissed that thought immediately. The man was too familiar withthe things around him.

"You have a very fine home, sir. Perhaps we should discuss how much of your household furnishing you wish to sell - do you wish to empty the house of all but the lararium, or are you only looking to rid yourself of one or two pieces?"

And did Paulus have as much of a free hand in selecting those pieces as had been implied?

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"Oh no sir, please! Simple Lucius Licinius will do. I think we are both men of taste and that its a universal brotherhood, is it not?" he said. Leaving the atrium behind, he led Paulus through into the peristyle garden, towards his private study which was situated just off it. At this time of the morning his two garden slaves were doing some gentle pruning as well as watering the many tiers of plants. For display purposes, he had had the water feature turned on and it gurgled away gently. The uneven flow and splutter demonstrating that it really ought to have an engineer come out to take a look at it.

"A fine fellow, old Crassus. Too rich for his own good. Realised, the hard way, that money can only buy you so much. Didn't buy him good generalship, mind you. Trodden all over by Caesar and Pompey and then - poof - his head is being used as a prop in a Parthian play. There is a morality lesson in that, I suppose."

He opened the door to his study and invited Paulus to step in first. He left the door open for some natural light. There were no windows in this room which was otherwise lighted solely by an array of candelabra. Wall paintings of his family would dance in the golden light of these candles when lit. A slave had already been in and furnished the room with refreshments. A jug of watered wine. A platter with fruits and some soft, baked rolls from the nearby bakery. Macer indicated a chair. "Please, make yourself comfortable."

He filled a cup with wine and handed it across before filling one for himself. 

"I am not planning to sell much, if anything. Unless you think it would be worthwhile. I will level with you. I am a widower. It is not an easy state for me, I must admit. My late wife ran the house far better than I. I plan to remarry and, if I cannot make myself young again, I ought at least to make my home fresher and newer for a younger taste. My father's taste was very Claudian. We live in different times now. These Flavian days are much more liberal, I think. Well, to my mind at least. I would therefore value an expert opinion in the means of making this place more...accommodating...to the discerning eye of the Flavian times. I am told you have much expertise in this area."

@Sharpie

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"Well, Lucius Licinius," Paulus said, giving the struggling fountain a quick glance - nothing that couldn't be fixed, if he was correct in his estimation. He knew a man who could do the work, too, if the recommendation would be appreciated, but would save that for later in the conversation.

"The Claudians did like their over-decorative swags and things," he said, settling into a chair and taking the glass of wine offered by an attentive slave. (Syrian glass, very nice - tasteful and refined. Worth a sesterce or two - but worth keeping hold of for showing off purposes, especially if he was planning on refurbishing in the more austere, elegant Flavian taste.)

"Worth thinning out on - a few pieces here and there have more appeal than a house stuffed to the gills with acanthus-carved benches and swags all over everything." A lot had to do with positioning, too, of course - and that was for the owners of the house to decide on, not some random person off the street. "Of course, you do not want to denude the house completely and leave it bereft of any home comforts"

He sipped the wine, thinking - it was good wine too. "If you have anything you really don't like, and would gladly be rid of, I am sure there is someone in Rome who would disagree with your fine taste and buy it for their own home. Naturally you will get the proceeds - my house merely takes a percentage in these cases, for our time and trouble."

He did not add 'if that would be acceptable to you' - either it was and they would do business together, or it was not and they would part ways. Lucius Licinius seemed a sensible enough sort of man, who knew how things worked in Rome. And the knowledge that the pieces in question were from the house of Lucius Licinius would surely attract buyers; he was not unknown, after all.

 

@Drusus

Edited by Sharpie

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