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Britannia, late 67AD

 

Nostalgia hit him with full force as Titus entered the military camp on a chilly (for one, not rainy) morning. It was early, but the camp was alive with the hustle and bustle of hundreds of men going about their tasks... Except for a group of four off to his left, where two huddled close to the ground and two others stood and watched. As he got closer to them, the familiar sound of dice rolling inside a cup could be heard, followed by sudden silence and a mix of boastful laughter and groaning.

Fasces in tow, Titus approached one of the spectating legionaries and barked a question at him. "Soldier! Where is your legate?" The man flinched and whipped round so quickly he nearly broke his neck, showing a face full of pimples. He had the presence of spirit to step away from his comrades and salute Titus.

"I-I d-don't know, sir!" the young soldier managed to stammer out.

Titus was unimpressed. "Then why don't you do something about it?"

The legionary stared at him with an asinine look. Titus hoped Balbus Papulus was at least a good fighter, since he had neither beauty nor brains. He rolled his eyes, feeling his patience dwindle. "Go find out, then come back here and take me to him, you idiot!" 

The order spurred the young man into action at last, and he sprang off in search of his general. In the mean time, Titus busied himself with shooting the gambling soldiers dirty looks until the sting of disapproval - or the threat of the fasces - was strong enough to make them put the dice away and start polishing their boots with exaggerated gestures.

Balbus Papulus came back surprisingly soon and lead Titus through the camp to one of the bigger tents. The young man did his best to announce that "Qua-quaestor Titus Sulpicius Rufus is he-here to s-s-see--", but Titus dismissed him with a sigh and a wave before he could finish and strode into the tent.

A quick look around the tent and its occupants let him know he needn't be too formal, but proper greetings were de rigueur in case someone was lingering just outside, trying to listen in.

"Salvete, legate, Aulus Calpurnius," he greeted each man with a nod, predictably ignoring the slaves in a corner.

Now that that was out of the way, Titus relaxed his posture a little, but still did not smile. "Did you know you have men gambling for money this early in the morning? At least teach them to be discreet about it."

 

@Sara @Sharpie @Chevi

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Longinus was glad to be back in Britannia, and gladder still that this time around there were men he counted on as friends with him. Aulus had a few years on him in age, but the legate still felt he could relax around him and today he'd done precisely that. Whilst they'd worked and talked seriously about manoeuvres, the conversation had now settled into more benign topics, which suited him well. He'd barely slept the night before and had been up, dressed and out just as dawn cracked, dragging poor Attis out for a tour of the camp. 

He glanced up, however, at the young man who graced his tent and tried to hide the snicker of amusement as he was roughly dismissed. His smirk broadened to a mischevious grin as he saw Titus and he stood up from where he sat behind his desk, pretending to pore over some scrolls that sat unwound on it. 

"Ah, how good of the quaestor to join us from his luxury in...where is it your based now? Londinium? Eboracum?" He stifled an amused laugh, "We were just talking about manoeuvres for tomorrow." He shot Aulus a conspiratorial glance.

Nothing had been planned for tomorrow at all. Britannia was in relative peace after all. That didn't stop him from wanting to get under Titus' skin, however, with a practical joke. He gestured for Attis to fetch Titus something to drink and went back to perusing the meaningless scrolls with a deep, fake frown. "I'm sorry about the gambling, I've just been so busy - you understand of course," He swallowed a peal of laughter successfully, "I'll make sure the men are disciplined. But...given we might all be dead this time tomorrow, a bit of dice can't hurt, can it?" 

He sighed and resumed his chair, glancing at Aulus and hoping he'd keep up this pretence of some great fake battle dawning tomorrow. He liked Titus immensely, but their identical ages and very divergent career paths and successes made them natural foils for sibling-esque banter and practical jokes. And allowing Titus to think he'd been kept so ill-informed in civilian life, that he'd missed the planning for a major manoeuvre, amused the young Longinus greatly.

"I take it you're here to say your goodbyes to us?"

 

TAG: @Sharpie @Liv @Chevi

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"Ave, quaestor, morituri te salutant," Aulus said, following the gladiators' customary words with a precise military salute as he allowed the scroll he had been looking at to roll up, neatly obscuring Titus' view of it. "Indeed, we have been preparing for a while - is it any wonder that the soldiers have begun to gamble, considering they may very well be roaming Elysium tomorrow. Of course, Jupiter willing, they may instead face the appropriate discipline offered by Augustus' legions."

A little teasing could not hurt, after all, given that all that they had actually been poring over and talking about were supply lists, which were enough to bore even the most patient of men. He held out his own goblet to be refilled as Longinus' slave moved to serve the new arrival.

He resumed his seat, a little easier than he had been sitting in affected nonchalance. He was older than the other two - an elder brother figure to them, in a way, though they were close enough in age that he did not feel that his presence would put too much of a damper on their high spirits.

He glanced at Felix, his own slave, as he refilled Aulus' winecup, remembering their escape from Rome, when Felix and Titus had first crossed paths.

 

@Chevi @Liv @Sara

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Titus took the cup the dark-haired slave offered him and thanked the man with a nod. "Oh, fuck off, Longinus. It's Londinium and you know it, don't act like you've never been." His irritation was not assuaged by the sip of wine he took. Riding a horse for nearly four days in a row and the resulting soreness in his buttocks and thighs contributed heavily to it, too.

The seed of doubt had been planted, and might even have germinated if not for one thing: as the youngest of three siblings, Titus had been witness to and/or on the receiving end of countless practical jokes and knew therefore almost all tricks in the book. His gut told him the men's claim was false, and there were signs to prove it: the unrolled scrolls, the soldiers' lack of agitation - which would be present if such epic manoeuvres were to take place so soon -, no buzz of anticipation in the air, no campaign maps or rooks covering the tables... And, maybe most important of all, he was no stranger to Longinus' sense of humour. The biggest surprise was Aulus seemingly going along with it, Titus had not expected that. But very well, three could play that game.

"Huh. It seems like you haven't heard after all. One of the reasons the proconsul sent me here today was to tell you to halt preparations for tomorrow and await further instructions. He was right to fear the courier could get sidetracked..." he smirked at the two citizens, taking another sip from his cup. 

 

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Longinus barely concealed his grin and chuckle of amusement; "It's just been so long since I've enjoyed the luxury of the capital, it slipped my mind, forgive me brother." Truth be told, he preferred the camps and the sparse villas the legates were offered on their journeys than the bustle of the new Romanised cities. He never felt comfortable in busy, crowded places smothered with buildings. 

He arched a brow as Aulus continued the ruse, and coughed to conceal a peal of laughter, instead raising a scroll to scrutinise, rather than having to look between the men. But Titus didn't answer how he hoped and he dropped the scroll with a frown. For a moment, confusion swam on his face before he released he was equally being played and a broad, mirth-filled grin split his features. "Ah, so you're the little errand boy instead!" He chuckled and relaxed back into his chair.

Gesturing to a seat opposite the table for Titus, where Aulus was already sat, he arched a brow, letting the joke die the death it deserved. "So what are you really doing here?" He glanced across at Aulus, "D'you know what this is about? It's not often we're graced with the presence of errand boys here." He snorted in amusement. His teasing was meant with jest...and a little bit to get under Titus' skin. After all, he was now in the presence of two legates and he had to be feeling a touch sore about the fact he was a quaestor. Longinus revelled in his teasing.

 

TAG: @Sharpie @Chevi @Liv

 

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"Do I know why the esteemed Titus Sulpicius Rufus is in your tent? I confess that I do not, save that it is your tent and the two of you are never far apart, Jupiter Optimus Maximus have mercy on the rest of us," Aulus said. He looked up at the new arrival. "Perhaps the aforementioned esteemed Titus Sulpicius Rufus would care to have a seat and inform us?"

Aulus had not had anyone to tease in quite a while and it came easily to him - if they were the younger brothers, he was their older, more responsible, brother. He wondered if that made Quintus Augustus their long-suffering father.

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It was rather entertaining to see confusion written all over Longinus' face, then realisation as he understood he was being tricked. A small victory, but not worth celebrating: there was business to take care of and more battles of words to be fought, no doubt.

Titus felt the blood in his veins boil at Longinus' little jab, but he willed himself to keep a cool face. His friend was clearly looking for a reaction to see if he'd struck a nerve, and in a way he was right - this sort of task that involved long journeys did make him feel like the proconsul's courier. But Titus would not give him that satisfaction, quite the opposite: he would own that title. He'd be the proudest Roman errand boy in the whole island.

"He would, thank you very much, legate Praetextatus," Titus nodded agreeably at Aulus. "It's good to know that at least one officer here still abides by Roman manners, whereas the other-" he gave Longinus the side eye, "-probably wishes he was frolicking around with the natives, covered in blue paint and partaking in human sacrifices." 

Not waiting for another invitation, Titus sat down on a folding stool and let his arms drop onto his lap, one hand holding the cup; his expression, though, was still as serious as ever. "As much as legate Longinus enjoys my company, I do wish we could have been far apart. Londinium is the backwater shithole of a capital it is, but it's still more comfortable than this tent." Neither place could said to be luxurious, but bricks and stones did a better job at providing shelter from the wind and rain than a tent, however sturdy it was purported to be.

"Anyway, your favourite errand boy is here to find out who in this camp has been fucking with the treasury. Your spoils of war aren't adding up, lads." Even the less bright of soldiers should know that messing with what was ultimately their payroll and retirement fund all-in-one was a supremely idiotic idea, but greed tended to override common sense... And at least one greedy fellow in camp had had a nice scheme going on, but they'd grown either careless or comfortable, and so the error was discovered. Newly enslaved natives seemingly dying in droves, gold and silver objects disappearing never to be found again... Something was definitely up.

Titus took another sip of his wine and looked at the two men in turn,, a cheeky smile forming on his lips. "You've been keeping records, right? Detailed ones?"

 

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He only offered a tight smirk at Titus' remark and said nothing. Gods the man was in a foul mood, but no matter, that had never stopped him from expending his boyish, childish energy at Titus' expense before. As if on cue, a drizzle of rain dripped from the ceiling of the tent and splattered an ugly splotch on the scroll on his desk. Attempting to dab it off he only arched a brow at Titus as he began to speak. He couldn't keep the slightly confused, and irritated expression from his face though which was slowly replaced by dread. Balls

He glanced at Aulus, pointedly ignoring Titus' little smile. Whilst Aulus obviously wasn't in his legion and his role as an envoy was outside the realms of Longinus' own for the most part, he still valued the mans support. "Of course I've been keeping records you dolt." He snapped but added a chuckle. 

Often his contemporaries couldn't see past the energetic, playful exterior he presented when he was comfortable. His friends, his close friends, couldn't fathom how he'd managed to climb the ladder quite as exceptionally quickly as he had. But then they didn't see how meticulous he was, or how he led his men. He hadn't been made a legate at twenty-one for no reason. But he wasn't going to give Titus the satisfaction of realising that right this second. Instead, he spread his hands across the mass of scrolls and tablets that littered the table and grinned; "Feel free to rummage errand boy, they're bound to be here somewhere." They were, of course, safely tucked away in neat rolls in a box to his left but his friend didn't need to know that. Glancing at Aulus, he arched a brow but smiled with good nature. "Maybe our good friend Aulus has been taking a liking to the British beauties and has been siphoning them off for himself...?"

 

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"Records? Of course," Aulus said, growing serious. Levity was not something that came easily to him, unlike Longinus and Titus Rufus. He could recognise a joke well enough, but could not keep it up for long when it was his turn to play one. It had led to having his leg pulled, but he was not the best person to play jokes on, either, as various people had discovered over the years.

He narrowed his eyes. "If you are joking, Titus Sulpicius Rufus, it is in poor taste. If you are serious - how many units are concerned?"

It could be poor accounting, of course - even the best mathematicians required an abacus to work out XVII plus III, after all - but if it was not, and it was more than one unit whose accounts were coming up short, that meant that there was a high-ranking personage involved and quite possibly several junior ranking people, too, which meant that the fraud (if such there was!) could run very deep indeed.

He would not dignify Longinus' comment with a reply save the raising of an eyebrow.

 

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The gods were on his side and seemingly more than happy to smite Longinus and his flimsy tent. It was very satisfactory, and as pleasant as it would have been to add to the wetness of the scroll by throwing his wine cup at Longinus' desk, Titus had had enough of their back-and-forth bantering. 

"I'm not joking. Do you honestly think I would come all the way here from Londinium at full speed just to play a practical joke on you lot? I value my time more than that, and thankfully so does the proconsul," Titus retorted with an edge to his voice, and pinched the bridge as he closed his eyes for a second and inhaled deeply. He needed to calm down. It was not Aulus' fault that Longinus was a complete arse with an uncanny gift to get on his nerves.

He'd be having a look at those records later - provided he found them -, but first he wanted to know if the two officers could have a particular suspect in mind. "Good. Make sure nobody else touches them." The rolls would be essential to finding out the extent of the fraud, and possibly even at what level it was committed. If he had to go through the whole mess scattered about the tent to find them, then so be it. 

Aulus, at least, was according the matter the seriousness it deserved, and Titus found himself thankful for the man's presence. He was sharp of mind and sensible, and might have some useful pointers.

"From what we've been able to gather, some 120 new slaves, give or take, have disappeared from your records between the last two to four months. Mentioned in the earlier records, declared dead in the newer. But that's a rather high mortality rate, don't you think? Two slaves on average dying every single day, when other camps having been losing at most a third of your numbers in the same two months. And no mention of disease that might justify this."

Titus drank a little more wine to wet his lips and throat, then resumed talking. "There's also some inconsistencies with valuables, gold and silver for the most part. But we can get into that later. For now, I'd just like to hear your thoughts on who in this camp may have a hand on this." The two officers in front of him were, of course, above suspicion, since neither needed to acquire even more wealth in such schemes; that they were also not inclined to corruption helped their case.

 

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The atmosphere had shifted and he watched Titus pinch the bridge of his nose with narrowed eyes. Whilst he far preferred levity to the stoic miserable nature of most Roman men, he knew when his subject of torments had been pushed far enough. His back straightened and his tone took on more gravitas as he jerked a thumb to the locked box to the side of his table. "They're in there. Safe and secure." He added a tight smile. 

He took a sip of the wine and frowned as Titus spoke. 120 slaves? Whilst his station meant he wasn't not always especially well versed in the minutiae of things (as it wasn't his problem, or at least...his job to know the minutiae) but 120 slaves? That he should have noticed and the muscles in his jaw tightened and worked. Gods, how had he fucked that up?

His fingers unconsciously drummed a rhythm on the table before his energy was stifled and he stood and began a little pace around the cramped confines of the tent. "Somebody with the means to make 120 slaves disappear, presumably." He snapped back and then sighed, shaking his head. "Did they make it out of the camp and then were lost, or are you suggesting somebody squirrelled away 120 men and women from under my nose?" He scoffed, irritated at the challenge to his authority. Running a hand through his hair he glanced at Aulus, asking his opinion as he rattled off a couple of names before settling on; "Appius, that centurion from the fifth cohort. You know him?" Longinus certainly did, and had never particularly rated him or his conduct.

 

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"I take it the number was accurately recorded to begin with," Aulus said dryly. If goods were going missing, the very best time for them to be siphoned off would be before anything at all was recorded - but if things were going missing afterwards, then it was someone somewhere else in the chain that was helping themselves. Unless everyone was on the take - but then there would surely be rumours and the corruption would be rife. Aulus was unaware of any such thing.

He would be going over the records of his own command with a very fine-toothed comb; the administrative staff were going to hate him - and anyone who'd ever made a mistake or caused a discrepancy was going to wish he had never been born.

"Appius..." Aulus had to think for a moment, this was not his legion. "Tall thin man, looks as if his armour's the only reason he hasn't blown away?"

How had a hundred and twenty slaves simply vanished? Slaves were not inanimate goods; they would not be as easy to hide as bullion that could be melted down (though that would require an operation in itself). The more people involved in a fraud, the more likely it would be that someone would crack and spill the secret.

"At what point in the chain did these slaves vanish from the records?" he asked, looking from one to the other. Supply lists be damned; he reached to begin clearing scrolls from Longinus' desk so that they could begin searching through the records.

 

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"I don't need to suggest anything, legate," Titus countered with gritted teeth. His grip on the wine cup was so tight that his knuckles had turned white, and had it been made of ceramic instead of metal it would have cracked into a dozen shards by now. "The facts speak for themselves." And the facts were that yes, over a hundred slaves had neatly been stricken from the records with no account of an epidemic that might explain it, and Longinus could take that as he would.

Titus let the other two discuss possible culprits as he counted to ten in his head in an effort to regain his bearings. He needed to be going into this with a clear head, or as clear as possible. If everybody was on the defensive, himself included, it would only delay getting to the bottom of things.

"For what it's worth, I've got two theories. One, your man has been successful at this sort of dealing for a while and has grown bold and careless. Two, your man has let somebody else in on the scheme and said partner is more careless." There was a third, more outlandish theory featuring blackmail and a convoluted cry for help based on the hope that such a brutal difference in numbers would be investigated, but Titus wouldn't pulling that one out of the hat unless the others led nowhere.

This Appius bloke they talked about meant nothing to him; for all Titus knew, he could have been one of the gambling quartet he'd come across. Since he had no input to give there, he rose from his seat and walked over to the box Longinus had pointed out to examine it. It appeared to be locked, but that wasn't particularly reassuring. For a skilled army blacksmith, duplicating a key would have been a simple task.

He drummed his fingers on it in a random rhythm, mentally reassembling what he knew. Aulus' question was a good one, and he had an answer to give. "Mind, this is confidential. The earliest records from four months ago were signed by two optios, a Macro and a Tiberius Calidius. Then a Pollio takes over, though he neglects to note down his rank. The newer records are signed by an Ennius, a Petronius and a Mantius, no ranks mentioned either." Going forward, Longinus might want to be a bit more strict on that, and request that they add their praenomina too for good measure.

"Any of those ring a bell? What does that lanky centurion of yours have for a cognomen?"

Titus gestured at Longinus to get his attention and then down at the box with the records. "Care to open this for me?" He had only had access to a sort of digest probably compiled by a scribe and sent over to the proconsul's office, whereas the original camp records should be much more helpful. Different handwritings,  different signatures, numbers turned into other numbers, things crossed out or pages suspiciously missing - that's where the clues were, and by Mars he would find them, even if he had to study the scrolls by candlelight until his eyelashes fell off. It could very well be the case that names had been altered - it would not be the first time a dead man miraculously managed to write his name on a document.

"By the way, have you happened to notice if any new slave traders have been following you lot about? Unfamiliar faces?"

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"Latro. Appius Marius Latro." The man was a bit of a waste of space, and he shook his head at the other names Titus had mentioned. He felt tense and agitated, which was rare for him. Whilst he and Titus were friends - their own quests for power made them sometimes butt heads, and this was evidently one of those times. The other mans demeanour made him irritated and he was glad of Aulus' mediating presence. 

He fished out the key from under a pile of scrolls that Aulus was sorting and chucked it half-heartedly at Titus; "Mind what you do with that key, we don't want you accused of meddling with the records." He arched a brow. "But no, none of those names particularly stand out - although I know Appius is good friends with Mantius Tuccius." He frowned, "That the one on the records?" His rank meant that the minutiae often passed him by as he delegated to more junior officers, but now under the judgement of Titus he felt awkward and exposed - as if he was supposed to be doing everything himself on the off chance that one of his juniors was corrupt. Like he had the bloody time. 

A thought occurred to him and he glanced to Aulus with a frown, "What was the name of that man Appius had to flog, and he couldn't stomach it?" The lanky centurion didn't seem to have a problem dishing out corporal punishment for the most part, but that particular time Longinus remembered how his face whitened and his hand shook; "This fella had been brawling, drunk." Longinus shook his head, "Over what I have no idea - but the idea of disciplining him had made the centurion paler than a toga virilis." Maybe they had been closer friends than he had thought, or business partners perhaps - a three fold scheme with that man, Appius and Mantius? Longinus felt fury and fire rise in his blood and he snapped at Titus; "I don't bloody keep track of the slavers following us, no. Us legates are generally busy with other things, Titus, I'm sure you'll understand when you become one."

 

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"Pax, both of you," Aulus said, seeing the danger signs - much more of this and he would have to pull them apart by the scruffs of their necks. "Titus isn't accusing you of doing anything, Lucius, there's no need to get so annoyed. If you don't know about it all, it's because someone's been pulling the wool over your eyes, and they've just got careless. We need to find who that person is and deal with it."

He looked across to Titus. "I suppose you'll want to look through my legion's records, too, of course?"

It was not going to be a quick process, by any means, especially if it was supposed to be kept between the few of them - unless there was a cohort of accountants and administrative types making their way here who would take over, though news of that would not be able to be kept secret for longer than it would take to draw a single breath.

"The fellow Appius flogged? I don't know all your men, I've got enough of my own - unless you mean the slave trader. The scruffy Phoenician chap - Tabnit or something?" Something utterly unRoman, anyway.

 

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Titus easily caught the key Longinus threw at him and gave the other man a look of reproach. He had nothing to gain by messing with the records, and he was not enough of a masochist to make things needlessly difficult for himself just to tease Longinus. He inserted the key into the lock and carefully turned it until a small 'click' could be heard. "Oh, have your eyes become so bad that you wouldn't be able to notice little errand boy interfering with them if he were to do so?"

He removed the key and set it aside along with his goblet before lifting the lid. The frown on his face as the contents of the box became visible was unavoidable; 'order' was apparently an optional concept in this camp, and instead of the neatly rolled-up scrolls he had expected, what greeted him was a mass of loose papyri and scrolls all tucked out of place. "Don't know, bloke didn't bother to sign with his full name so I assumed he's the only Mantius in here. But why should a simple errand boy know the name of your soldiers?" Titus drawled, knowing fully well he was riling Longinus up beyond safe levels.

Payback came swiftly enough though, and whilst the legate had flushed under his jabs, blood drained from Titus' face as he processed the well-aimed insult. It had hit with surgical precision, and it hurt. It hurt worse than any other words flung at him today, and all the more because it was the truth. He closed the lid abruptly with a loud clack and rested his trembling hands on it, fingers twitching and itching to clench into fists to sock Longinus' smug face with. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

It didn't quite work.

He whipped round suddenly with balled-up fists and murder flashing in his eyes, and it was only Aulus' calm, steady order-request that stopped him from lunging at Longinus and punching every single tooth right out of his mouth. His shoulders heaved as he tried to regain his bearings and Titus focused on breathing through his nose for a few seconds, entirely unaware that it made him resemble an aggravated bull. 

At last he felt calm enough to reply, though his voice still shook with anger. "That would be appreciated, yes," he turned to Aulus, thanking him silently with a nod. Diverting the conversation - if it could still be called one - towards a suspicious slave trader had been a smart move.

"You might have seen or heard something from your men when they go see the whores," he muttered in the guise of an explanation since Longinus was too busy fuelling most of his brain power towards being an arsehole and was not leaving enough for the few cells that actually did some work. But why would a hardened centurion be reluctant to punish another soldier? It came with the job and everybody knew that; not even friends or tent comrades were safe.

"This flogging episode, how long ago was it? And when did this Tabnit fellow show up?"

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He couldn't help the satisfied, broad grin on his face as he watched Titus stand, fists balled and evidently ready to lunge. He didn't flinch or take a step back and only arched a brow, amused that he'd managed to provoke such a reaction. If his friend wanted to come down to their muddy little camp and lord his position over the rest of them, pointing out trivial mistakes under the guise of doing work for the Proconsul, then Longinus wasn't above needling him right back. Of course, being an only child with few cousins, the man didn't quite appreciate that his behaviour was reminiscent of a twelve year old boy sparring with his brother. 

He arched a brow at Aulus as he interjected, a fraction disappointed that this hadn't escalated further (camp life could be so dull and anything to spice it up a touch would be welcome). "My men don't tell me which whores they stick their cock into, nor when they do it are they on the look out for thieves." He shrugged, but sighed, agreeing with Aulus. He didn't know the slavers name, but the description rang a bell, and now it all came together in his head; he'd seen the man Appius was flogging (Gaius something?) speaking with this Tabnit. He'd seen Appius and Mantius engaging in fervent conversations. And he'd seen Appius' hand shake as he raised the whip to flog Gaius. Evidently; Appius and Gaius had been taking the slaves, selling them to Tabnit with forged documentation and Mantius had been altering the records. He felt his jaw grit in anger. 

Just because he'd figured it out, didn't mean he'd give Titus the satisfaction of knowing who was in on it immediately, not before one more insult. Nor did it really help, given they had no idea how long the scheme had been running, nor why they had now got sloppy. With a little grin, he relaxed back into his chair - feeling pleased that he'd figured it out and that he could toy with the esteemed Titus Suplicius Rufus some more. "Sorting through the records requires you to actually open the box, Titus." He gestured to the closed wooden chest, discarded by the man in anger. 

Reluctantly, he broke his revelation; "Appius was flogging a man named Gaius...something. He was in his cohort. I saw said Gaius speak with this Tabnit, and I've seen Appius have plenty of discussion with Mantius." He shrugged, "If it's true - you'd best speak to them all."

There. Now Titus had the satisfaction of knowing Longinus had got there first, without his help.

 

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Aulus' five-year-old son could behave better than these two were right now. Any more needling and Aulus would bet an aureus to a bent quadrans that they would end up trying to thrash the living daylights out of one another.

"Gaius something... there are about five thousand men in a legion and probably half of them have the praenomen Gaius, though if this one's in Appius' cohort, that narrows it down to a few hundred or so. Let's see the records before we drag any of them in; it's always good to know how a scam's run before you have to question the perpetrators of it. And is it just the three of them or have any others been involved?"

Appius would be lucky to be broken down to legionary, and the others... Well, their punishment would be up Longinus, of course, but stealing from the treasury would not go down well at all with the proconsul.

"You two are supposed to be friends and responsible Roman leaders. Have some dignitas, both of you and stop acting like children," Aulus said, the needling getting too much. "Longinus, nobody has cast any aspersions on your leadership of your legion, and Titus, it is a bit much to find that someone's been able to pull this sort of thing under your very nose, presumably for a while."

 

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"Perfect, case closed. What a fantastic delator you are," Titus quipped sarcastically, fighting the urge to roll his eyes at Longinus and winning for the time being. "Too bad you didn't manage to solve it before my having to come here, it would have saved us all quite some time." He opened the wooden box again, contemplating how fast he would need to be in order to throw it at the legate's head without the man being able to dodge... but that would result in scrolls scattered all over the floor and the tent was messy enough as it was. 

He wanted to interject and confirm that yes, he had very much been judging Longinus' leadership skills when relating to attention to detail and no, this sort of thing hadn't been pulled under his nose for a while, only the past five days the case had been passed on to him for and of which one was spent on horseback to reach this Mars-forsaken camp, but military discipline being what it was, he said nothing and stared at the chest instead. When a superior dished out punishment, even if it was just scolding, you shut up and took it and did better next time, if there was one.

How many Gaii could there be in a cohort? Far too many, it would be like finding a needle in a haystack. But it required finding, and he wanted revenge. Bureaucratic revenge. With the most innocent of smiles he turned to the other two. "I don't know your men, can't tell one Gaius from the next. But you do, so I'm sure the proconsul would be most pleased if you could jog your memory and put name to face." Now would be the time for Longinus to do something useful and go over enrolment lists if he couldn't remember on his own. 

Titus began to pluck scrolls at random out of the chest; when both hands were full, he went over to the officers and silently invited them to take a few. They'd only be skimming them in search of the names they had narrowed down - no need to waste time going over unsuspicious records in detail. "I believe it's just the three. The secretary who originally went through these only flagged these particular months as requiring further investigation."

@Sara @Sharpie

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Longinus only offered a mock bow at Titus' sniping but decided against retorting. Aulus was right, and despite being of the same rank, the few years he had on both Longinus and Titus made him feel as if he were receiving a dressing down from somebody twice his seniority and age. 

Relieved that the tension seemed to have dissipated (a little) he resumed his seat and tried to wrack his brain about which Gaius exactly it had been. Aulus, again, had been right that there must have been hundreds in that cohort with that name. Arching a brow, he affirmed; "I'll know the name when I see it." He knew the look of him; a heavy set fellow with an ugly crop of curls and a ruddy face that had quivered at the sight of the lash. 

Arching a brow at Titus he had half a mind to jab him in the ribs with his forefinger and send the whole lot of the scrolls tumbling to the ground. Maturity got the better of him, however, and he grabbed a handful with a little grin. He couldn't help but add; "Thank you errand boy." Under his breath, and hopefully out of earshot of Aulus. Unfurling one his desk he squinted in the dim light and started to run his finger down the lists, already bored. Bureaucracy and administration were not his strong suits. Looking for a distraction, and to try and settle the mood he glanced at Titus; "And just how angry is the Proconsul, may I ask?" Whilst this slight could have happened to any legate, that it happened to him was beyond infuriating and he most certainly didn't want to be called up to answer on it. 

 

TAG: @Sharpie @Liv

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Aulus didn't even glance around, merely snapping his fingers to command the slaves' attention. "Lights," was the sole order he gave, uncharacteristically brief and sharp thanks to his annoyance at the childish squabble between his fellow officers and this mess. He didn't care who or how, but there were slaves standing around who should be making themselves useful.

"Do we need to pull these Gaii up century by century, or can we narrow it further?" he asked as the slaves jumped into action to light more lamps so they could read these records better.

"Start with the roster for Appius' own century. He's unlikely to have ended up flogging another centurion's subordinate, after all," he added, more mildly. And where did Mantius come into this?

"Be prepared to send someone trustworthy to apprehend Tabnit, before he can get away - though discreetly, there's no need to give any sign to these three that the game's up."

 

@Liv @Sara

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It looked like work was finally about to get done, in no small part thanks to Aulus and his fortunately low tolerance for petty squabbling. Titus pretended not to hear the little taunt Longinus shot at him, instead looking at the man with the same look of disapproval he gave his daughter when she dawdled on her cursive practice. When the scrolls had been more or less evenly distributed, he found a seat by an oil lamp, dropped the scrolls on his lap and picked up one, unrolling it.

"Do you know what century would that be, Longinus?" If they could narrow it down to the number of Gaii in a specific group of eighty men, that should leave them with some ten to fifteen suspects, providing the trend was followed. "Or that of Mantius Tuccius?" That should be a lot easier to find even if this scheme turned out to be a trans-cohort operation, but plucking records at random would waste precious time. The apprehending of the slave trader he'd leave to the two officers; Titus doubted the Syrian was the mastermind behind it all, but a scapegoat always came in handy.

He started to skim the scroll, keeping his eyes peeled for anything that looked like one of the names they had been discussing. "He's mostly upset that this wasn't caught before," Titus replied offhandedly, eyes moving up and down the scroll, "and that we now have to waste time getting to the bottom of this." He piously left out the part where the proconsul had make a few irate comments about being cheated of his spoils and riches, thinking it better not to besmirch the man's authority with the stain of greed in public.

"Gaius Verus... Gaius Crispus... Gaius Largennius - where does this guy come from? - ... Gaius Montanus... Any of these sound familiar?"

 

@Sara @Sharpie

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He frowned at Titus and tried to go back into the dry and dusty desert of his mind. "Fifth, maybe sixth century?" Though really it could be any of them. He didn't routinely keep track of the specific names of each and every five thousand plus soldiers under his command. He thought his Tribune might know but was loathed to bring in the youth on this, his energy was draining, even for somebody like Longinus. 

He unfurled a scroll for the fifth and frowned, going down the names, replying to Titus' question with a wave of his hand, "Mantius is a Tesserarius I think. Maybe an Optio?" Whilst obviously different positions, there were too many Mantius' for him to be certain. 

As Titus listed off the names he frowned. No. Nothing sounded familiar. He ran his finger down the lists in his own parchment before unceremoniously throwing it to the floor when nothing rung a bell. He glanced across at Aulus; "I'll send somebody after we've done this, what Gaii do you have?" He didn't even have it in him to give a smile. This was reflecting appallingly on him, no matter what the other two said, and he felt failure on himself like rain after a storm. 

 

TAG: @Sharpie @Liv

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"Gaius Cassius - no relation, probably." Aulus raised an eyebrow in Longinus' direction before returning to his list. "Gaius Herminius, Gaius Furius, Gaius Menenius, Gaius Geminus, Gaius Servilius, Gaius Veturius  - careful with those lights, there, boy!"

Longinus' slave had set down the lamp he was holding and retrieved the scroll his master had tossed aside, obviously used to clearing up after his master.

The sooner they could work out precisely who was involved in this little side hustle, the sooner they could put a stop to it and get back to their own actual business. Longinus did not look at all happy about having his two closest friends going rifling through his records. That was perfectly understandable; it did not look well on him at all that this had been allowed to happen, no matter that it had been caught quickly (Aulus thought it had, in fact, been caught exceptionally quickly; he was aware of frauds that had occurred over years before anyone caught wind of them). He was going to have to have a quiet word with his friend, if his natural buoyancy did not make a reappearance quickly, that people chanced this kind of thing all the time and he might want to put checks in place to make it harder for the next people who thought they could cream off the top.

 

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They were going nowhere fast at this rate. Between the natural, human limitations of finding all Gaii on page after page of blurry names and the fact that they didn't even know which particular Gaius they were looking for, it would be a good few hours before they collected all the information they needed. And frustrated though he was, Titus could not fault his friend for not being able to remember just who was it they wanted: five thousand men was a very tall order, even more so when Longinus probably interacted with only a fiftieth of them or so on a daily basis. 

From his half-hearted musings and Aulus' chiding of one of the slaves came what he thought was a rather decent idea. Looking up, he saw two men tasked with keeping proper lighting, but he saw also two idle pairs of eyes. Titus had the impression Felix was literate, at least from what he could remember during their shared flight to the East years prior; when it came to Longinus' slave he thought it also to be the case, though he did not know for sure. With the slaves, they wouldn't have to worry about word getting out, and competent body slaves could be trusted to retain many details that completely escaped their masters in the course of their daily business.

"What if they help us?" Titus ventured, gesturing with his chin to one slave and then the other. "That's four more eyes to go over all these," he waved the scroll he was perusing up and down as if batting away a fly with it, then tossed it carelessly to the side. No Gaii of interest in that one.

Resolving to leave that one namehunt to the others, Titus set about searching for the hopefully-less-elusive Mantius Tuccius amongst the lower-level commanders. He found the name on the second try, a smug smile appearing on his face. "Got one! Marcus Mantius Tuccius, tesserarius of the third cohort, fifth century." Now it would be up to Longinus to decide what to do: have the man apprehended right away, interrogated, or left alone until all participants in the scheme were accounted for. Titus held the scroll out to him in case the legate wanted to check for himself; crestfallen as he looked, he might just assume Titus was playing him.

@Sara @Sharpie

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