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Longing for some solitary company


Sharpie
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September 74AD

 

It had only been a few short months since the family had returned to Rome from Raetia. It had been an interesting few weeks, settling back into their own house (technically, it was Aulus' father's house, as he was still alive and thus the head of the family, but he didn't really bother them, allowing them to get on with things).

It had been a busy day, but it was evening now and Aulus was sitting under the garden colonnade, with a wineglass to hand and a sprig of grapes, although cena was over. It was nice just to sit, watch the moonlight silvering the plants and enjoy the coolness and scents of the garden in the evening.

He saw a familiar shape heading towards the atrium, and raised his voice.

"Felix!"

 

@Chevi

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They had been back in Rome for months now, and somehow Felix was not finding his place. He had been halfway around the world with Aulus since that night that they first had to run from the city, and he went from a household slave to body slave to his master. It seemed like a lifetime ago. Now, back in the house where it had all started, but feeling like a completely different man, Felix tried to fill his days with work. He did his duties as always, stayed nearby in case Aulus needed anything... but when all was said and done, he was at a loss of what else he could do. The slaves that remembered him from his youth looked at him differently. Even the women looked at him differently. Felix found himself wandering when he had nothing better to do. The City was vast and full of marvels, but he was not sure where his place was in it. Other than by Aulus' side, of course.

"Felix!"

Felix jumped a little at the sound of his name, and turned around, noticing Aulus under the shadows of the colonnade. He changed directions, walking over to him. Whatever else might be making him uncomfortable, it was never his master's company.

"Yes, dominus."

@Sharpie

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Slaves were good at keeping their faces blank and their true thoughts hidden from their masters - Aulus thought that few masters cared to look. He knew that, for the most part, he didn't. The slaves were there to do their work and make his life easy. But Felix was different - not one of the run-of-the-mill slaves. Aulus had trusted his life to him when he'd been little more than one of those slaves, a lifetime ago. He was not on the level of a friend, yet he was someone Aulus cared about. He had been closer to him than even his wife, for several years, when Horatia could not accompany him (that wild flight to join Quintus Caesar, the campaigns in Germania, when he'd been an envoy in the wilds of Britannia). Felix had been to all those places with him, his shadow and trusted slave.

And Aulus could admit that he would not notice if one of the household slaves was out of sorts, unless it manifested right under his nose, but Felix had not been himself, not really, for a while, and he could not help noticing.

"Fetch yourself a cup, and a seat, and join me," he said. There was enough wine in the jug for two and it would be a treat - far better than what was routinely served in the slave quarters, Aulus was sure.

 

@Chevi

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"Fetch yourself a cup, and a seat, and join me,"

Felix nodded, then pulled up a chair, poured himself some wine, and took a seat, at a comfortable distance from Aulus. They had shared drinks before, and conversations. Sometimes Aulus just wanted to muse, and sometimes he wanted Felix's opinion on something, which he did his best to offer. Sometimes he just wanted company. Felix wondered which mood he had tonight as he tasted the wine. It was good wine, the kind reserved for the master of the household, carefully mixed with the right amount of crisp water. Every once in a while, being Aulus' chosen body slave had its perks. Felix was slowly getting used to them. He sighed, enjoying the moment, as he waited for Aulus to speak.

@Sharpie

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Aulus was content to sit in silence for a moment, just enjoying the evening and the scent of jasmine and hibiscus.

"You have seemed... unsettled, since our return to Rome," he said after a moment, neutrally. He would not concern himself with the emotions (or thoughts or opinions) of any other slave, but he had a connection to Felix thanks to their shared past.

They had shared moments like this before - but not, he thought, since leaving Raetia.

He refrained from watching his slave, thinking that it might make it easier for him to talk if he did not feel that his master was scrutinising him.

 

@Chevi

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There was a pause; Felix was beginning to think that Aulus just wanted some company to sit around and share a drink in silence, when his master finally spoke up.

"You have seemed... unsettled, since our return to Rome,"

Felix winced as the words rang true. He had been unsettled, but also hoping that he could carry on without Aulus noticing anything. He was a favored slave, but a slave just the same; he could not allow his mood to affect his duties. And yet, Aulus had noticed.

"I apologize" he said honestly, looking down at his cup "I have been... restless. I hope it didn't cause an inconvenience."

@Sharpie

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"No inconvenience," Aulus said, dryly. Felix was conscientious about obeying orders and fulfilling his duty, and Aulus didn't think he'd suddenly grown slapdash in carrying out his duties and chores.

"Restless?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. That was not something he had expected of his slave - true, they were back home (not that it really felt like 'home' just yet but give it time...) He sipped his wine while mentally cataloguing the places the two of them had been to - Cappadocia, Rome, Germany, Rome, Britannia, Rome, Raetia... Rome, again. "In what way, restless?"

He set the cup down. "You haven't been confined to the house, you know."

 

@Chevi

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"No inconvenience,"

Well, that was good, at least. Felix let out a small sigh. As long as he could keep doing his duties to the best of his abilities, the rest was really none of his master's concern

Except he was concerned anyway, for whatever reason.

"Restless? In what way, restless?... You haven't been confined to the house, you know."

Felix looked at him a little awkwardly. Restless was not a good word to use for a slave. Rebellious slaves were few and far between, the Romans made sure of that, but there were limits to even the most benevolent master's trust.

How to explain this feeling to Aulus? Felix could barely explain it to himself. A free man his age would be somewhere else in his life: have a family (Felix didn't even know if he'd want one), a job (of some sort), a home. But as a body slave, Felix was beginning to feel his permanent state of neither here nor there, and fully dependent on his master's decisions about his life.

... No. He was not going to put that into words.

"I know, dominus" he nodded. He was not confined. He could go out if he wanted, as long as he was not needed in the household. "It's just... I don't really know where I'd go. Being back in Rome, it feels like... It feels different. Less like home. It's hard to put words to it. It's probably just a passing mood."

@Sharpie

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"We've done a lot of travelling since those early days, and seen a great deal of the Empire, it's hardly any wonder Rome doesn't feel like home any more," Aulus said thoughtfully, stretching his legs out in front of him and crossing them at the ankle. "It'll take time for us all to settle back in, I think."

He watched his slave thoughtfully. He rarely considered Felix on his own merits. Naturally, he was Aulus' slave, but he was closer to Aulus than any other slave - as evidenced by their current positions, relaxing in the garden, having a conversation.

He wondered if Felix was suddenly feeling the lack of ties - a girl he could consider his wife, perhaps (such arrangements were not unknown, for slaves with benevolent masters, and Aulus considered himself benevolent). He'd like to know about it, but he wouldn't refuse it, especially if the girl in question were part of this household.

"Would it help if you had permission to explore on your own, perhaps?" he asked, reminded of Felix's roots as a house slave,so many years ago.

 

@Chevi, and sorry for the delay!

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"We've done a lot of travelling since those early days, and seen a great deal of the Empire, it's hardly any wonder Rome doesn't feel like him any more. It'll take time for us all to settle back in, I think."

Felix nodded slowly, sitting back. Rome was the center of the world, the place where everything and everyone that mattered ended up, sooner or later. And yet, while it was everything, it also did not feel quite like any of the other places they had been to. Maybe it was just too much for one person to take in. Or maybe Felix himself had changed.

Maybe it really was just a matter of time.

"Would it help if you had permission to explore on your own, perhaps?" 

Aulus was a good master. Felix knew he had the man's trust, but it would have never occurred to him to take advantage of it for greater freedom. He considered the question for a moment. 

"It would be very kind of you to allow it." he nodded finally, choosing his words "But... I would need to know what I'm looking for..."

@Sharpie

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Aulus raised an eyebrow. Yes,he could understand that sort of restlessness, he had attacks of it himself on occasion. He had merely averted it since his return because he'd decided that he was going to aim for the highest political office Rome could offer, and see if he could achieve his consulship next year. He could then, perhaps, go on to be proconsul somewhere; he prided himself on the fact hat he had been a good governor during the past few years. 

Felix, on the other hand, had far more modest goals, as befit his station in life. Right now, those seemed so modest as to be nonexistent.

"Is there nothing you can think that you would like to do?" Aulus asked, leaning back and resting his goblet on his knee, the metal feeling cold even through the fine linen of his tunic. "You may take the day after breakfast. Go to the baths, perhaps, or a temple."

It probably ran deeper than that, though. "Have you thought about having a family of your own? I understand my wife has caught her maid making eyes at you..."

 

@Chevi

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"Is there nothing you can think that you would like to do?... You may take the day after breakfast. Go to the baths, perhaps, or a temple."

Felix was not a man of many words. He would have struggled to explain that the problem wasn't a lack of options as much as just... not finding his place in any of them. Too many temples, too many baths. Too many things for a person to get lost in.

"Thank you, dominus."

"Have you thought about having a family of your own? I understand my wife has caught her maid making eyes at you..."

Felix' eyebrows ran up at the unexpected question. Did he? Had he?... He had had thoughts about having a family of his own. But it had never really been anywhere close to a reality... and the one thing even he was not willing to say to his master: he did not want a slave family.

"I... did she?" he blinked. He had never really considered anyone in the household in that way... well, except for Aulus, but their rare moments of intimacy were of a whole different kind. "I mean... I am not sure how good a... family man I'd make."

@Sharpie

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"I think you'd make a good father," Aulus said, a little amused at Felix's surprise. True, the relationship between a slave and the master's children was of a different sort, but he'd seen enough of Felix with Titus and Calpurnia Horatia that he though he would make a good father to his own children. They would be part of Aulus' household, of course, and would learn the sorts of things appropriate to such vernae1.

That Felix might not want to father slaves did not cross Aulus' mind. Why should it? He was a fair master, he saw no reason to split up families of well-behaved, well-trained slaves (he'd had a hand in separating more than one barbarian family being sold into slavery, but that was in part punishment for rebelling and fighting against Rome).

"Think about it, at least," he said. If he chose not to, fine. If he chose to pursue it, that was fine too. He caught himself watching his slave's face in the pale moonlight.

"You'll always have a place with my familia2, Felix," he said quietly, wondering if he was growing soft since their return to Rome. Technically, it wasn't his familia, yet; his father was still alive and therefore still paterfamilias - but that didn't matter; Tiberius had never seen fit to interfere with his son's decisions since he'd first joined the Legions all those years ago.

 

@Chevi

1. verna - a slave born in the master's household

2. familia - household. Not just the family of the head of household (paterfamilias), but encompassing the slaves and freedmen (and freedwomen) associated with the family

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"I think you'd make a good father," 

Felix smiled a little. Aulus had seem him interact with children a few times. He liked them alright, although raising his own would have been a whole different kind of challenge. But it was kind of Aulus to say to. His masters seemed to care for him, at least enough to want him to be comfortable. "Thank you, dominus."

"Think about it, at least. You'll always have a place with my familia, Felix,"

Felix smiled again and nodded, sipping some of his drink. "I am grateful for that, dominus. I will think about it. And... see if there is anyone who would be willing to marry me, for starters..." he added with a slight chuckle.

@Sharpie

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"Good. Let me know if there is anything else you need, won't you?"

He would not interfere with Felix's private life (much); his slave was a sensible person and unlikely to make any disastrous choices (Aulus would be quick enough to step in and interfere with a bad choice, though, however benevolent a master he was) and therefore Aulus would allow him that autonomy.  Felix was one of the most senior slaves in the household, after all.

He would be surprised if Felix did not find a girl who'd like to marry him, he was a good-looking man with a privileged position in a senatorial household.

"We're going to be in Rome for at least a year, Felix, you should try to settle in a bit," he said, breaking the silence again. "I am hoping to be elected consul for next year, and who knows what will happen after that."

 

@Chevi

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"Good. Let me know if there is anything else you need, won't you?"

Felix gave a grateful nod. Of course, anything did not mean anything, but they understood each other just fine. Aulus had always done everything he could to keep the relationship between them good. Better than other masters and slaves, in some regards. Felix was grateful for that.

"We're going to be in Rome for at least a year, Felix, you should try to settle in a bit. I am hoping to be elected consul for next year, and who knows what will happen after that."

Felix arched an eyebrow in surprise. Aulus was unstoppable when it came to his political career. Things were looking to get busier once again. He had to admit, he was curious. Aulus made a good leader, and he would make a good consul. But a position like that also came with a whole lot of challenges.

"Elections?" he mused "That... sounds like it will take a lot of work."

@Sharpie

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"Yes, I think so," Aulus replied dryly. "But I think I'm up for it - let it not be said that I was content to rest on my laurels when there was work to be done." He wasn't afraid of hard work, either. He had governed well (though Raetia itself wasn't a troublesome province, it bordered Germania and had required a governor with military experience).

"There is a greater chance of winning an election if I can show that the people would benefit," he added. "I am thinking of sponsoring a building project - a new thermae, perhaps, or a theatre." He could not compete with the new amphitheatre, of course, and would not try.

 

@Chevi

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"Yes, I think so. But I think I'm up for it - let it not be said that I was content to rest on my laurels when there was work to be done." 

Felix smiled as he sipped some wine. Aulus sounded like himself once again. He had never been content to leave things as they were, and if he managed to reach the highest office Rome had to offer (other than being in the imperial family), he was going to make every day of his service count. Felix admired his master, and had no doubt for a moment that he would achieve his goal.

"There is a greater chance of winning an election if I can show that the people would benefit. I am thinking of sponsoring a building project - a new thermae, perhaps, or a theatre."

Felix arched an eyebrow. Sponsoring public works was a popular way of winning the favor of the people. The trick was to know what the people of Rome wanted, which seemed to shift from time to time. Ten years earlier it had been all about the races. Now, they had the Amphitheater. 

"That sounds like something people would enjoy" he noted "More the thermae than the theater, honestly." he added with a chuckle. He tended to tell the truth to Aulus about what he thought, even if he worded it carefully. And the people of Rome, while they enjoyed plays, definitely spent more time at the baths, especially if they were fancy and well equipped...

@Sharpie

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"Thermae, then. Aren't there enough thermae in Rome?" he asked mildly, pulling another grape from the sprig. There could never be enough thermae, of course, not with the population growing the way it was, but he was interested in hearing Felix's thought process. Felix was a slave, sure, but he was more than that. He had proven himself to Aulus time and again - Aulus should really consider freeing him, but he would never be able to find a replacement good enough, and a freedman could not really be a substitute for the slave who was always at his beck and call.

Aulus freely admitted the selfishness his thoughts showed, but only to himself. And perhaps to Horatia Justina, on rare occasions.

"A good set of thermae, then, of course. Separate areas for men and women, so that they're available for everyone all day - none of this women in the morning, men after lunch. I would add a library, but Octavius Flavius is planning on a library to replace the Great Library of Alexandria. I suppose a modest one might be allowed without competing."

He pushed the platter of grapes across to Felix.

Having something to occupy him, even just a preliminary thought, was making Aulus feel more like his usual self than he had since arriving in Rome. A life of leisure might be something Romans aspired to, but leisure with a purpose, after gainful employment - leisure without end was not something that made Aulus happy.

 

@Chevi

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"Thermae, then. Aren't there enough thermae in Rome?"

"Never" Felix smirked. He knew how much Romans liked their baths, and how picky they were about them. It was impossible to satisfy all their wishes in one place. "And not all of them are good."

"A good set of thermae, then, of course. Separate areas for men and women, so that they're available for everyone all day - none of this women in the morning, men after lunch. I would add a library, but Octavius Flavius is planning on a library to replace the Great Library of Alexandria. I suppose a modest one might be allowed without competing."

Felix chuckled. It was all a competition among the wealthiest families of Rome. Who could give the biggest, best, most exciting things to the people. The most blood, the most food, the most books. In the end, it was not the worst thing to compete about, as far as the citizens were concerned. Felix picked a few grapes and chewed on them, thinking the matter over.

"Most baths have something that sets them apart. People pick the ones they want to frequent based on... whatever that special something is. One wouldn't need to have the biggest library if the library was... interesting enough."

@Sharpie

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Aulus fished for the tabula he'd brought out with him and set under his seat. He needed to make a couple of notes so as not to forget the ideas raised. An interesting library might be manageable, even if Octavius' Great Library had the biggest collection. Somewhere easy for those conducting research, say - Aulus himself was no author or historian, but that did not mean that he could not give such people what they needed.

"A palaestra, of course - although what the precise requirements will be depends greatly on the area where this thermae will be built. A thermae near the Praetorian barracks will have very different clientèle than one near here, after all," he said, thoughtfully, tapping the silver stylus against the tabula's wooden frame. "That is not to say thermae near the Praetorian barracks would not benefit from a good library."

What Aulus preferred in his thermae could easily be different from what Felix liked, as well, of course. Even if Felix accompanied Aulus to the baths, that did not mean Aulus' baths were where his slave went when he had free time.

"Do you have a favourite thermae you like to go to?" he asked, interested.

 

@Chevi

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"A palaestra, of course - although what the precise requirements will be depends greatly on the area where this thermae will be built. A thermae near the Praetorian barracks will have very different clientèle than one near here, after all... That is not to say thermae near the Praetorian barracks would not benefit from a good library."

"And they would definitely like the palaeastra." Felix agreed with a nod. Building a thermae was not only a question of how, but also a question of where. Different neighborhoods offered a chance to win the favor of different people, and to serve different communities. The goodwill of the praetorians was a strength in Roman politics. Even if the immediate area was already pretty crowded.

"Do you have a favourite thermae you like to go to?" 

Felix considered the question.

"I enjoy the smaller ones" he admitted "More quiet and calm, and the water is usually clearer. Most baths seem to have a problem with space when they become popular..."

@Sharpie

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"Hmm," Aulus said again. "I think the thing to do would be to look at what areas are available for a project this size, and determine what the inhabitants of that area would most benefit from."

There was a decent area between the Equiline and the new amphitheatre, on the spur known as the Oppian, although it would probably require building up to a level before it could take a substantial structure such as a thermae. Naturally, he would also like to win the approbation of the group of people with the most influence in the consular election. (Well, the group of people apart from Quintus Augustus, that was; that Aulus needed his favour went without saying!)

"You have a point - I should probably make more use of the smaller ones myself, if not for the opportunities for networking that the larger ones provide, simply because everyone goes there." Everyone of consequence that was; a slave and a senator required very different things when it came to making or renewing acquaintances.

"I think I shall take a look tomorrow at what areas are available, so that I can lay a solid proposal before Quintus Augustus," he said. "Or at least, begin to look around."

He shared the last of the wine in the jug between their two cups. "Felix, you are invaluable, as always."

 

@Chevi

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"Hmm. I think the thing to do would be to look at what areas are available for a project this size, and determine what the inhabitants of that area would most benefit from."

"That is a good place to start" Felix agreed with a solemn nod "Space is precious in this city."

Especially with all the wealthiest senators trying to put their names on the map of Rome by building something magnificent. The Amphitheater took up a whole of good real estate right by the Forum. Of course, no one complained, not out loud anyway.

"I think I shall take a look tomorrow at what areas are available, so that I can lay a solid proposal before Quintus Augustus. Or at least, begin to look around."

"I will keep an eye out" Felix offered. He'd walk around the city more anyway; might as well do something useful by looking at places, and listening to what people were talking about. If Aulus wanted to win the heart of the Romans, he'd need to know what they wanted.

"Felix, you are invaluable, as always."

"You are too kind, dominus" Felix said with a small smile. Sometimes he forgot that he already had a place in Rome, right by his master's side.

@Sharpie

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It would cost, of course, but Aulus was of the gens Calpurnia, and therefore a member of one of the oldest and wealthiest families; he could afford it. Though he could not afford to get it wrong and provide something that wasn't actually wanted. But he was pragmatic enough to ensure, to the best of his ability, that what he was considering would be useful as well as beautiful.

He fell silent again, enjoying the evening and the companionship, thinking about everything that had happened in the fourteen years (as long as that?!) since he had made his escape from Rome with Felix under the cover of darkness. From Felix' very first suggestion, that they head for the Via Flaminia, up to now, his slave had proven invaluable, over and over.

He poured a few drops of wine out as a libation, thankful for his continued fortune in the people around him.

 

@Chevi - probably a good place to end this, but we can carry on if you like!

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