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May, 67 AD

It was unusual that a visit to one of Juno's many temples would elicit such enthusiasm within a not-particularly-devoted Livia, but to her it was one of many steps in preparing for the grand event next month. When June rolled to an end and was replaced by stifling July, she would be a married woman. To the man of her dreams, and not some bald, gouty old fart older than pater. Unable to keep the excitement to herself, Livia giggled out loud and only just barely managed to keep herself from clapping in delight.

As she walked alongside Horatia in direction of the temple, their body slaves following respectfully behind, Livia could feel her sister's eyes on her. It was always so hard to tell with Horatia, but she hoped her sister was less disapproving of her choice of husband than their father - ideally, she wouldn't disapprove at all. But why should they? Gnaeus was so dashing and handsome and strong and brave, and his family was old as bones, and to think he wanted to take her as his wife! After all that had transpired in the last few years, at last the gods smiled upon her.

Stopping impulsively in her tracks, Livia turned to Horatia and took her sister's hands in hers with a grin. "You will dress me, won't you, Horatia? In mother's stead?" Never mind that one of the slaves would probably do a better job of it; she wanted to share that moment with her sister.

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Horatia walked next to her sister, her arms neatly folded over her waist although every few minutes she adjusted the folds of her stola from her belt. The sun was out but mercifully Rome was quieter than her lost foray out and the two walked together un-accosted. Hearing her sister giggle, Horatia arched a brow and glanced down at her but said nothing - trying to keep a little respectability. It was not that she wasn't excited for her sister - a wedding was truly something to be celebrated, and she loved Livia dearly, but the excitement was a little...much. Horatia had gone into her own marriage with a mixture of anxiety but openness, none of the girlish giggling little Livia had. Then again, they were two very different women.

"Of course I will." She smiled genuinely and inclined her head although blinked at the blind stop that had almost made them collide with a pleb walking the other way. She gave Livia's hands an encouraging squeeze before removing them from her grip to readjust her palla which had fallen a little. Horatia tried not to feel the little seed of bitterness that she had, had nobody but the slaves to dress her for her own wedding given it had happened in such haste in Greece, and tried to relax her face. This was a day for Livia, not herself, she chided herself.

"Have you put much thought into what you'll wear? Or who will make your dress?" She arched a brow. Such things were undoubtedly beyond their fathers wheelhouse and even though she no longer resided in her fathers domus, she wanted to support as much as she could. "We could go to the markets after if you'd like, to see what they have? Although I can't be too long - Calpurnia was already disappointed enough that she couldn't tag along to the temple." A sly smile lit her face as they climbed the steps into the cool enclave. Her little four year old daughter was particularly clingy at the moment and Horatia did not enjoy seeing her tears at her leaving this morning.

 

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Livia beamed with pleasure at Horatia's reply, choosing to ignore what she perceived as a lack of keenness and instead ascribing it to 'typical Horatia'. She very much doubted her sister would ever give herself wholly and entirely to something, even in the middle of a passionate tryst - not that she ever imagined such things! And if she did, Horatia was nowhere in the picture. Gnaeus and herself, on the other hand... Giggling again, she let Horatia's hands escape from her grip, already half-lost again in her own little world.

The questions had her tilting her head and coquettishly biting her lower lip as if deep in thought. In actuality, Livia had already asked herself the same a few times, but had not yet made a decision. What if she saw a prettier dress later and had to go back on her word and undo the deal with the seamstress? Pater would not be too pleased with that, especially considering he was the one forking out the necessary coin. "I like Metrodora's designs, but do you think they're too Athenian? There are no Greeks in our family that I could pretend to pay homage to so I could get away with it." Were there any among the Hortensii-Clari? None that she knew of, though it wasn't her job yet to be intricately familiar with all of her future husband's ancestors.

She fell in step with Horatia as they climbed up, instinctively lowering her voice to a whisper but not so respectful of the goddess that she would stop talking. There was so much still to discuss! "Axiothea of Alexandria makes the most marvellous silk dresses, too," she continued in hushed tones, giving a fake apologetic smile at an older woman who turned her head and frowned at them. The mention of her niece soured her giddy mood slightly - the ruddy little thing could stand to learn not being the centre of attention for one bloody morning. "Oh, she's got her nurse, she doesn't need you all the time," Livia waved dismissively as they reached the entrance. In an afterthought meant to appease Horatia, she added, "Though you could get her something from the markets! A nice brooch or something." What did four-year-olds even like? Sweets and dollies, she figured.

Soon they were facing an imposing statue of Juno, and Livia finally piped down and busied herself praying and promising diverse sacrifices if all turned out well. After what she felt was an acceptable amount of time, she stole a glance at Horatia out of the corner of her eye to see if her sister was also done paying her respects. Then they could move on to the markets!

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"Axiothea of Alexandria would dress you well, you'd look beautiful." She demurred very quietly with an inclination of her head - in her very measured, reserved, Horatia way. That was about all the enthusiasm she was likely to show for an idea - she was schooled from an early age that anything more than that would be overkill, unless the situation absolutely necessitated it. She smiled gently at the woman who had turned to glower, in apology, and did not say anything more besides a very quiet; "You will understand the fickleness of daughters soon enough I'm sure." Although inside she felt a usual bubble of frustration that she often had whenever she was with Livia. 

Relieved that the imposing statue of Juno offered her some respite from discussing wedding dresses and the like. She took to her knees and began the formulaic recitation of her prayers. She took her time, muttering under her breath although audible enough for Juno to hear. She could feel Livia glance at her although she only cracked enough to see her eyes shift in her direction. She ignored her sister as best she could and after another few minutes, finally finished. "We should light some incense." She concluded with a whisper to her sister and then stood, walking to the smaller altar. After paying to light a stick of incense, satisfied that the proper rights had been observed, she made to leave.

When they were out on the steps, able to speak freely again she smiled at her sister. "It was a good idea to come here. So...the markets? Or we could go to the temple for Bona Dea on the Aventine? Marriage is not just fun, we could go and ask for it to be fruitful as well." She arched a well shaped eyebrow at her sister but likely knew the answer for her sisters preference before she even opened her mouth.

 

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Was it really necessary to light incense when they had places to go and things to do? Livia's impatience disagreed, but she imitated her sister in lighting a stick in exchange for a donation nonetheless. The goddess might have been offended otherwise, and now more than ever it was her favour Livia wanted, not her spite. The stick caught on fire immediately - a good omen? - and released a fragrant aroma. Horatia seemed to be satisfied now, and Livia followed her in exiting the temple.

Outside the air carried entirely different types of smells, but like most Romans both high and low-born, Livia barely noticed them anymore. She beamed at Horatia and pressed her palms together, lightly drumming her fingertips against each other. "She would, wouldn't she?" she agreed dreamily, picturing herself in one of Axiothea's custom gowns. The Egyptian seamstress could make even Medusa look as lovely as Helen of Troy from the shoulders down. "But do you think pater will allow it? It is a lot of silk... and a lot of money," she concluded, voice dipping at the end. Their father wasn't a stingy man, but since he already had his doubts about the groom, he might not be so willing to go all-out.

Really, there shouldn't have been any need for Horatia to ask. They had just come out of a temple, no need to immediately hide themselves inside another one. But Livia would pretend to approach the question from the pondered angle Horatia herself preferred. "Well, if we go to the markets later in the day, most vendors will have done their business and all that will be left for us to look at is a small selection of low-quality pieces, whereas if we go now, they'll still have most of their wares available for sale." She flashed what she hoped was an innocent smile at her sister. "And the Bona Dea is so kind, she won't be upset if we visit her house in a couple of hours instead of now!" 

Livia deliberated failed to remark that she had her reservations about any marriage, present or future, of her sister's being 'fun'. Why, she probably spun wool or read silently all the time. It would be different with she and Gnaeus: they would visit gardens and temples together, and hold parties with music and pantomimes, and go to the races, and have fun! And in the moments in between, they would make babies. Feeling her cheeks grow hot as they went down the steps, Livia attempted a distraction manoeuvre by directing the conversation towards Horatia. 

"Speaking of fruitful, are you and Aulus done? Or is that part of your own wish to the goddess?"

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"Well," She shrugged upright shoulders and considered the question. She knew her father was no great fan of Gnaeus, but he could begrudge his daughter nothing. Or, rather, he could begrudge Livia nothing. Her own relationship with him given her five years on her younger sister - was less indulgent. "You could always suggest he take the money to pay for it out of your dowry? If Gnaeus is as bewitched by you as you say, then I'm sure he wouldn't mind?" Unless he was more interested in the gold that accompanied his bride than the bride herself, of course, but that bit went unsaid out of politeness. She knew she'd have to find something to wear herself, but she wasn't particularly fussy - and besides, she chided herself in reminder - this was to be Livia's day, not her own. There was no need to dress up like a strumpet when nobody would be looking at her anyway.

She acknowledged her sisters decision with a wry smile and a nod of approval. She saw right through the attempts to deliberate, but no matter. She was not the one offending a goddess to go off and sort through trifles and trinkets in the markets. She gestured to the two body slaves who lingered further down the steps to fetch the litter, set down a few hundred yards away but almost stropped in her tracks at Livia's flippant comment. 

Fortunately, Horatia was one of the most composed women in Rome and managed to hold together her surprise and irritation. "That is not for me to decide, sister." She retorted although her words were a touch stern, and she arched a brow down at her shorter sibling; "And besides, my husband has been away for five years as well you know, it is difficult  to..." She glanced around to ensure nobody overheard their conversation - given how inappropriate she saw it - "Conceive with an absent husband. Not that I expect you to understand, of course." She arched a brow at her sister and as the litter pulled up, instructed the bearers of their destination and got in first. When she was settled in the she tried to keep her words measured although the displeasure of discussing such things with her little sister was lurking just beneath; "You were so young when Mater died, I expect she didn't tell you and you..." She swallowed, "Don't really know how it all...works, little one?" She arched a brow - half in challenge. If Livia wished to make her feel awkward then she would do it right back, even down to the little nickname she had for her younger sibling when they were girls. She chided herself internally for her weakness and pettiness but could not stop herself!

 

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Horatia's suggestion was not that outlandish to Livia's immature mind. She didn't quite know what exactly comprised her dowry or how much it was worth, but since she wanted her wedding day to be absolutely perfect, her future self couldn't possibly object to her present self using a little bit of said dowry to make things truly unforgettable. And then the silk could always be dyed and the dress recut into something more appropriate for a married woman, if Livia needed to come across as sensible. "That's a good idea, actually." Horatia was always so practical. Too practical, sometimes, but now she was probably too old to change.  

She fought the urge to roll her eyes, and instead pressed her lips as she stared at the floor, waiting for Horatia to finish her little tirade. "Nobody said anything about your husband being absent, that's your own doing," Livia retorted cattily. "I obviously meant when he returns! Else I wouldn't even have bothered mentioning him." Did her sister really think so lowly of her?! Horatia was not the type to be cavorting with other men whether free or enslaved, anyone who knew her would know that. But the way her sister had jumped so quickly to accusations hurt Livia - and since she was so very unused to the role of being the bigger person, she did what she was familiar with and instead doubled down. "How much longer is he going to be away, anyway...?" she muttered, looking away.

Though she kept silent for the few seconds it took her to get into the litter and settle into the cushions, Livia resumed their discussion as soon as the bearers started moving. "I know as much as a woman of my status and condition is expected to." The reply could be construed as diplomatic, but it was more of an attempt at verbal huffing. Of course she knew how it worked - well, the very basics. There were mosaics and decorated vases and murals everywhere detailing how the required parts should be joined. Whether there was anything more that was required in order to have children, besides the will of the gods - that was beyond Livia's current level of knowledge.

The mention of their mother's early demise made Livia shrink back into the cushions, but no phantom shrieks played in her head this time; she'd grown much better at blocking them out in time. The momentary discomfort was shoved aside by youthful provocation, and Livia arched a brow at Horatia while her eyes issued her sister a small challenge. "Were you looking to teach me in her place?"

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Horatia fought the urge - and won - to roll her eyes, and instead glanced dispassionately at her sister. She didn't know whether she was asking out of spite or to make amends, but she knew it was most definitely not out of genuine curiosity. "The end of the year, the Gods willing - or early next." Six months, perhaps eight, still felt like an age but it was nothing compared to the fifty-five plus months she'd spent without him thus far. She felt a lurch of nerves in her stomach at the prospect of her husband coming home; they'd only been married eighteen months before he'd had to flee and things had changed significantly in that time. She was not about to let her sister know it though, not with her feelings on the matter as evident as they were now. She envied the siblings she saw that had that closeness she and Livia lacked. Perhaps it was their age - five, almost six years between them was a chasm, and their diverse life experiences thus far. She'd throw herself from the Tarp for her sister if she needed to, of course, but that didn't mean she wasn't easily riled by her. 

She studied her sisters face as the litter started moving at her clever little retort, and her question. Horatia now could now could not suppress the roll of her eyes, but there was a genial smile on her face. "I'm not going to give you lessons, no." She retorted when she finally drew bright blue eyes back to Livia's reclined form, "But I don't want you to go into your wedding night naive either. It," She hesitated and then shrugged her shoulders as she reclined  back - although even here she still took care to make sure the folds of her stola were perfect and her hair was perfectly in place - "Might not be what you are expecting the first time, it might hurt a little - even with lovely Gnaeus." That was all she was going to say on the matter; she wasn't going to force Livia to discuss something she might be averse to, but even in her irritation at her sisters flippancy, she still cared enough to try and help.

The litter bearers lurched to avoid a cart and Horatia braced herself against the wooden frame, tutting to herself. Trying to divert the conversation as was her way, and make peace - catty sparring was not her favourite pastime - she enquired gently; "He seems like a good man though, I am happy for you. And just think, you will have a whole new wardrobe to plan once you're allowed to wear a stola once you're married." Even if the garment was ostensibly a bit...dowdier than the tunica's that an unmarried woman wore, she knew she had enjoyed planning her new outfits after her wedding. 

 

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Poor Horatia was like Penelope, always waiting for her husband to return and unwavering in her faith that he would. Livia hoped Aulus had the decency of coming back before twenty years had passed. "Well, hope it's sooner rather than later," she sighed - for Horatia and the kids' sake, of course. The man had no direct influence in Livia's life and she doubted she would recognise him if he were to pass them by in the streets, but being married couldn't be fun when the husband was away for so long. If Gnaeus also had to travel, then Livia wanted to go with him!

It was much more embarrassing to be getting that sort of advice from Horatia than she had accounted for, and her red-hot flaming cheeks were proof of that. Still, curiosity won over shame for a few moments, and though she raised a hand to hide part of her face behind it, Livia kept her ears open. "It can't be that bad, right? Otherwise there wouldn't be prostitutes or brothels..." Her words came out muffled thanks to the hand blocking them. "But does it hurt more if you don't like them?" Now Livia was slightly confused, and it showed in her tone. She didn't see how attraction played any role in the whole process, but maybe that was a secret only matrons had access to. She hoped she would find out in time.

Livia was jostled at the litter swerved and held out both arms to steady herself, but the cushions did their job and prevented any accidental bumps into the hard wood. Had one of the bearers stumbled or what? "You think so too?" Livia propped her upper body on her elbow, tucking her hand under her chin. She gave her sister a warm grin. "I hope he is, that it's not all an act to get the girl like in plays." She didn't feel it was, but as everyone seemed to be so keen on pointing out in more or less roundabout ways, she was just an innocent young woman with nary an ounce of worldliness in her. 

"Oh, yes, there's that as well. I'll be counting on your help!" Between Horatia and her future mother-in-law, that was plenty of rolemodels. "We could sew together, like when I was little." It wasn't her favourite pastime, but she was good enough at it; plus it left the mouth free for chatting and was well-accepted by all. Such an innocent picture, two sisters spinning and sewing together in the domus of one of them, the youngest listening dutifully to the eldest's advice. "Let's stock up on sequins and pearls and beads now at the market!"

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"It's never bad for men - hence all that unsavouriness, from what I understand." Which was - admittedly - not a great deal given she'd only ever been with Aulus and she'd fallen pregnant within a handful of months of their wedding, and then again when Titus was only a few months old. Still - sensing her sisters embarrassment but intrigue, she intoned gently; "And yes, it's better if you like them. And it does get better and more enjoyable, I promise." She briefly thought back to her own wedding night, when her nerves had been almost paralysing. It had certainly improved since then, however. This was gut wrenchingly awkward - even for her. She had always been an exceptionally private person and discussing sex in such frank terms was bound to be disquieting - even if she had brought it up in the first place. She wanted to add that if Gnaeus was cruel, or unkind in bed, then that was not normal - at least from what she'd understood - but she didn't wish to frighten Livia and trusted that her younger sibling would tell her if things were going south in her marriage. 

She grinned and nodded, trying to be supportive; "I think so. I see the way he looks at you - as if you could see love hearts in his eyes." She chuckled and arched a brow, "And you know Pater would have turned him away if he even suspected he was duping you." Although she stayed quiet on the fact she knew her father did not like Gnaeus one iota. How lucky to be Livia, she thought, and be able to bend their fathers ear. She briefly thought back to her own failed engagement. It had not been so easy to convince her father then. 

Horatia laughed, grinning; "Very well but you will have to explain to Pater just where all this money has gone when the merchants start knocking on the door." She arched a brow and frowned again as the litter lurched once more. If she was a less respectable woman she would have pulled back the curtain to chastise the bearers herself. As it was, she just seethed silently, frowning a little. She adjusted a loose wisp of hair that had fallen askew from her intricate up-do and glanced back at Livia who for once, seemed to be deep in thought. "What are you musing so hard over?" She asked.

 

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So Horatia did know a lot more than she let on, according to Livia's suspicions. Whether she found it too embarrassing to discuss the topic or wanted to curate the information Livia received was anybody's guess, but her older sister being the way she was, it was far more likely to be the first option. All the reading between the lines Horatia was forcing her to do was starting to give her a headache. "So it's bad at first, might even hurt," she listed off, counting off the fingers in her free hand, "but gets better eventually, and especially if you like them. But for men it's never bad. Hm," Livia snorted in amusement. "It almost sounds like some kind of odd sport." 

Her sister's mention of love hearts sent Livia into a fit of genuine, belly-deep guffawing. "Or one of Cupid's arrows sticking out from between his ribs," she joked between breathless laughs. She rubbed her aching stomach, shoulders still shaking, and nodded appreciatively at Horatia. "I'm glad he didn't," she said with sincerity, implicitly acknowledging that Gnaeus was not exactly who their father had had in mind for his youngest daughter's husband.

The seemingly harmless comment that followed raised slight alarm in Livia, and her expression gradually grew more solemn. She went over it in silence and reviewed the whole outing in her mind's eye, wondering if it was just a series of coincidences or if there truly was something to it. She was about to open her mouth to speak when the litter was jolted again, this time with more force, and a second later she tasted metal. With the sudden movement of the litter her teeth had cut into her lower lip, and Livia grimaced at the sensation of blood blooming from it. Before it had a chance to stop on its own, she wiped it away with the back of her hand, which was in turned wiped off on a bit of curtain fabric.

As soon as the litter resumed its usual pace, shot back the question that had been plaguing her for the last few minutes. "Are we... are we hard up?" She was the picture of seriousness now, green eyes focusing intently on Horatia. "You know pater would never tell me, and definitely not with what's happening. But you've mentioned money a few times today." Livia narrowed her eyes as if she was trying to see something very far away. "Do you know something I don't?"

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Horatia - usually a woman of utter restraint, who composed every word she said with delicacy, who measured even the glances she gave - was suddenly rendered utterly amused. She couldn't help the wide grin that split on her face, nor her giggle - a most un-Horatia sound! She was rendered so dumb by Livia's comment that she couldn't even comment on the blood that smeared the curtains, besides from noting in her head that she'd tell Father and the litter bearers would be disciplined. Instead, she chuckled as her giggles subsided and shook her head, the beaming smile still on her face; "No...no we're not hard up." 

She waved a hand, "You know Pater wouldn't tell me either," Especially given his often obvious disregard for his firstborn daughter, "It was only that even a man as wealthy as Father won't want to fritter away his hard won gold on silks and dresses you'll wear once and then shove to the bottom of a box in storage." She didn't mean to sound cruel, but it came off as such. Perhaps her jealousy that Livia was to have the big wedding she never had in Greece, was showing now? She tried to steer the conversation to safer pastures. 

"What are your mother and father in law like?" She asked, trying to distract Livia back to happier topics. She was blessed, she felt, with Tiberius and Aurelia has her in-laws, even if their presence was somewhat overbearing. Living in another families house had come as a shock to her when she returned from Greece, but she had gotten used to it and they'd fallen into a comfortable dynamic as the years had rolled on without Aulus. Face now back to composed neutrality, she arched a brow; "Are you excited to live with them?" 

 

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Livia furrowed her brow in displeasure as Horatia's giggling reached her ears. What was so funny about her question? She was worried! Worried not only that she may not get the wedding of her dreams, but that everybody else think her a silly woman precisely because of that - that she would be dreaming about pure silk dresses whilst the pantry grew emptier each day. And then Horatia, who was as regal as all those statues of the divine Livia Augusta, had the gall to grin and laugh! 

She crossed her arms and glared at her sister, unconvinced by Horatia's words. "I thought he might have, since it doesn't concern you directly," Livia argued, fully aware of how childish it was to bicker with Horatia like this but feeling vindicated in her right to do so. "And it's not like I'd wear them only once, I'd have them adjusted to something more common!" She was perfectly aware it was important to show some frugality, even if it was all just to fit into the mould, and she didn't want to embarrass Gnaeus or his parents, who, for all of their old and respectable pedigree, simply weren't quite as wealthy as Marcus Horatius Justinus.

Sulking like her niece would, Livia let a minute pass by before deeming to reply to Horatia, pointedly making a show of pretending to look outside of the lectica. When she finally answered, it was in a cool, somewhat distant tone. "They appear nice enough. His father seems to be the quiet type, his mother - well, stepmother, actually, but she raised him - is more energetic. Gnaeus says they all get along well." The two brief times she had met them, Livia hadn't sensed any bad blood or thinly-veiled resentment from any of them, although she had wondered if her future mother-in-law was eager to please or if the woman was just in high spirits all the time.

The last question didn't have as clear-cut an answer as she would have liked. "I'm not sure yet," Livia admitted, toning down her petulance as she fixed her eyes on Horatia's composed face. "I'll be the intruder, won't I? And as nice as they may be, I'm sure there's things we'll do differently, and they might think badly of me for that." It was not so much starting your own family as it was joining an existent one and finding your role and place in it. She leant forward with an apologetic look. "Was it hard for you, going to live with yours?"

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Horatia did not let Livia's sourness dampen her buoyed mood. She continued to grin, although before it long it settled into her usual gentle smile and perceptive gaze as she listened to Livia speak of her in-laws. "That's good." She intoned as her sister finished. There were worse things to deal with than an energetic mother in law, after all, and sweet Gnaeus seemed to wish to walk to the ends of the earth for his bride so Horatia felt confident things would work out for the best.

Her sisters question caught her off guard, however, and she arched a brow - uncharacteristically stuttering for a moment before she regained her composure. She had never really spoken of what had happened after the riots with her sister. Livia was of a gentle nature, she enjoyed the good times and the naivety youth brought and Horatia had never wished to sour that with stories of what she'd endured. Still, she was asking now and it was only fair that she was honest, wasn't it?

"I didn't meet them until during the Civil War." She clarified and swallowed, her cheeks turning a little pink, "Aulus and I married so quickly in Greece that they couldn't come and then we were only in Rome for ten or so months before he fled, and Tiberius was unwell in Baiae." She coughed and then shrugged, "So when I turned up with Titus after walking there they didn't believe I was their daughter in law and wouldn't let me in the house." She was not going to tell her sister that she ended up bribing a slave to let her in their entrance so she could confront her father in law and plop little baby Titus down on his lap. "But it got better...to tell you the truth it's been...good, easy. They're good people." Not to mention that Horatia was so rigorous in her beliefs that it was her duty to live in her husbands house with her in-laws that she could have monsters for in-laws and she still wouldn't have complained, "It's..." She hesitated, "Difficult to imagine Aulus coming back sometimes and fitting in with the dynamic we have now." That was the most honest she'd been about her fears, ever, to anybody. It surprised even herself that she should be so honest with her little sister and she swallowed, shaking her head; "But you'll have it better than me, if Gnaeus has no plans to leave Rome." She offered by way of consolation. 

 

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She had never really heard the full story of what had transpired between Horatia's marriage in Greece and all the troubles that followed, so she stayed respectfully and curiously silent as her sister told her what had transpired. Livia had heard bits and pieces, but at the same time had never been too interested in having the blanks filled or figuring out how it all fit in with her own harrowing experience.

Hearing Horatia talk about it so naturally, almost nonchalantly in spite of the sudden colour to her cheeks, and the awareness that there was much that went unspoken in between words, filled Livia with newfound humility. It could not have been easy at first, not when Horatia had not even had the chance to meet her in-laws prior to marrying Aulus, but Horatia had taken it in her stride, as she seemed to do with all things, like the perfect matron she was. For a split second, Livia was glad that Gnaeus' parents had not met her sister yet; she wasn't sure she would be able to live up to their expectations anymore afterwards.

"Thank you... for telling me." She grinned at Horatia, all previous slights momentarily forgotten. "They may be good people, but they're lucky to have you." Livia too could offer consolation, when she was in the mood - which came and went faster than the wind changed direction. "But he writes to you, I hope? And sends presents for the children?" It was more or less what Livia remembered from her own childhood, during the times their father was away in camp. She had never found it hard to reconcile his presence and absences with their family dynamics, but for Titus and Calpurnia it was different; Marcus Horatius Justinus had never been away for four or five years at a time.

If. An if that Livia was fairly certain would not be the case. Any man who wanted to be someone was bound to leave the capital sooner or later, looking to fashion his own glory somehow. She braced herself for it already, so that she would be prepared when the time came. And if Gnaeus had to go and leave her behind, she hoped he would at least leave her with a child to make heavy days lighter. Livia merely smiled with resignation at Horatia and shrugged, showing she didn't think it would turn out the way her sister was suggesting.

The litter bearers slowed their pace and the sounds of the market grew closer as vendors cried their wares' strong points and buyers struggled to make themselves heard above the cacophony. It was chaotic as always, but that was precisely what made it so exciting. Livia's eyes lit up and she took Horatia's hands in hers, shaking them up and down animatedly. "We're here!"

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Horatia flushed a little at her sisters compliment but shrugged, saying nothing more. She was not a woman who enjoyed attention or to speak great volumes about herself, and so revealing the little sections of truth she had made her uncomfortable. She tried to brush it off but was interrupted by her sister's squealing and grip on her hands. She grinned, chuckling to herself. She thought - although Gods above would never say - how much her sister still had to grow up. Marriage would do that to her, Horatia was sure, surely her little sister couldn't remain so...naive and excitable forever? She ignored the part of her that felt deeply jealous, however, that her sister was so animated; she'd always been thought of as austere and reserved by comparison. 

She adjusted her palla to cover her hair - its bright red hue a siren song for mischief and hassle from men - and stepped out of the litter. Her senses were immediately assaulted by the sounds, sights and smells of the market and she blinked to get used to it. 

Glancing across at Livia - who seemed not to share her sisters reservations about being out and about in great crowds - she asked tentatively; "Where to? This is your trip, after all." Horatia rarely spent time in the markets and even less time buying things for herself. It seemed frivolous to waste great sums of money on trinkets and the like; although she did have a petty weakness for intricate gold jewellery. Her money purse felt heavy on her belt. 

 

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Livia wasted no time in following suit and exiting the litter, eyes widening in joy at all the wares and haggling that awaited them. Her dark blonde or light brown hair - depending on whom you asked - wasn't nearly as fetching as Horatia's, but decency dictated it too should be covered, and so she draped the light green garment over her head. She was intent on getting her fill of bright and airy colours while she still could, after all, for respectable married women were expected to be more demure in their choice of patterns and dyes. Again, Horatia embodied the stereotype very well.

Had she been on her own, Livia would have made a beeline for the jewellers, but with Horatia in tow it would reflect kindly upon her to show some thoughtfulness. "Since we're here, why don't you get something for Calpurnia first?" She did not go as far as to suggest what, as it was well beyond her current capabilities. Young children might as well be a foreign race to her, as odd as her body slave's Jewish brethren. Should she mention her nephew as well? Marcus Horatius Justinus had usually brought gifts for all his children in their younger years, barring special occasions like birthdays, so Livia figured Horatia would probably want to get something for her son too. "And maybe for Titus too?"

Before Horatia could overthink the situation and turn back so as not to spend money unnecessarily, Livia took her by the wrist and gently but firmly dragged her sister closer to the stalls.

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She narrowed her pale blue eyes on her sister. Never usually one to put her own interests second, her suggestion for Calpurnia and then Titus surprised Horatia. She tried, however, to shake off her suspicion and just see it as a genuinely thoughtful gesture and smiled a little. The hand on her wrist surprised her though and she rolled her eyes in protest as she was led to a handful of stalls. She flicked her pale gaze over the wares disapprovingly. Her little daughter, four years old now, was particularly fond of beads and the like but still being small - Horatia considered them a choking hazard. There were a set, however, of little silken purses and she paused to look at them. 

"What do you think?" She asked and handed them to Livia. They were a set of five, all different colours; yellow, blue, green, red and mauve about the size of a woman's palm. "She has a habit of collecting little things she finds; flowers, gems, my cosmetics," Horatia rolled her eyes, "She might like somewhere to store them." She smiled to herself, pleased with the idea. "And Titus doesn't need anything, Publius has been a doting Uncle as ever and bought him a mini puglio two days ago. Calpurnia cried and cried when she didn't get anything." Bless her. Her daughter needed to learn sooner or later, however, that as a girl she'd always be second best. 

Satisfied, she paid the shopkeeper after a little bit of haggling and handed the pouches to her slave behind her for safekeeping. She turned, feeling warmer towards her sister and smiled. "And for you? Were you thinking of something for the wedding or for now?" She knew some women went to outlandish preparations for their weddings and sincerely hoped Livia had the sense not to invite her sister shopping for silk subligaculum's for her wedding night...

 

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Livia knew the look on Horatia's face very well; she and Lucius had been on the receiving end of it more times than she cared to remember throughout their childhoods. It was the classic 'I-think-you-aren't-telling-me-the-whole-truth' Horatia look. This time round, though, Livia had perfected the 'I-can't-believe-you-would-think-such-a-thing-of-me' expression herself and put it on at once, hopefully managing to seem perfectly innocent under her sister's scrutiny. 

She weighed the small purses in her hand, noticing how soft they felt. Cute little colourful purses, utterly boring, utterly safe. No sharp edges, no wood that might splinter off, no rough fabric that might irritate a child's skin... Livia fought the urge to sigh and instead looked up at Horatia and gave an approving smile. "I'm sure she would love these. Has she started getting at your jewellery yet? Then you'll know where to look." If Calpurnia took to the pouches, then whatever she took might find its way there. "Why don't you fill one or two of them with sweet-smelling herbs like lavender? She might like that too." Livia couldn't care less what her niece would or wouldn't like, but keeping up pretences was a necessary art, even with family.

It was her turn to narrow her eyes, intrigued that Horatia was done with her shopping. There was being frugal and there was being a bore! Unless she was saving her coin for the nicer stalls further ahead, which in that case Livia would approve of. "Actually, I haven't decided. I suppose both?" She wasn't quite sure what to buy, other than the embroidery articles she'd had in mind. "I do need to stock up on beads, I'm all out of blue and orange ones..." Livia fiddled with her fingers as she made a mental tally of other things she needed, until she was struck by a sudden thought.

With a wide grin, she looked up at Horatia. "Is there anything a new bride should be buying? Some secret item passed down from mother to daughter?"

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Horatia smiled at her sister and nodded, "We'll go to the herb stalls on our way home." The stalls were laid out in what could only be considered a maze but she remembered they were on the far side and it would be easier to pick up the litter from there then try and battle through to the centre of the market. "And no, fortunately not. The day she starts running around with all of my gold is the day I lock it on a shelf higher than her head." She grinned, amused to think of her daughter bedecked in fine, intricate bracelets and necklaces. It was Horatia's one proper vice, that and books. She never frittered money away on clothing unnecessarily - any expensive cloth purchases were reserved for when the occasion called for it - but a beautiful, intricately woven bangle? That was her weakness!

Livia's question startled her though and she blinked. A blush came to her cheeks and she smiled gently, reading the intention behind the question. "I'm probably not the woman to ask if there was, Mama wasn't at mine, remember." It had all happened in such a rush, only Publius and her father had been there on the day. Hardly the large family send off such an occasion warranted. 

She considered the question though as they walked slowly through the crowds, eyeing stalls as they went. "Some perfume, rosewater, maybe? So that the smell will always remind him of you." She was not an overtly sentimental person - at least not usually - but her ability to think critically and deeply about almost everything she said and did made her the ideal person to answer a question such as Livia's. "I wear rosewater though...you might suit violets? Or," She narrowed her eyes and considered her sister, "Something lighter, like mint and irises?" She smiled and took her sisters hand - an overly familiar thing for her usually, but she felt pleased with her suggestion and gently steered her little sister in the direction of the corner which smelt like a riot but contained the perfumeries. "Now you're going to become a woman and a matron, you should have something that suits you perfectly." And Horatia would insist on buying it for her sister, not that she would tell her just yet.

 

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Why do it on the way home when you could forget about it and not now whilst the thought was still fresh? Livia disagreed with Horatia's reasoning - which probably stemmed from the market's layout or some other equally logical reason -, but held her peace. "I see a problem with that if she grows as tall as you," she teased, again feigning interest for the sake of good familial relationships. A quip here, a jibe there, followed by an apology and all was forgiven.

"I know she wasn't, but she might have brought it up at some point before. You were always going to get married before me, so..." Livia shrugged as way of conclusion. In some deep and well-hidden part of her, she was secretly comforted by the fact that their mother had missed both of her daughters' weddings; Horatia had had a few more precious years with Livia Calavia than her and that was already painful enough in its own way. "Or your mother-in-law might have shared some of her wisdom with you, because Vesta knows her daughter isn't going to get married anytime soon!" Livia's giggle was more than a little patronising, in spite of being well aware of the prestige a Vestal brought to her family.

Mint and irises - now that was a combination Livia had never considered, but Horatia might just be right. It could indeed suit her, and she liked the smells well enough on their own. "That is a very good idea," she admitted, impressed for once. "And if he has to travel, I could give him a little bottle to take with so that he'll think of me when he smells it." Livia was now grinning from ear to ear in that way that lovestruck people do, totally unaware of how cheesy she looked, and let her sister guide her.

After what felt like an eternity of dodging people and breathing in offensive odours, they reached the perfumeries corner. Livia's eyes lit up as if it were Saturnalia: so many little beautiful bottles and flasks, each filled with its own fragrance. She turned to Horatia, unable to disguise the excitement in her voice. "Do you think they'll have it? Mint and irises?"

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Horatia grinned genuinely at her sister, pleased her suggestion had been found useful. She had often felt over the last year or so since they had been reunited, that her sister could benefit from some maturity - and a marriage would most definitely give her that. As would a child. Still - all things in time, choosing a fragrance and appropriate clothes were a good start and so as they reached the stalls she allowed herself to be enveloped in the overpowering aromas. 

The stallkeeper eyed them, obviously noting the finery of their clothes and the slaves that trailed dutifully behind them. Grinning a gap toothed smile, he inclined his head; "Ladies, it's an honour to have you visit - looking for anything in particular?" Horatia quirked her eyebrow at being referred to as ladies1 - the plebs could be so crass - but merely shrugged; "A scent for my sister." She glanced down at Livia - who had not quite made the lofty heights of Horatia's 5 feet 6 inches and arched a brow, "Mint and irises?" The stall keeper wasted no time in fetching it, regardless of Livia's reaction and proceeded to bark orders at a slave in a language (not Greek or Latin) unfamiliar to Horatia. 

Eventually he produced a little vial with that same gap toothed smile. "For the lovely lady..." He held it aloft for Livia. 

 

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1 I had to steal Horatia's horror at this from my own experience of having an incredibly serious, professional email exchange with my colleague and an external stakeholder where he started off every email with 'Morning ladies' or 'Afternoon ladies'. 

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It was surprisingly hard to make out any particular fragrance given the haphazard mix of scents that pervaded the air around them, but far be it from Livia to admit defeat that early in the game. She instinctively shrunk back when the merchant smiled at them, put off by it. There was something to be said about too solicit sellers: to a sheltered young woman like Livia, it felt like they were trying to take advantage of her lack of haggling smarts and rope her into a bad deal.

Without realising she was doing it, Livia stepped back to the side to take half cover behind Horatia, not returning the look her sister had given her. She remained silent, watching the merchant's busy movements. "Do you think he's legit?" she whispered, digging her fingers into Horatia's arm. "He looks sketchy. What if it's just some cheap essence?"

The merchant was quick enough in producing his ware, and Livia found herself grinning back rather awkwardly as the man held out a little bottle. Now she had to do it - touch the little thing and bring it under her nose. Leaving her hiding place, she gingerly took the vial from the keeper and took a cautious sniff. "Huh," Livia let out, confounded. The smell was much stronger than she had expected, and refreshing too. The crisp mint notes were softened by the irises' flowery touch, creating a harmonious combination. Very pleasant, indeed.

She passed the vial on to Horatia, eyeing her sister with curious anticipation. Livia did not want to wear the same perfume as a thousand women in Rome, especially not  if her future husband were to have it as a keepsake. "What do you think? Is it too common?"

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Horatia glowered down at her sister, "Shh!" She cautioned. The man most definitely heard that, and for all Horatia knew could be mixing some foul smelling perfume for her now - much like she knew slaves that were mistreated spat in their masters food. Gods above Livia needed to learn some manners! 

As the vial was produced, Horatia offered a gentle smile to the smallholder; "Thank you." And turned to watch her sister's reaction, gauging it. Fortunately, by virtue of her sisters beautiful big eyes and her natural tendency to be a little dramatic, one could read her as easily as a manuscript and Horatia smiled to herself. As her sister passed the vial over she took a quick sniff and arched a brow, "It's nice. Refreshing, like you." She smiled more widely and dabbed a little of the scent on her wrist. "No, no I don't think it's too common. But..." She inhaled the aroma from her wrist and frowned. Something was missing. 

"Could you please add some lemon essence?" She queried and handed the vial back, glancing down to her shorter sister; "A little something else then it definitely won't be common." As the man worked she pulled up her slipping palla, venturing to engage her sister with; "Have you thought about who you'll invite  to the wedding? I know Father will have his list, but...I'm not sure I know many of your friends. Or have you put any thought into maybe going away somewhere, just the two of you, after? A villa somewhere - or further afield? Greece?" 

 

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Livia looked indignantly at her sister for the unexpected scolding, but two seconds later realised on her own why Horatia had done it. A slighted worker, whether enslaved or free, could take revenge by underhanded means. She gave the man a sheepish smile while waiting for her sister's opinion on the fragrance, hoping the salesman wouldn't put something stinky in the bottle next time.

Refreshing, her?! Livia beamed at the compliment, unconsciously straightening her back and pulling back her shoulders. The word hadn't so much as crossed her mind before Horatia had spoken it, but somehow it fit what she envisioned for herself and her husband-to-be. Lost in her daydream, Livia reacted belatedly to Horatia's request-suggestion, mouth forming a perfect 'oh'. "Isn't it too masculine? Lemon? I want him to think of me, not his barber..." she trailed off, not entirely convinced as she watched the man take the little bottle back and fiddle with it.

"Ah, I've been thinking about it, but you know pater. Wants to invite all these dusty old relations of his while conveniently ignoring my friends," Livia protested childishly. "I'd like Livia Aemiliana to come, and Antonia Paulina. But that snake Menenia's got another thing coming if she thinks I'll invite her!" The huff that left her lips was comical in its genuineness. She wasn't sure if Horatia knew the names of her friends, but she probably recognised the name of one of Livia's old friends-turned-sort-of-enemies. Still, Livia decided she didn't want to waste precious mental space and energy on human snakes - planning her honeymoon was so much more interesting!

Greece sounded nice enough. There were so many dreamy islands there! But Horatia and her husband had done it before, and thus Livia's enthusiasm for that option chilled a bit. "I'd love to go to Egypt someday! See Alexandria and the pyramids and all..." The merchant returned to them, vial in his extended hand. Livia took it automatically and brought it up to her nose. "But I daresay a villa in Baiae will be more like it... Oh!" The crisp fragrance invaded her nostrils. It was bold, but pleasant. And memorable. With a broad smile, Livia held out the vial under Horatia's nose. "You were right!"

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