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February 75CE

The family home of Sestia's late husband's ancestors ought really to have been an antique in its own right. If someone was ever to write a book on traditional Roman interior decoration then he could honestly get away with just describing the Domus Afinii Galii. Her late husband, who had no taste in almost any of life's departments at all, had been fully content to live as his father, and his father, and his father, and so on had done. The only addition he had made was when his own death mask was placed on the wall of ancestral masks in the Atrium. 

She could, of course, have chosen to live in her father's townhouse. There, however, she couldn't make her mark. Here she really ought not to as this was, after all, her sons' birth right. Those sorts of nagging thoughts she pushed to the back of her mind. So, since returning to Rome several weeks ago she had, with lightning fastness, already commenced large scale works of renovation on the place. Farewell dark, drab colours and turgid, boring traditional scenes of wildlife, hunting and portraits of famous, long-dead family dogs. In their place was going to be a tasteful yet breathtaking riot of colour and murals with sensual beauty. The old Domus was a place for introspection and dull sealing off of life. The new, reborn Domus was - in Sestia's mind - to be one of the capital's pulsating social salons. 

As she walked along the colonnades of the peristyle garden, one of the few areas which had actually been completed, she mused about all that would surely happen here one day. She stopped and looked out over the open square garden in the middle. Rows of plants had expertly been laid out in geometric matters, smallest ones towards the front, with larger types further back. The cross-shaped central walkways were covered by a network of trellises along which ivies and creeping plants would one day form a natural canopy. A fountain of modest size stood in the middle. Its waters ran from the central basin along two channels built into the walkways and which ended up feeding into two pools at either end, in the centre of each stood tasteful yet titillating statutes of a naked boxer on one side, and a bathing nymph on the other. Sestia smiled to imagine the look her horrified late husband would have given these 'degenerate' pieces.

Decoration was, however, only one aspect of the new direction in her life. If she wanted to hurl herself back into the cliquey, bitchy, scandalous world of senatorial society she had to find the right sponsors to help her gain entry into the right events. She had had her fill of the tediously dull salons of boring matrons who the Deified Livia would have loved with all their home-made weaving and lack of independent thought. Livia may have lived long and powerfully but did a woman really want to be remembered as a harpy? The lives of Fulvia and Clodia burnt shorter but with such bright flames their names were still spoken of with excitement and celebrity even today.

It was with this in mind that she had sent, several days ago, a polite note to an old friend, Valeria Flacca, to invite her for a visit - a catch up, all very proper...

She hoped Valeria was still the Valeria she remembered. Years, however, stood between the memory and now and so much can change in such a time. She remembered her from her youth, when Sestia had still lived cowering under the paternal pressure of her grim father and had been forced to live a sequestered, quiet and repressed life. Valeria had, in her eyes anyway, seemed possessed with a fiery spirit full of dun, independence and vigor, just like the great celebrity women of the Late Republic. She too had had the difficulties of a traditionalist family but, even then, had seemed to live in such a different way to Sestia in the same circumstances. She stopped abruptly in her aimless walking. She had been so busy wondering what she would make of Valeria after all these years that she had not once thought how Valeria might see her?

She was not given much time to dwell on this reflection. One of the house slaves appeared, gave a bow and said, in a quiet, Germanic voice: "Domina, the Lady Valeria Flacca has arrived."

Sestia nodded. A table and chairs were already placed nearby. 

"Show her through," she said curtly.


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