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(Takes place about a week before the Senate meeting.)

 

The sweltering heat of Roman summer was a probation Titus had let himself grow unaccustomed to. The noxious odours emanating from the Tiber nauseated the whole city and gave way to legions of mosquitos out for the citizens' blood, sucking away their energy and leaving behind torpor, sickness and infernal itching. Rome was lethargic and its ennui spread to its inhabitants; Titus' household had been no exception. His wife, usually so agreeable, was keeping the slaves on their toes with sharp criticism of their fanning skills. Little Valeriana had scratched her legs raw thanks to mosquito stings and would take no comfort from anybody except her nanny. Flacca and Publius had engaged in a lively discussion about which sorbet was best that had yet to come to a conclusion, even after Titus had taken them out to buy some for the three of them (and conceded Flacca's point that strawberry ice was clearly superior to honey ice). It was getting to be just a bit too much, and claiming some vague meeting Titus slipped away from his stuffy residence.

The Gardens of Sallust were a veritable oasis in the city. Lush vegetation grew in all directions, displaying infinite shades of green. Venerable trees provided shade and a respite from the heat, their leaves murmuring in the summer breeze. To Titus it almost felt like being in Gaul again, where the weather had been milder and the nature wilder, rural as it still was. Dacia had the best summers, its mountains and forests keeping the temperature pleasant. Britannia hardly had summers to speak of, between the constant drizzling and the attacks of the natives. A wretched land, truly.

Titus strolled down the stone path at a leisurely pace, adjusting his gait here and there to stay in the shade. Some bird was singing in the distance, but Titus was not familiar with its cry  and therefore could not identify it. He was too deep in thought, anyway. It had been half a year since his return to Rome, but he felt no closer to coming to a decision now than when he had arrived. At first it had been easy to delay the matter, for his family had kept in busy, and old acquaintances and clients required proper greetings; then he had had innumerable news and rumours to learn of, new information to acquire. Then came festivities, and Senate meetings, and dinner parties... And now it was summer already. Old man Chronus and his wheel waited for no one.

He stopped briefly to drink from a fountain and caught sight of a small pavilion. Perhaps contemplation of the building's simple colonnades would bring the clarity his mind sought.

@Sharpie

Edited by Liv

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Aulus had forgotten just how hot Rome could get in summer.  He was wearing tunic and pallium, the less formal and more colourful wear allowed a citizen, and enjoying the cool of the Gardens of Sallust below the Quirinal. It had been a hot walk to reach them, but that was more than rewarded by the lush coolness of the gardens. There was something pleasant about even cultivated curated greenery in the heart of Rome, the capital of the civilised world.

Someone had stopped to drink from a fountain and at first Aulus paid him no attention, until he straightened up, and turned towards a pavilion set to overlook the gardens. The figure seemed familiar, and Aulus wasn't sure, at first, whether that was simply due to his return to a familiar place after so long away.

He continued walking down the path towards the other man, and smiled when he saw that indeed he was familiar. "Titus! Titus Sulpicius Rufus! By Apollo, you're looking well!"

 

@Liv

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Hearing a  voice call out his name, Titus whipped his head round with an intrigued look on his face. Coming across acquaintances happened all the time in the city, but he did not expect it to be the same in the gardens, especially in the peak of summer when an overwhelming part of the upper class retired to their villas in the country: to Baiae, Puteoli, Stabiae and a number of fashionable seaside resorts.

His inquisitive expression gave way to a broad smile when he recognised the man who had called out to him. "Mars Gradivus, if it isn't Aulus Calpurnius Praetextatus! " Titus hurried to the other man's side and greeted him with the customary kiss. How long had it since they had last seen each other? Years, certainly, not since after Aulus' stint as praetor came to an end. "And you!" he grinned genially. "The Raetians seem to have treated you well.  Did you manage to get those bastards speaking proper Latin?" 

He motioned for his friend to follow him to the pavilion so that they would have more privacy and not risk interruption from drinkers or other passersby. "More importantly, what would you have in exchange for an amphora or two of Raeticum?" Titus laughed, but he was only half-joking; the wines from that province were second to only Falernian vintages. 

"Are you back in Rome for good? Or just passing through?" Titus asked as he took refuge from the unyielding sun under the pavilion's marble entablature. In hindsight it had been madness to go out in the middle of the day, but the gods had rewarded his daring feat with a reunion with a dear friend.


@Sharpie

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"Some bastardised Latin of their own, but they do at least know how to grow vines - in the valleys, anyway. I'll send you an amphora of the good stuff; I brought a decent amount back and have good contacts for when that supply runs out." He sat down on the marble bench beside his friend, grateful for the shade.

"I'm here for at least a year, depending on where Quintus Augustus thinks I will be most useful. I hope to be in Italia for longer than a year, but we go where we are sent, of course." He had been away for too long, really, all things considered.

"What about you? How is life treating you, though?"

He thought idly that perhaps it would be worthwhile having a dinner party for those of his friends he hadn't seen in a while, now they were all in Rome, however briefly. Although there was the delicate issue of Titus Flavius Alexander's recent bereavement.

@Liv

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His friend was far more generous than Titus deserved, giving away expensive wine like that. "Then they're already halfway to being civilised," he chuckled. The barbarians could sing their praises of beer all day long, but few things were more satisfactory than a cup of a fine vintage. Beer was best consumed in stews, anyway. "You have my thanks, Aulus. Let us drink it together and toast to the glory of Rome!" Good company made good wine even better. Maybe he should invite the other man and his wife over for dinner sometime soon; Valeria probably would like that. 

"A year, huh? That's not too bad." Titus took a seat next to Aulus and sighed pensively. "I can't really complain. Returned from Dacia a couple of months ago. It's nice to be home and spend time with the wife and kids, but..." He pinched the bridge of his nose, secretly miffed at not being able to express himself as eloquently as he would like. "After four years away, I thought this was what I wanted, what I missed. To be back in the city, able to take part in Senate meetings again, stroll down the Aventine... But somehow, it's all become so dull." A few months in and the magic seemed to be dwindling fast already.

"To be completely honest with you, Aulus, I'm not sure what to do." 

@Sharpie

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Aulus leaned back against the rear wall of the little pavilion, stretching his legs out in front of him. "I'm hoping to put my bid in for Consul next year, so we'll have to see what happens there. After that, who knows. I might end up being sent somewhere else as Proconsul - not Judea or Britannia, Jupiter willing."

He glanced at his friend. "I'm not surprised Rome seems tame after the Dacian hordes - are they still hordes, out there?"

Titus had a choice: Continue with his progress up the cursus honorum, or petition Quintus Augustus for some other military posting, somewhere - he'd do well in command of a Legion, somewhere with real action going on. Not just standing around or marching from one fortification to another.

"I think anywhere would be dull, after Dacia. Except Judea or Britannia."

 

@Liv

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