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November, 74CE

Longinus grinned and nudged his daughter with an arched brow. "You haven't seen them for a long while, you could at least try and smile and pretend to be excited for your Father." Little Cassia only rolled her eyes - the image of her late mother - and mumbled: "They might not want to play." He only shrugged with a little sigh, "If I remember his daughter is a little older than you but Publius is around your age, and it's nice to get out isn't it? Some fresh air?" His daughter only mumbled something incomprehensible again and clutched her cloak tighter around herself. Longinus sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He was trying, Gods he was trying with her but it had been two months and it had become no easier to tempt his once vibrant Cassia out of her grief. He had hoped the promise of seeing old friends would have perked her up, but as it turned out it only made her more miserable. Not for the first time that week, he wished he had his wife's guidance, for his mother (who currently resided in his domus) was no surrogate. 

The ask had been sent the week before, at said mothers urging that the languishing Longinus needed to get out and there were few people he'd want to see more than Titus. The two men - equal in age, and in rank had had their ups and downs over the years but had settled into a comfortable, almost sibling friendship (with all of the associated teasing and rivalry that came with it). The fact he had children of similar ages to his own, only daughter was an added benefit and he had requested she could join him. Of course, not for the meeting - which would no doubt involve plenty of wine - but the nurse that trailed them would keep on eye on the children on his behalf. 

He reached up to run his hand over his jaw, and noted the beard he hadn't bothered to shave yet, before his slave moved in and announced his presence in the domus. The small party were admitted almost immediately and Cassia reached up to grip his hand as she did often when she was a smaller girl. He grinned, and despite himself, didn't encourage her to let go and walked in holding it with a little squeeze. He glanced around - Titus' domus much more impressive than his own, which had suffered with his general apathy to Rome and spending his coin on an impressive dwelling. He'd not seen the man in years, but as he saw him approach a broad grin split across his face and he let go of his daughters hand to embrace his friend. "Titus!" He beamed and then stood back, "May I present my lovely daughter. I heard your Publius is around her age - I hope he's man enough to handle this firebrand." Cassia only dutifully introduced herself and went back to hiding next to her slave. 

Longinus grinned and inclined his head, "It's good to see you man, shall we leave the children to their games?" And get a drink, he hoped.

 

TAG: @Liv

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As soon as one of the slaves announced the arrival of their visitors, Titus shot from his seat, restless with anticipation. Welcoming guests had always been a somewhat morose task, but exceptions were accorded when it was a dear friend who came knocking, rather than someone looking for a handout. His memory couldn't quite place when he last had socialised with Lucius Cassius Longinus with plenty of time to spare, but that was about to change, and he beamed with pleasure as his friend and his young daughter were brought into the atrium by another servant.

He returned Longinus' hearty embrace with one of his own, clapping the other man on the back with vigour a few times. His erstwhile companion had changed little, beard and long hair not withstanding; there may be deeper lines on his forehead and around his eyes, but he still carried himself as tall and strong as he had done in their twenties, a decade before. 

"Hello, Cassia. You've grown a lot since I last saw you." He bent down to greet the child at her eye level, hoping it would put her a bit more at ease, but it didn't quite seem to work. Fortunately, someone else came to the rescue. At the mention of his name, Publius came out from hiding behind a stucco column and made a beeline for the guests. "I definitely am, sir!" he replied with excitement. A quick exchange of looks and nods with Titus and the boy took his new playmate by the arm, pulling her off to another room. "Do you wanna look at my bug collection? I've got butterflies too!" And off the two went, followed by Cassia's nurse.

"My condolences about your wife. What a dreadful thing to happen," he commented somberly. It must have been a shock for little Cassia to lose her mother like that; no wonder she was quiet and withdrawn. And Longinus, who certainly did try to appear cheerful in spite of his mourning beard, must still be in a stage of deep grief. In an attempt to lighten the mood, Titus snapped his finger at an attending slave, who quickly disappeared into the house.

He put an arm around Longinus' broad shoulders and showed him around the impluvium and into the tablinum, where they would have more privacy and protection from the biting November winds. "You finally got tired of those Britons, eh? I was starting to think you'd never leave!" As soon as they were seated, the slave from before came in bearing a tray of cheeses and cured meats, along with a fine silver wine jug and two matching goblets. "Alban, 63 vintage," Titus informed with a smirk as the slave poured their drinks. "If you can still appreciate decent Roman wine after years of that piss mead the blueys brew, that is." He gestured for Longinus to help himself to the food and drink and took a sip from his cup. The wine was exactly as expected: sweet and velvety.

"It's been far too long since we last sat and talked like this. Though I must say I'm surprised you're still here- it's been what, two years? Have you grown soft?" Titus chuckled, helping himself to a thin slice of smoked ham.

@Sara

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Longinus smiled tenderly as his daughter was frogmarched away. If he had been more astute in politics he might have thought that two children, similar in ages and temperaments might make an ideal match for the future. But Longinus didn't have the aptitude of the politicos that flooded Rome, and the idea never even crossed his mind. At Titus' platitudes he sighed and winced, "It was unexpected." He admitted solemnly but exhaled deeply and shook his head: "Cassia is struggling, I'm getting by." And he was - largely because he was trying to ignore his grief with drinking, the games, exercise and endless walks around the city.

He grinned at his friend and laughed garrulously, "I'm but a mortal! I was getting sick of waking up to sodden clothes and my hair never looked good being windswept." He grinned in jest and shrugged off his cloak - flinging it at a waiting slave as he took a seat and stretched his legs. He merely rolled his eyes at Titus' comment and took a sip of wine. Gods it was good. He made a mental note to improve their stock at his own domus. 

He chuckled himself and sighed, "Don't tempt me man." And he was tempted. Two years had droned on and he was still just as restless as he'd always been. The hope, when he'd returned, was that he'd have a son by the end of 73 and despite...repeated attempts, none had been forthcoming. He knew age was catching up to him and he'd made no progress on well...anything since he returned. It was unusual for a man that was never really content unless he was busy. 

"But things in Britannia are pretty well settled and I'd rather be bored at home than bored in the rain across the sea." He admitted, but sighed and narrowed his eyes with a glint of humour: "What was Dacia like, out of interest?" He didn't know how he'd feel about joining a new, different legion in a whole other part of the empire but Britannia was full of the drudgery of a well-subdued state now, and he craved action - wherever it took him. 

 

TAG: @Liv

Edited by Sara
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Longinus made a fair point about the sodden clothes; the damned island was so wet that during his time there, Titus nearly always woke up surprised that no mushrooms were growing between his toes yet. Even  in the summer, rain had never been more than a day or two away, and in the winter the wet cold would seep into men's bones and drain them of their strength. "If you kept your hair shorter like a proper soldier it wouldn't be windswept" he quipped in response, taking another leisurely swig of his wine. "Seriously, if you're ever in need of a good cut, let me know. My brother has an amazing tonsor, the man could even do away with your arse hair without you noticing." The playful tone and crude words belied the worry Titus felt for his friend; the formal mourning rituals may now be in the past, but the loss was still recent and the wound caused by absence raw. 

He understood well why the other man admitted to boredom. Like Alexander, it was the thrill of the unknown that beckoned to them, excited them - not the paperwork and bureaucracy of enacting taxes and tallying property in a peaceful province; that was safe and provided opportunities for self-enrichment, but it was also oh so very tedious. Titus busied himself chewing on a piece of sharp Tolosian cheese as Longinus talked, but as he swallowed, his eyebrows scrunched up in mock offense.

"Don't even think about it! I left the Claudia in the best shape of their lives, don't want you to go and ruin all my hard work." He managed to keep a serious face for all of five seconds, then roared with laughter at the pretense. While it was true that he had grown fond on the men during their shared time in the province, they would be in very capable hands if Longinus were to take over their command. 

Leaning back in his seat, Titus gazed at the inside of his goblet pensively as he rotated it in his hand. It was still half full. "It was not bad, actually. The natives are a feisty people, very possessive of their land. Skirmishes all the time, even in places we thought were pacified." He bit his lip, remembering one such occasion where a small group of Dacians had managed to take over a hill fort and eliminate the best part of a century before relief forces could exact revenge on them. "They'll probably give us trouble for years to come," he opined with a predatory glint in his eyes. "Otherwise, good place. The soil is fertile, and there's plenty of mines. Gold, copper, salt...  Though you'll have to fight the tribes for them. But all in all, I find them more civilised than the Britons. Oh, and the weather is much better." 

Titus knocked back some more wine and pointed his chin at the tray with food. "Not hungry?"

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Longinus snorted in amusement and ran a hand through his hair with a childish grin of derision, "Eh it's fine - I'll deal with it soon." He gestured to his beard, "Besides, who am I trying to impress?" He'd rarely taken his seat in the senate and the last time he had done, a year or so ago, had found the whole meeting tedious to the point of tears. His friends cut him slack owing to his recent loss, but he knew his appearance wasn't befitting of a Senator, or soldier for that matter. Especially not one of a family as old as his. Then again, his men had always shrugged at his permanent stubble as he batted away questions. He used to have better things to do than check his appearance, although he supposed that excuse didn't really fly anymore as a civilian. 

He couldn't help the grin though as Titus talked of his time in Dacia and sipped contemplatively at his wine. It sounded worthwhile, although Longinus couldn't help but miss the days of large, strategic manoeuvres. The real wars. By his end in Britannia it had been all little skirmishes and raids, nothing like Petuaria or Glevum

He wrinkled his nose at the offer of food and lifted his goblet with a lopsided smile, "All I need for now, friend." He was usually hungry as a horse but his appetite had suffered since his bereavement. He sighed deeply and relaxed into his chair with a little huff of amusement. "It's good to be out of the house though." He admitted with a satiated smile. His mothers nagging and Cassia's crying was slowly driving him to despair at the moment. "But Dacia sounds tempting, but Gods it'd be odd to go to another legion." He sighed, "And another part of the Empire. I've stayed in Britannia all my adult life." He shrugged and added with a grin, "Even picked up a few of their odd little words." More than a few - it helped in negotiations and talking with the slaves he was granted. 

But he shook his head, "But that's a conversation for more wine - tell me, how have you been keeping? And your family?" He managed to keep the jealousy out of his voice.

 

TAG: @Liv

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Hearing Longinus' poor excuse, Titus couldn't help but roll his eyes. "You're trying to impress the whole of fucking Rome, genius. If you want to be in control, you've got to look and act like it." Whether it was tough love the other soldier needed Titus did not know, but he wanted to give the strategy a shot before eventually scrapping it for a new one - or leaving it well enough alone, which he probably should do. Maybe Longinus did not feel like he could really open up to Titus about his sorrow... The thought deflated him. Were they truly such good friends, if that turned out to be the case? Preferring to avoid going down that train of thought, he distracted himself with another gulp of wine. 

"My friend, let none of your desires go unsatisfied while you're in this house. More wine it is," and with these words Titus clapped twice to call the slave who would have been sitting just outside. Within seconds the woman came, filled the goblets again, and retreated back to wherever she had been waiting. "What was the bluey word for wine again? 'Gwin' or something like that?" Sluggish memory was one of the things that let Titus know he was getting old. Stiff muscles at random times of the day were another, and he shifted to a more comfortable position. "I still remember 'twll dy din di'1, though." Across all languages, profanity always came first and left last.

It's was Titus' turn to sigh. A new round of picking his brains, but this time out loud and with a new soundboard - which might actually be for the best; if anyone understood his current predicament, it was Longinus. "We've been well," he shrugged. "Can't really complain. My youngest wasn't happy about the move at all," Titus chuckled, remembering how she tied herself to a large chestnut tree with rope she'd discovered the gods knew where and declared she would not go to Rome. "She's not old enough to remember any other home than Drobeta, and she was used to running around freely. Climbing trees and looking for squirrels with Publius. It's obviously a bit different here..." Even if he ordered some trees planted, the saplings wouldn't mature for many years, and fully-grown trees did not always take to the new soil. He'd tried to make do with the nearby gardens of Sallust - one of the reasons he had decided to buy this particular house -, but despite their lush vegetation, it wasn't quite the same. "Their Dacian's a lot better than mine, though. Kids truly are like sponges," Titus mused, shoving a tiny sausage into his mouth.

"The other two seem pleased to be back. And Valeria... well, she's the kind of person who can make herself at home anywhere." His wife seemed to have enjoyed their time in the province, in spite of the lack of cultural stimulation. "My father-in-law, on the other hand, was ecstatic that we came back, although you'd never tell by looking at him." In his old age, Publius Valerius Flaccus seemed as emotive as a stone; even a marble statue showed more animation.  "I think he was afraid of dying without getting to say goodbye to Valeria."

He shot Longinus a jocose look. "Personally, I'd rather raise kids in Dacia than in Britannia. You'd take Cassia with you, right?"

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1 - since I couldn't find any online sources for Old Brythonic, I went with Modern Welsh lol

@Sara

Edited by Liv
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Longinus only smirked and ran a hand through his hair. Really, he didn't care for his own appearance but knew others did. He wouldn't be surprised if he woke tomorrow to find his mother leaning over him with a razor trying to shave his beard. He couldn't help but laugh at the Brythonic though and grinned, with a arched brow: "Your accent is about as good as your wine, you pen pidyn*. He slapped the man on his shoulder with a garrulous laugh and settled back down into the seat, sipping his replenished wine. He had to admit, Titus' slaves were good. His own had evidently become lazy in his absence and took minutes to summon and even longer to actually do anything, although he was blind to the fact that he was probably an impossibly difficult master. He never really sat still; constantly running from here and there, creating chaos and mess in his wake. It was probably much like looking after an energetic puppy. 

He listened with interest as he talked of his family, and smiled fondly at his talk of his children. His question, however, prompted an amused smirk before he shook his head. He loved his daughter, but he was under no illusion that he wasn't the best father. He tried, but it was hard.

"I suspect she'd do better here. I left, when she was young." Almost the month after she was born, in fact. And he'd been absent for most of her childhood - save the last eighteen months. He shook his head, "My mother is better for her here than I would be in Dacia or Judea or...Gods know where." He frowned, "Though do you know she, my mother, sold Pelias? My bastard?" He scoffed with a shake of his head, as if irritated by the fact that shed done it without his permission rather than at the loss of a blood relative in the way that all the wealthy of Romans were interested in lost coin. He rolled his eyes and sipped at his wine - letting out an audible sigh at the comfort of Titus' house, and how comfortable he felt in his company. He had few close, proper, friends and they were almost exclusively men he'd served with. He found it almost impossible to bond on a deeper level with those that had never experienced the blood, mud and relentlessness of conquest. 

He reached out and squeezed his friends shoulder before returning to sink into his chair, sipping his wine; "But I'm glad your back man, I've been bored shitless." He grinned, "As I suspect you must be?"

 

TAG: @Liv

*I also went for Welsh, and that means 'dickhead'.

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"I love it when you talk dirty to me, legatus. It turns me on," Titus said it in a sultry tone with a straight face, but, like before, the serious façade stayed in place for only mere moments before crumbling away into a guffaw. "Let me do you a favour and teach you some Dacian. When you meet someone for the first time, you introduce yourself with 'e dua karin'1. Then to say goodbye it's 'më thith'2." This time he was not betrayed by a case of unstoppable mirth and hoped his performance was enough to make Longinus fall for it. "But thanks, it is pretty good wine." So good that he had to wash the sausage flavour off of his mouth with another swig, although the sudden clap on his shoulder nearly made him spill it. He gave Longinus an exasperated look; the vintage was too good to let the floor stones sample it.

He leaned forward in his seat, resting his elbows on his knees. "Wait. She did what?!" The incredulity showed in his voice. Many Roman matrons were very set in their ways, but this... this was pure disrespect. Bastard or not, the slave had not been her property to sell. And with Longinus being paterfamilias, the offence was even greater. "When did this happen? Have you recovered him?" Titus exhaled heavily and bit the inside of his lip, wondering if he should say what he really was thinking. 

He did.

"And you'd leave your daughter with someone who does this? How is your mother better? The next time you came back, she'd have married Cassia off to some ancient fellow old enough to be your father!" How was Longinus not outraged? Had it happened so long ago that anger had subsided? Titus shook his head, half in disgust, half in disbelief. The nerve of the woman!

It took him a minute or two to calm down, and Longinus' squeeze on his shoulder was reciprocated  with a light smack on the other's back. "I was before you told me this. Not a dull moment in your life, it seems." Mimicking his friend, Titus too sipped at his wine thoughtfully. It'd be better to just come out and say it. With any luck, Longinus would have similar worries of his own.

"I feel like I'm at a crossroads. To do what I want, or what I should?" His gaze was once more trained on the wine inside his goblet, as if it held the answer to his predicament. "If it were just me, I'd stay with the legions until I died. But it's not just me.  And there's always the risk of being ordered around by someone less able than yourself - you of all people know what that feels like, Longinus." The wine swirled around, drawing circular patterns on the smooth silver. "But dealing with politicians is just fighting a different kind of enemy, I guess," he concluded with despondence.

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1 - "I love dick" in Albanian
2 - "Suck me" in Albanian

@Sara

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He snorted in amusement at the Dacian, and didn't trust Titus as far as he could throw the man. "I'll remember that, thank you." He rolled his eyes and finally reached out to take a piece of meat, although his appetite was lacking it was only polite. 

But the mention of Pelias and his mother produced a somber shake of his head and a roll of his eyes. "Before I came home, last time, 72 if I remember. And no - no sign. She was clever though, lied to Antonia and said she'd received a letter from me explaining I wanted him gone before I came back to Rome. Gods protect her, Antonia didn't believe her but by the time she'd written to check with me, mother had already done it." He huffed in irritation and took a deep sip of wine. Gods he was really getting through it today. "He was off her old body slave," He grinned and corrected himself, "Well not old, previous body slave, she never liked him but Gods know where he is now, the poor sod." It had provoked a fury in him that his sweet old mother had never seen before - but then again he was no longer the docile young boy he'd once been and a slight on him as paterfamilias was not something to brush over lightly. 

Titus' warning was apt but produced a groan and he waved a hand with a wince; "I know, I know. But I've got my house in order and surely Rome is a better place for her than with a grumpy old bachelor in Dacia or Judea or Gods know where. Unless I remarry, I suppose." It had barely been two months but already he'd received introductions. He supposed the eligible families of Rome saw him as an easy option: paterfamilias, plenty of gold and spoils from his success in Britannia and largely...absent. The perfect husband? 

He spluttered on his wine but managed not to spill any at Titus' clap on his back and grinned his permanent, lopsided smile. He did listen, intently, however. There might have been a time when Titus' political ambitions were of no interest to the man who hadn't an ambitious bone in his body, but times had changed and his own service as Legatus had given them equal footing and similar problems. 

After he'd finished he sat in contemplative silence for a few moments before nodding slowly, "You're preaching to the converted friend." He sighed, "And there's nowhere up in the military until one of the old buggers kicks it," And Quintus Caecina Tuscus wasn't on his way out as Legatus Augusti Propraetor in Britannia any time soon, "At least not without playing the game here. And Gods the idea of sitting through those senate meetings almost brings tears to my eyes out of boredom." He shook his head, "But then Legate again? For the fourth time?" He was aware he was now complaining on his own behalf, but he'd not been able to verbalise his frustration with anybody else, not really. "What's the plan then, for you?" He asked. "What route from the crossroads will you take?"

 

TAG: @Liv

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Bummer. Longinus hadn't taken the bait, but Titus did not lose heart; instead, he rewarded his friend's motion of confidence with his best and most heartfelt showing of the digitus impudicus - a gesture that would come to be known in modern times as flipping the bird.

Nevertheless, he quickly dropped it out of respect while the other man elaborated on what had transpired with his bastard. The more he heard, the more bewildered Titus grew. Two years and still no trace of the slave - could he have been ordered killed and not just sold? Longinus was used to seeing things from a myriad perspectives, as any good commander and strategist would be: he may already have considered this possibility. "By Mars, not even the Greeks could've come up with a story like this. Are you still looking for him?" He elected to make no further comments about the sneaky wench his friend had for a mother, as he might say something he came to regret and ruin the friendship. 

And of course the harpies and vultures of Rome would have already set their sights on Longinus. Remarriage was expected at some point, but not even two months had gone by since Antonia's passing; unless Longinus were dead set on getting his daughter a mother figure as quickly as possible, Titus didn't see it happening before the new year. "Bet your house'll be swarmed by single ladies of good standing or their representatives the day you do away with that beard. Hell, you can even be like Paris and choose the most beautiful. At least you'll have something nice to look at in the mornings."

The two sat in agreeable silence, and despite the seriousness of the subject, Titus couldn't help but smile a little as he brought the cup to his lips and drank some more. Misery loved company, and it was sad yet comforting that Longinus was struggling with precisely the same decisions. "That's exactly it. And those old buggers will outlive you and me," he chuckled mirthlessly and took another swig of wine. "The senate meetings aren't the worst part for me. You can always just think about something else. It's not like they pay attention to what you say anyway, we're just spring chickens to them."

Titus sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose with his free hand. What route, indeed? "I don't know," he confessed, shaking his head. "One day I wake up and think I've made up my mind, but when I go to bed at night I've come to the opposite conclusion. I almost wish Quintus Caesar would drop another term on my lap and make the decision for me." His goblet was now empty, but he didn't call for the slave just yet. "On the other hand, praetor has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? Propraetor sounds even better. And I don't have to tell you what comes after that, Longinus."

Two claps later, the slave came and went with practised efficiency, leaving two full goblets as the only evidence she'd even been there. Titus didn't waste time in taking a new sip.

"How about your plan?"

@Sara

 

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"Looking but...no leads." He'd not looked hard though, granted. He'd had other priorities upon his immediate return home and despite speaking to the slavers his mother had supposedly sold him to, no sign had been forthcoming. He suspected he'd been put to use in another house, new name, new family...it was not altogether uncommon to lose slaves in the heaving mass of Rome although it was irritating. 

He snorted in amusement at his description and shrugged, "I'm in no rush but as soon as the beard and I are ready, please line Valeria up ready to vet them on my behalf, she seems like she has a good head on her shoulders," And was good company he recalled - his friend was lucky, "Else I'm fleeced by some uspstart equite girl intent on stealing my gold." Truthfully that didn't sound like the end of the world, as long as she was good fun. But that wasn't a conversation for now, he was still grieving - try as he might to be suppressing it. He could act fine all he liked, but it didn't make the nightmares at night any easier. 

He listened with good natured intrigue to his friend but couldn't help but arch his brow in surprise, and queried; "Never had you down for a praetor," He grinned, "Have the lives and fortunes of citizens in your hands, Gods help us..." He jested before adding seriously - stretching his legs out with a satisfying sigh as he did so, "But it makes sense." Titus would be fair, and impartial. And it seemed as if one needed the civilian side these days, to achieve anything of note in their preferred field. 

"I have no plan," He raised his hands as if in mock defence, "And I'm not ashamed to admit that. You know me," He shrugged, "Never one for glory, not really." Truthfully Longinus often felt he was born missing a fundamental Roman attribute; that of ambition. He wanted to succeed and excel at what he did, but he was largely covent with his position and wanted only advancement in the fields he enjoyed for their enjoyment, not for the glory. He'd sometimes thought that eventually he'd make a good Proconsul somewhere, but that would require years worth of graft in arenas he was largely not qualified for. With a sigh, he sipped his wine and ran a hand across his short beard; "Legate, again," He rolled his eyes as if mocking that he'd been afforded the impressive appointment three times, "I can't stomach the thought of a praetorship - not right now. I just need to...figure out the place. Britannia's out, at least whilst things remain calm and Dacia - despite your helpful language tutorship doesn't appeal," He sighed, "It's not up to me but I might try and press for an appointment out East somewhere, I've only ever been west." 

He took another piece of meat, Titus had certainly laid on the goods today. "Honest opinion time...do you think I'd be a fool to not aim higher, try something new? Or do you think another post sounds right?" He needed another opinion, another voice, to shake him out of his rut and useless drive to the afterlife by chasing endless military postings at the same rank.

 

TAG: @Liv

 

 

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The lack of clues as to the boy's whereabouts was hardly surprising. Rome was a big city, and many slaves worked indoors, venturing outside only on rare occasions such as festival. That, if the boy even was in Rome - after two years he could very well be anywhere, from Lusitania to Syria. Still, Titus felt sorry for his friend."Give my secretary his description, won't you? I've got this new slave whose greatest talent is getting lost in the city, might as well have her do something useful while she's at it." Provided she managed to find her way back to the domus. 

He beamed at the mention of his wife in such good terms. "I'm sure she'll be happy to, just tell her when." Knowing Valeria, she probably wouldn't waste much time finding out the whos, whats, whens and hows that had happened during the years of their absence, since gossip allowed for prolific flights of writing fancy. "What are you going to do with all that gold anyway, with no wife or public office to relieve you of it?" Titus laughed, clearly amused by his own quip.

Was a praetorship really such a preposterous notion? The laughter died out and he stared blankly at the other man, not quite sure how to respond, before concluding that another swig of the fine Alban was response enough. "I don't think I'm a bad judge of character - except, of course, for the day I accepted your offer of friendship, which I'll rue until I die." He shot Longinus what he hoped was a regretful glance. "And I don't think I'm the kind to get drunk on power either. How many times have you seen me torture prisoners just for kicks?" For information? Sure. As punishment? Absolutely. For fun? Nope. Titus did not derive pleasure from seeing people suffering gratuitously under his command. Getting drunk was best done with wine, as he was putting into practise at that very moment.

"No shame-" he paused to help himself to more wine, "in admitting that. You've got an excellent record, Longinus. Even if you never wanted glory, it found you and stuck with you. And I'm sure it'll stay that way if you serve as legate for the fourth time, be in Judea or Syria or wherever. You're good at that." He popped a small square of cheese into his mouth, grimacing as he chewed it. Blue cheese was one thing, but this was fucking mould. He'd have to have the thing banished from his house under the guise of an offering to some minor deity. At last he managed to swallow the grisly piece and hurried to wash off the flavour with yet a little more wine.

"Honest opinion: if you need more time to grieve your wife and don't feel like dealing with your mother and Roman society in general, take another post knowing it may be your last. If nothing else, you'll come back richer, perhaps wiser too." A small pause to assassinate another slice of ham. "However, I also think that you run the risk of people thinking you're only good for that one thing. Like 'oh, Longinus does such a great job as legatus, why even bother considering him for anything else', you know?"

Titus set his cup on the table and stood up abruptly; his eyes took just a second too long to focus again. "Wait just a moment, I've got an idea." He ambled over to a small desk and rummaged through one of its drawers; after a few seconds he found what he was looking for, and returned to his seat with an air of self-satisfaction about him. He held up a hand in front of Longinus: in it was an aged sestertius. "Heads says legions, tails says civilian career. What's it gonna be, legatus?"

He threw the coin up in the air and waited for it to fall on the back of his hand; when it did, he immediately covered it up with his other hand, giving his friend a mischievous grin at the same time. "Well?" Whatever result Longinus had hoped for while the coin was still in movement would reveal what in his heart of hearts he really wanted.

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"I was jesting," He confirmed with a triumphant little smile that he managed to irk his friend even a little, judging by the blank look on his face. "You'd be an excellent praetor, I just suppose I can't imagine you swanning off to your castra with all your lictors," It was hard to place anybody who he knew in Britannia back in Rome, really though, the mud and the damp didn't leave much room to imagine the men back in the finery and elegance of Rome, "But maybe you've grown soft and want an easy life." He grinned. It was a barbed comment, but one said in jest as a boy might do to mercilessly tease their younger sibling. 

His face settled into intrigue as his friend talked, eyes narrowed and the muscles of his jaw working. He'd rarely spoken of his ambitions (or lack thereof) since he had returned to Rome almost two years ago, and it was a relief for him to be able to voice it now. 

He was about to respond when Titus shot up and he arched a brow, a mischievous smile on his face. "I'm not sure I trust your ideas." He laughed and lent back in his chair, sipping at the almost full goblet of wine. He snickered in amusement at the coin, and quipped; "Gods Dacia must really have been bad if you're having to scrounge and rummage for a single sestertius." He grinned and sighed, watching as the coin danced through the air. He hated luck, and had argued with Antonia once about how it didn't exist - fate was a concept designed by men who had failed to explain their failures to him, or it was the will of the Gods. Neither he had control over. Still - humouring his friend he arched a brow. "Heads." 

When the coin was uncovered he groaned and slumped back. Tails. Bollocks. Wincing, he glanced over to Titus and tried to smile; "Only positive in this, you realise, is that I get to see your face when I'm given Praetor before you." He grinned and snatched the coin. He very much doubted he'd follow through with the scheme but it was an odd sort of...relief, even just momentarily, to think his life had been decided for him. He tried to shake off the feeling. 

"Now, you," He grinned, "Heads we're very civilised Roman senators and stay in and enjoy your very expensive wine in your very lovely domus, tails I take you to the cheapest tavern I can find and we see what happens." 

 

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The mental image of a handful of lictors waiting in single file while he exited the caldarium of one of the public thermae sent Titus into peals of raucous laughter. The bodyguards came with the title, and were perhaps no different from slaves hired for personal protection when it came to their duties, but there was something comical about being followed everywhere by six burly men, like a single chick under the watch of six mother hens. 

Longinus' jest, however, did not go unnoticed nor uncontested. "I want an easy life for my family," Titus stated matter-of-factly. That was the crux of his indecision: his own personal desires against the prestige a higher-ranking magistracy would bring current and future descendants. Virtus was not always so transparent to uphold.

"All my other coins are aurei," Titus explained with a shit-eating grin, bringing up his hands as if to plead innocence. The statement was, of course, false, but that particular sestertius had been given to him many years ago by his late father, and for that very reason it had been kept safe in drawers rather than spent. He'd have to let Longinus know he'd be wanting the coin back for sentimental reasons before the night was up.

"Let me see if I understand this correctly," Titus started in a tone he usually reserved for his children's unreasonable requests. "I invite you to my very lovely house, offer you food and very expensive drink - by your own admission -, and now you want to go out and drink what can hardly be called wine?" He was filled with equal parts amusement and incredulity. "Longinus, those Britons must've really done a number on your head." He lowered his eyes and brought up his goblet in a mock toast for his friend's deceased brain cells, emptying it of its contents. Maybe they'd both had a bit too much to drink if the tavern idea actually sounded like fun - and no matter where they went, they would certainly carry on having a bit too much to drink.

Titus crossed his arms in defiance and gave the other man a flippant grin. "Never let it be said I don't indulge my guests. Tails." Whilst waiting for the result to be revealed, he thought he'd share his appraisal of the coin bet with Longinus. "You know, I just wanted to see your reaction to the coin flip. Groaning and wincing when the result is the opposite of what you picked should tell you where your heart really is." Given how much alcohol he'd consumed already, this was surprisingly serious, sober advice he was dispensing. He hoped Longinus would see he'd had no intention of forcing his friend's hand, but rather help him find clarity in his desires. A shame the same trick didn't work on himself, as his resolve was too flighty and unable to settle permanently for one path.

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Longinus shot his friend a boyish grin as he flipped the coin. Smacking it down on his hand he kept it covered as he appraised the other man, returning to seriousness for a brief moment at the others' comment. "I know, I know...and," He struggled, feelings and seriousness were never his specialty, "It was a bit of a relief, to have that decision made for me. Maybe I won't be such a bad praetor," He offered with a little shrug, "And if anybody asks me why I went into a civilian career, at least I have a good story." He grinned and the joviality returned. 

Finally, he slowly began uncovering the coin with a little smirk. Heads. He groaned in mock dictate and flipped the coin back at his friend, willing him not to catch it. 

"Staying in it is then," He rolled his eyes dramatically, as if the idea was so intolerable, "But probably for the best." He jerked his head at the sound of the children playing (evidently they'd moved to the garden), "I don't think Cassia's quite old enough to visit a tavern with me and enjoy it." And Gods willing she never would be, the idea of his sweet little daughter in one of the drink houses he frequented produced a chuckle. But time was passing, and his long absence for the first six years of her life made her recent growth even more apparent. He'd left when she was a newborn and returned to a bright, articulate young woman. He tried to ignore the memory of his arrival home when she'd cried, not understanding who he was. It had stung more than any physical wound had. 

"Speaking of which," He arched a brow and took a sip of the wine, "Your Publius seems a good lad." As bright and sharp as his father, and just as energetic. It was a lovely, if not slightly bittersweet sight for the widowed Longinus. He'd meant no insinuation in his comment but realised it sounded as if he had a motive (as his mother would surely wish he would, alliances could be forged with children after all) and held up his hands, "I only mean, it's nice to see you happy with them. The Gods have blessed."

 

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So that's what it was. The non-responsibility of having one's choice made for them, and no longer being weighed down by the burden of uncertainty. In summary, a soldier following orders, the commander this time a caprice of Fortuna made manifest in the landing of a coin. And why not? 

"You'll be a praetor to shame all others before and after you, drowning senators and plebians alike in Briton ale and making them forgo the ways of wine. Then those fucking blueys will end up owning us instead of we them." Titus raised his cup in a not-very-serious toast and downed the rest of its contents. Like before, the clapping of hands brought in the efficient slave who refilled both goblets and slithered away a few seconds later.

Heads wasn't bad - if they were both serious about the praetorship, there would be plenty of opportunities to hit up taverns and exchange rounds of wines of dubious quality for popularity amongst the masses. "With any luck, she never should," Titus replied as he put a little more effort than strictly required into catching the coin flying his way. He stood up once again to return the sestertius to the safe confines of the drawer, noting dispassionately that the floor didn't feel as wobbly before. "I meant enjoying a visit to a tavern," he added for clarification as he made his way back to his seat. There were many things women of their rank should not do, but some would and did, his own wife included.

"You can always say you stayed for her sake," Titus offered, raising an eyebrow knowingly. Rome appreciated loyalty to one's family, and putting a successful military career aside in favour of chasing a civilian post that would allow him to stay by Cassia's side in these times of mourning would raise Longinus' reputation in the eyes of many - a blessing following a tragedy.

The sounds of children playing reached him too, albeit a tad more muted than they had his friend - that, too, could be considered a blessing in some occasions. By the sudden ruckus, Titus imagined his youngest had joined the other two, never wanting to miss out on the action. Jolted from his distraction by Longinus' words, he found himself nodding energetically in agreement. "He is. Obedient, curious, a bit bookish too - probably gets that from Valeria. But he's got a decent left hook. Says he wants to be like Pliny when he grows up." Writing and military office both appealed to the boy, but he didn't have to decide just yet. "He's in the collecting stage right now. Collects everything. Called one of the slaves stupid the other day because the man threw away his rock collection." Titus tried to keep a straight face, but the recollection of the outraged Publius as he had complained to his parents sent him into a fit of laughter.

The wheels in Titus' mind weren't turning at full speed, though, and it was only when Longinus explained what he'd meant that Titus realised the other possible interpretation of his friend's words. "They truly have, Longinus," he concurred, giving his friend a heavy look. He didn't feel like boasting or being overly effusive was appropriate given the man's situation, but at the same time, he was fully aware of how fortunate he was, and it would have been very poor manners not to acknowledge it.

In an attempt to lighten the mood, Titus went back to the previous topic. "Cassia is a nice young lady too." A bit serious, but that was to be expected considering the circumstances. "Are you starting to look at potential matches? I regret to inform you that my Publius hasn't discovered the wonders of the fair sex yet," Titus declared with humour. His son was still rather innocent and totally uninterested as to why his older sister had been growing so tall and sprouting curves in previously-flat places; reading about exotic plants and animals or pretending to be the divine Julius attacking an imaginary Vercingetorix with his wooden gladius was far more exciting to Publius.

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Longinus chuckled at his friends description of his son. Unfortunately, he couldn't relate. Cassia was her mother in every way, and the only things she seemed to have inherited from her father was his stubbornness and blue eyes. But he laughed garrulously at his friends unsubtle mention of matches, given his own indelicate comment. "No." He shook his head and winced, "I would have absolutely no idea where to start. And I don't blame your Publius," He grinned to himself, "Women are more hassle than they're worth most of the time." He'd lost track of the number of flaming arguments he'd had with his late wife, and likewise with his various mistresses over the years. 

But he sighed and ran a hand through his hair, a habit of his when he was feeling on edge. "I need a son though, that's probably more pressing an issue than my daughter finding a spouse." Cassia was only eight, after all, and whilst betrothals between children were commonplace Longinus had neither the inclination nor the ambition to subject his daughter to that. 

His mother had remarked, on more than one occasion after a glass or two more of wine than she could handle, that the fearless commander was as blighted as his father in terms of his inability to produce offspring. Whilst at first he had shrugged off the suggestion, it had been a dawning moment when he realised it might hold some truth. He had never been sure Pelias was his, the slave who mothered him was known to have more than one man in her bed at any given time after all. And after ten years of marriage Antonia had only given him a daughter (after close to two years of marriage), and no other pregnancies he had been aware of - despite a concerted...effort on both of their parts. It was humiliating to imagine that he might be lacking in...that department. But he didn't even dare say it to his closest friends. Virility was a matter of pride, and he wasn't about to admit that he might be below par on such an inherently sensitive issue. 

Instead, he tried to turn the topic on to more neutral terms. Remarriage and betrothals were a sore point for him. "I was going to ask, by the way, whether you have any Dacians you need to get rid of." He arched a brow, trying to smile. "I spent most of the summer at the villa and left most of my useless slaves there," His secretary had been horrified at Longinus' pronunciation that he was going to leave half the household to mind the orchards and the house. But he had't the heart to sell the aging slaves, nor could he really be bothered to haggle over their price. Instead, he was now left with a shadow staff far below the optimum. "I can trade you a couple of Britons I've got in my stables," He grinned, "For a couple of house slaves. Besides Attis and my secretary the rest of them are bloody useless." 

 

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It warmed Titus' heart to know he wasn't alone in wanting to delay - preferably ignore, or even forget altogether - a daughter's betrothal as much as possible. The passage from child to woman/wife/mother was painful to think about and would be even more so if he ruined the nice buzz he had going on by giving it much thought; it would be insulting and disrespectful to the wine, too. "Let's banish such ideas for now," he murmured with a wave of his hand, as if physically shooing them away. "They're better off playing hide and seek while they can." He chose not to take Longinus' bait about difficult women, for it would be very unjust to speak of his wife in such terms. Valeria could be... unique at times, but Titus had never seen her behaviours as a hassle. His sister, on the other hand, might fight the bill better, especially during their younger years...

The lack of a male heir had been the bane of many a good family's existence for generations. It was a shame that Longinus also had ended up in that situation, but in theory it could be rectified. Were Titus in his friend's shoes, he would probably try to find a healthy young widow to wed, preferably one with a living son or two; if she had done it before, she could do it again, and failing that, adoption of her boys could be in the cards. "Well, you have Cassia and Pelias, so it's not you," Titus affirmed with definiteness in his voice, trying to cheer the other man up. "But you can't have another son without a woman, so..." The taunting smile was quickly hidden by a sip of wine, but the gibing twinkle in Titus' eyes could not be done away with so easily. "...Self-inflicted trouble much?"

At last he had enough of poking fun at Longinus' predicament and listened as attentively as he was able to to the other's proposition. Britons were generally unruly in his experience, but if they'd been in Longinus' household for a while, they might be somewhat domesticated. However, he wasn't keen on having many slaves from the same region: they could easily revert to their barbarian languages and plot their escape, or even be stupid enough to try and emulate Spartacus. It was also why he had sold more Dacians than he had kept. "A Briton or two would be nice, but I honestly don't need them in return for some Dacians. They can be my souvenir to you from the lands beyond the Danuvius." Before delving further into the request, Titus made a sluggish mental tally of which slaves he had that were suitable. A particular trio he was intent on keeping, but the rest was less memorable.

"How many do you need? Five, six? A dozen? Any particular skills you're looking for?" His words were followed by a suggestive wiggling of eyebrows.

Titus had been wrong. He hadn't had enough of poking fun at Longinus after all.

 

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Longinus rolled his eyes. It had only been two months since Antonia's passing and he hadn't even remained chaste for it, but for Cassia's sake and his own sanity should his mother find out he'd reverted back to the Venus and the Elysium rather than bed any of his own slaves or bring a woman back to the domus. He only smirked lightly, "Self-inflicted indeed which is why I should hope you and Valeria will send me a list of the most eligible widows and women of Rome as soon as physically possible." He was jesting, at least a little but there was seriousness to his tone. His own father had passed away suddenly, as had Decimus. And he loved his daughter, what state would she be left in if both parents left her adrift?

He added with more levity, "And make sure your lovely wife knows nobody too young, on the list, and," He waved a hand, "You know my type." He wasn't sure Titus did, but beauty and wits far outweighed money and breeding. He had enough of the latter himself to make up for a 'substandard' match. 

But as the conversation swerved onto easier topics he found himself grinning boyishly at Titus' innuendo. "Nothing like that, you dirty minded cretin." He laughed garrulously, "I'd rather go to the Venus and actually enjoy myself." He rolled his eyes and drained his cup. There was little satisfaction for him in bedding somebody he knew didn't particularly want it.

Brushing off the thought of past mistakes, he arched a brow; "Three or so would be fine, and one of them needs to go into the kitchens because whatever my woman is cooking in there is inedible." Unbenownst to Longinus the young woman was pregnant, and those hormones were playing havoc with her palate. "And I insist I give you some Britons as recompense, what skills are you after?" He couldn't help the smirk on his face, "I have a bloke who I was considering for the ludus, if you want a guard, and a couple of women who'd make pretty additions to the house." Longinus hadn't enjoyed them himself, finding their blonde hair and blue eyes a bit disconcerting for a man born and bred under the Italian sun.

Grinning, he waited for Titus to summon the slave for more wine, but clapped him on his shoulder, "You see? This is why it's nice to be successful - you get some British brutes for your house and I get some Dacians to cook me something I can actually stomach. Who cares about the glory of Rome, this is the real reason to join the legions..."

 

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Shit, he'd let Longinus' goblet run empty. Hopefully his friend would forgive him for being a less-than-attentive host if the error was quickly rectified. The slave came at the sound of clapping, refilled both cups and disappeared again, leaving Titus to look sheepishly at his friend as way of apology. As further penitence, he settled for rubbing the shoulder Longinus had just shown some love to without complaining or returning the blow. "You'll have that list in your hands by the end of the week, don't worry."  

"Fine, fine, I was just asking," he mumbled in pretend offence, raising his free hand as if to shield himself from an invisible projectile. Titus reckoned he could pick out Longinus' type with sufficient accuracy - essentially women least like the late Antonia -, but age was trickier. Late teens to early twenties, perhaps, since childbearing was a concern? "How young is too young?" He was fairly sure Longinus could have his pick, anyway; money and status were always desirable and demand outstripped supply, he thought with a little smirk as he took a small sip of wine.

"Who knows, maybe you'll find your next wife there at the Venus. At least you know she's young, pretty and a good fuck. All ingredients to a happy marriage," he philosophised between sips. It wasn't hard to imagine that to be the unspoken dream of many a prostitute there: a handsome and wealthy senator falls in love with her, purchases her freedom in order to make her his lawful matron and she lives out the rest of her days in luxury. It was also incredibly trite.

Three slaves was perfectly manageable, but also a little... few? Titus raised an eyebrow at Longinus, squinting to better gauge if he was being played (although the action made no difference). "Are you sure that's all you need?" Longinus did have a point: Dacians were not bad cooks, and in addition knew to appreciate the fruity, velvety taste of good wine. Definitely much better kitchen slaves than Britons, Titus concluded to himself with a series of small nods. 

It would be bad form to refuse the offer, but Briton women in general didn't do much for him, in part because so many of them were fair-haired: the only blonde, blue-eyed female he saw himself allowing into his bed in the near future was little Valeriana when she woke up screaming from some ridiculous but scary kid nightmare and would not be consoled by anyone but mummy or daddy and preferably both at the same time. This fact, of course, Titus opted not to share with Longinus; a sincere friendship was all fine and dandy until the danger of losing face materialised. 

He tapped his chin and hummed, making a show out of what was in fact a rather simple decision. "I could use an assistant for the kitchens. Not a cook, mind, just someone to fetch things and peel vegetables, that sort of thing." With Nymphias spending less time in the kitchens and more watching Valeriana, he didn't want his cook to punish the family by lowering her cooking standards in protest and blaming it on 'not enough help'. "And have you got a decent gardener? If I'm going to be spending some more time here, I don't want to come home to a desert." 

The brutish bloke Longinus mentioned was a bit harder to place. One of his Dacians could easily do the job as guard, but Titus wasn't sure he was completely broken in yet... Besides, the man's braggart ways served him better in a ludus or with one of the chariot stables. "Sure, a guard would be nice. Even better if he's mute and lets his fists do the talking." The last thing he needed was a couple of Britons discussing how to escape in their pig parlance. Female slaves were more likely to settle down and accept their lot in life, but men were in the majority as troublemakers.

"So let's say you trade me a kitchen helper, a gardener and a guard for two cooks and a..." A what, indeed? "... Personal trainer?" He clasped Longinus' shoulder and shook it as raucous laughter overcame him. "Nah, you don't need that, you're tough enough as is." He let go of the other man's shoulder, still chuckling at his own joke. Everything became funnier after a few cups of good wine! "Do you keep bees at your villa? I've got a beekeeper to spare! Or a smithy if you want to start your own bracelet sale. I'm not even kidding, they do make very fine ones. Superb workmanship." Valeria could attest to that if needed.

He smirked at Longinus, nudging him to have a drink. "Yeah, yeah. Fuck prestige, we're only in it for the loot. We go in for the slaves and gold and stay for the exquisite military rations..." As much as he enjoyed legion life, Titus would not complain if he never had to force down a hardtack biscuit again.

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"I don't know, old enough that don't feel old with her, and old enough that I don't feel like I'm married to a child?" He shook his head. He knew age was inconsequential to a lot of men in his station, but now his own daughter was growing up, the thought of marrying somebody barely into adolescence horrified him.

"Three is fine. I don't want to deprive my mother of visiting the slave markets with me, if I source them all from you." He rolled his eyes. Haggling was never his strong suit and sods law he'd end up with a bunch of useless oafs, but he might also find a diamond in the rough. One never knew. Longinus nodded at the man's needs. He had a few that came to mind, outside of the three he had been considering. Most he'd dumped at the villa, including a young man with seemingly magical abilities to grow fruits and vegetables. "I've got the perfect gardener for you, he'll grow enough poisoned roots to take even you down." He grinned in jest, and sipped his replenished wine. Titus had his people excellently trained, it seemed.

He roared with laughter himself but then the thought struck him, and he waved a hand; "No, no bees - Gods are you a woman now? Interested in making honey bread?" He snorted in amusement, "But somebody to spar against isn't a bad idea. I miss training." He said with a wince. He was still in impeccable shape, largely to the time he spent in the gymnasium or dragging poor Attis out for endless walks around the city, but he lived in fear of the day when he'd lose his martial ability. "As long as said trainer doesn't try and take my head off." A nice, domesticated but skilled warrior...that would suit him nicely. 

He arched a brow at his friend, merely smiling and sipping his wine at his joke, but he was genuinely intrigued; "How do you keep fit? Maybe we should host our own games for all the soldiers that miss the camps and loathe civilian life just as much as us." He grinned.

 

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The bigger problem, Titus considered from behind his cup, was Longinus' future new wife eventually feeling like she was married to a child, one whose head was almost entirely occupied by battles and fighting and military pursuits. But that would be for Longinus to navigate, not him; the only feminine quirks he was interested in were Valeria's, and he knew them inside out.

"Why, at least you know you're getting top Dacian stock. Your poor mother, divested of spending quality time shopping with her only son..." He hung his head and shook it in a pretense of sadness. From what he had heard about the woman in question over the years, such an outing would have been anything but a good time. Titus took a swig of his wine and eyed his friend with some good-natured suspicion. "So you admit you're sending me a spy to poison me. How lovely." Titus had been so generous too, bartering away good cooks. He brought his free hand up to his chest and placed it over his heart, pretending to be mortally wounded. "And to add insult to injury, you even mock me for liking honey. What a heathen knave you've become, Longinus!" Valeria's theatrics were definitely rubbing off on him. "Are you completely immune to honeycakes? Or globuli?" He stared at his friend in disbelief.

Longinus posed a very good question. "I go for a swim with Publius everyday," he replied, cocking his head to the side as he tried to make a mental list of his physical activities. "You should join us sometime, he'd love to hear of your adventures." Titus' own stories were no longer as entertaining to the boy as they'd once been, but if he pawned his son off to his friend for a few hours, he could concentrate on his own training better. "Other than that, it's the usual fare. Running, stabbing or punching or spearing the stake, calisthenics." The exercises had been sufficient so far, but there were a few spots with a little flab threatening to stay for a prolonged visit if he didn't chase them out soon. 

It might actually be a good idea to take his own advice and get a burly but docile slave to spar with... Or he could just invite himself to Longinus' work-out sessions with his new Dacian. "I don't loathe civilian life," Titus made a point to clarify in a slightly sulky tone. "I just find it immensely boring. But these games you speak of... What would be the grand prize? Having the honour of giving you a new haircut with my gladius? Keeping all your spoils and loot for myself?" It was just an entertaining train of thought; nobody in a position similar to theirs would want to risk their reputation on that sort of challenge. 

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