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April, 75 AD - same day as 'First introductions'

 

Livia had begged and pleaded for days and finally her efforts had borne fruit. To think she would have had to grovel in order to be granted permission to visit her only sister, whom she had not seen in months. Yet here she was, blessedly free of Secundus thanks to his asocial ways ('I can't possibly go with you to see your sister, I know she and her husband laugh at me behind my back!'), if only for a few hours.

With Aglaea dismissed on charitable grounds of 'go and enjoy yourself', Livia felt oddly uncomfortable, almost as if she were naked. Even in an environment that was anything but hostile, her unease only showed how dependent on her body slave she had grown, in spite of the fact that her older sister was sitting just a few feet away.

Now that small gifts and platitudes had been exchanged, Livia was at a loss for words. Had she really wanted to see Horatia after long weeks of nary a word, or had it all just been a convenient excuse to get away after all? She stared at Horatia with a meek yet somewhat fearful expression, hands folded in her lap. What should they talk about?

"So... how was your winter?"

@Sara

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Horatia had been surprised but quietly thrilled by her sister’s note, asking to visit. It was a rarity these days that they saw one another with Livia sequestered away in the countryside and Horatia herself busy with the trappings of familial life. In the eight months since the family had returned from Raetia she could count on one hand how many times she’d seen little Livia, and fewer times than that for how many visits she’d had with Secundus. Horatia - who saw and absorbed everything - didn’t like, nor trust him, but that was not a topic for polite conversation - at least not with Livia. 

Now they were sat in the triclinium, a little apart from one another with the finest wines and foods spread out to create an amusingly apt barrier between them.

“Fine.” Horatia smiled pleasantly, although she couldn’t keep the slight worry from her face. What had she and Livia spoken about when they were girls? It hadn’t always been this...awkward, had it? “It’s nice to be back in Italia, Raetia was fine but winters were a little dreary.” She smiled and sipped her watered wine. “How was yours? I still want to come and visit your husbands villa, you know.” She laughed a little, “And see where he’s sequestered you away. I suppose it’s somewhere beautiful and idyllic that I’d be terribly jealous of?” Horatia had always preferred the peace and quiet of the country to the business of Rome. Her and Livia were truly opposites in so many ways.

 

TAG: @Liv

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If Horatia too felt their meeting was more than a little awkward, she did not let it show. Or perhaps it was just that Livia was no longer as adept at reading her sister's features as she had once been, back when a twitch or a blink told her more about her sister's mood than the words coming out of her mouth. But it was only to be expected that things would turn out the way they had - Horatia with her husband that wanted to go places and Livia with hers that did not want to go anywhere, and the two of them unwilling or unable to disobey.

As Horatia spoke she nodded along, the picture of an attentive guest. "Were they very different from ours? Colder, I would think?" Yes, the weather was a perfectly safe topic to talk about, and something about which it would be natural to be curious, given the extension of the empire. Not that she cared about the answer; unlike some, Livia had never dreamed of accompanying a spouse to the farther reaches of Roman territory. She plucked a slice of cheese from its place on a tray and brought it to her mouth, almost-but-not-quite imitating Horatia. 

"Oh, it was a bit boring, to be honest." Sequestered away, all right. If only Horatia knew... but Livia was not in the mood to tell, possibly not ever. So she took a sip of her own wine to wash down any cheese bits left behind and gave her sister a small melancholy smile. "Tibur is indeed beautiful, though not so much in the winter. There's not a lot to do other than spin and sew. But you should come some day, now that spring has come." She was not entirely sure she meant the invitation, but it would have been rude not to make one. If Horatia accepted, there would be quite some downfall to deal with both before and after ... "It's on the outskirts, two or three miles from the town proper, but flowers have begun to bloom, and there's a stream where you can swim." As far as prisons went, it was at least a pleasant-looking one. Most likely right up Horatia's alley, too.

Livia took another sip of her weak wine. "Don't know if you'd be jealous." Nobody could be jealous of that. "Guess you'll have to see for yourself sometime." The corners of her mouth lifted, but the smile did not reach Livia's eyes. She had well and truly lost her touch.

@Sara

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The conversation moving on, Horatia didn't respond to her sisters inquiry on the inclement weather of Raetia. She knew Livia wouldn't care, but appreciated the politeness of the topic, even if her sister didn't. Instead she listened to her younger siblings description of her marital home, half wishing she was there herself, and half suspicious at the lightness to which Livia discussed it. She knew her sister had struggled since the death of her first husband and the children she had lost, but she didn't think Livia was so changed as to suddenly enjoy  the peace and serenity her older sister craved. 

There was something beneath this, but what, Horatia couldn't tell. "I suppose I will." She retorted once Livia was finished. She didn't doubt that the invitation was not meant in earnest, but it had been made and Livia would do well to remember that things she likely considered trivial; social etiquette and the like, were foremost in Horatia's interests. If an invitation had been extended then it would have to be followed through with. If she did not want her older sister to visit her home, then she should not have offered. Not that Horatia meant to press the issue to irritate Livia, on the contrary, she was too adept at reading people to let the subtle changes in her sisters demeanour go un-probed, and was determined to get to the bottom of it. Visiting her house was a good start.

Smiling gently she inclined her head, "How about two weeks time?" She picked up a little bit of bread, dipping it in olive oil, "Aulus and the slaves can mind the children and I can come out to Tibur," She narrowed her eyes, amused, "Or two or three miles outside, and spend a few days with you and Secundus?" She hoped the visit would cheer her sisters spirits and afford her the opportunity to figure out what was happening with Livia. "We could go swimming like when we were girls, or take some walks? I promise I won't be an imposition." Although she suspected that was exactly what she would be made out to be.

 

TAG: @Liv

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Horatia opted not to go into the specifics of Raetian weather, and Livia did not press it. She was not in the least invested in the answer, and her indifference might have been more noticeable than she was aware of. On the other hand, she seemed to be listening very attentively to Livia's little description. Possibly depicting the whole scene in her head, allowing her imagination to fill in the blanks. Horatia had never seemed the most creative person to her, but even she had to exercise fantasy every now and then - and mayhap be disappointed when the Tiburtine villa failed to reach her expectations, which were sure to be high.

Oh. So there was to be a visit after all. Livia acquiesced with a nod, gaze already far away, deep in thought. Two weeks was not a lot of time, but it should be enough to prepare her husband for it and deal with his inevitable displeasure in whatever shape it might take. Best to let him know as soon as possible, in fact, so that any eventual bruising would have time to subside. "Yes, that would be lovely," she reiterated with little conviction. If Horatia came alone - discounting the necessary slaves, obviously - it might make the prospect a tad more amenable to Secundus; he would only have one more pair of eyes on him to contend with, in addition to all the ones he was convinced followed his every step. "The current is not too strong, so it's a nice place to swim. And if you come on the nundines, we can also go to the market. It's not as impressive as the ones here, but they have very good olives and olive oil." It was a very unimpressive market in all truth, but perhaps quaint enough for Horatia to be interested in it. She wouldn't have to beware of pickpockets, for one.

"But are you sure you can bear to be away from them?" Yet another polite platitude, although the children were old enough to deal with their mother's absence for a few days. Aulus had already dealt with it a number of times before, even years at a time - he should have no reason to object to a couple of days away on a sisterly visit. "I suppose it would be quite boring for them, though. Not a lot to do but pick flowers," Livia chuckled humourlessly. 

She reached for some cured ham, more to have something to do than out of actual appetite. Gods, what else was there to talk about? Right, there were those rumours of Horatia's husband intending on building some grand what-was-it-again as part of his bid for consulship. It was only polite to show some interest in her brother-in-law's activities, as long as Secundus was out of earshot.

"That reminds me, the last time I was here I heard some whispers of your husband having something built... but I can't for the life of me remember what it was," Livia confessed sheepishly. "Was it a library...? Or thermae...?" Playing the forgetful pupil would almost certainly elicit a desire in Horatia to correct her.

@Sara

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Horatia let out a little laugh and gave her sister an inquisitive look; "I'm sure. Titus is thirteen now - fourteen in August, and Calpurnia is almost twelve. They're not the adorable tiny little ones you might remember," She smiled to herself - still finding it a little unfathomable that she could have children that old when she still often felt like a girl herself, "Titus is determined he's becoming a man and so doesn't need the influence of his mother as much as he once did." She sighed and gave a little roll of her eyes. Before she knew it he'd be in his toga virilis and out courting girls. She was content to keep him as a child a little longer, despite what he might think or like - but she knew he was growing apart from his Mama and the prospect of being unable to spend a few days away from them was a little laughable, although she softened it for Livia's sake.

She felt the awkward silence swell once more and sipped at her wine as Livia picked at the ham. Gods, it never used to be like this, did it? Her question piqued Horatia's interest though and she narrowed her eyes, amused. "Mhmm, a thermae." She nodded and set down her wine cup, which was immediately refilled by a waiting slave. 

"Although it's still being planned - he wants to make it perfect. Rumours do get around though, I had an encounter with a Praetorian," The skin around her eyes tightened as if even mentioning their ranks was enough to irritate her, "And he'd heard it from somewhere. Where precisely, only the Gods know but I didn't much like his tone..." She shook her head and for once in this conversation, actually had some slight animation on her face, "Or him. They're always so unnerving, their lot." She sighed and reached forward for a sprig of grapes which she ate slowly, one by one between speaking. "Not that you need to be worried, I'm sure. They just like snooping around for gossip and with you secluded away in the villa, I doubt there's much of that." She gave her sister a pointed look. She could see something wasn't right, "Right?" 

 

TAG: @Liv

 

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Livia had never found her niece and nephew to be the adorable tiny little ones Horatia spoke of, but said nothing so as not to shatter the illusion. Her own daughter had never had the chance to grow into one either, and even if Horatia had forgotten all about the little life that never was, Livia had not. "Boys will be boys," she commented neutrally and took another sip of her watered wine. "How old is he again? Fifteen? Won't be long until he officially becomes one." And hopefully an invitation for the grand event would come, allowing her to skirt her husband's surveillance again.

True to form, Horatia's clarification came swiftly. Thermae, huh? Livia's brother-in-law must have really lined his pockets in dreary Raetia; that was no cheap endeavour. Unless his family were even wealthier than Livia knew, which was well within the realm of possibility. "I'm sorry, I don't remember where or who I heard it from." A lie; Marcus Auletius had told her the last time they had met, though Livia wouldn't claim to know who his source was. That a Praetorian also had heard the same rumour was nothing extraordinary; for all the city's inhabitants, the circles they moved in could sometimes be suffocatingly small.

"Oh? How so? Was he rude to you?" Livia, subconsciously imitating her sister, broke off a sprig of grapes from a rather big bunch and plucked them off one by one, shoving each one into her mouth at a regular pace. "They are very annoying, though, as you say. Think they're in charge when they're really little more than glorified brigands." Politics did not interest her one iota, but her sister would certainly expect Livia to share her opinion of the Praetorian guard.

How wrong Horatia was! If the dogs came sniffing about, they would find at least two juicy bones, and neither would help Livia in the slightest. "Nothing ever happens there," she confirmed evasively, wishing that Horatia would let it go. "You'll see for yourself when you come to visit." The contents of her wine cup had suddenly become very interesting, and she studied them for longer than they warranted before taking another careful sip. Who needed Praetorians snooping around when she had Horatia to do that?

Time to redirect the conversation to safer themes. "But do tell me more about these baths. What's Aulus got in mind for them? What locations is he looking at? And what do you think of it all?" Mind your husband doesn't pawn off your beautiful jewels, sister.

@Sara

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"No, not rude." She clarified, the last thing she wanted was Livia spreading idle chit chat about her run in around the (small) social circles of Rome's women, "Just a little...unnerving, I suppose. It's not like I've had cause to speak with one before, after all." Because Horatia was a good, traditional Roman matron in virtually every sense of the word; limited exposure to the dregs of society, fewer still interactions unchaperoned by her husband, father or the freedman Caeso that had been employed for her benefit. No - the conversation had been utterly unique and still played across her mind days later, as she was quite unsure of what to make of it. 

She was distracted by her own musing when Livia abruptly turned the conversation onto topics new (or well-trodden, actually) and she let a minute little sigh escape her lips. If she couldn't be honest with her sister, she supposed, who else could she be honest with? Biting her lip, she set down her half-eaten sprig of grapes and shrugged - reclining back into the chair. 

"To be perfectly frank I am a little sick of hearing about it." She laughed a little and sighed, glancing away into the gardens where she noticed Felix and her sister's body slave. Interesting. "It's consumed Aulus, and I could benefit from a minute or two not discussing the plans for the rooms or the library or the location." She waved a hand idly; "Of course I'm proud and excited but still..." She winced and glanced back at her sister. She was rarely this honest, "It can be a little tiresome to talk about sometimes." It wasn't as if there was any marital discord - Horatia would never let that happen - but she was certainly sick to bloody death of these bloody baths, not that she'd ever say it quite so boldly. 

Diverting the conversation as Livia had done moments before, she arched a brow; "And your husband? What does he spend his time doing?" Considering he's not in the senate or in Rome?

 

TAG: @Liv

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Who would have thought that even Horatia could get flustered - and that all it had taken was an Praetorian? Had this little titbit of knowledge come to light ten years earlier, Livia would have put it to good mischievous use; now, she just filed it away as new information that might come in handy at some point. "And when you finally did have cause, he managed to unsettle you so by simply gossiping about your husband's plans...?" Livia took a long sip of her wine, hiding the lower half of her face behind the cup and raising her eyebrows a fraction at the same time. There had to be something more to this tale, and Livia would gladly sniff out any leads like a hunting dog if that kept her sister from prying.

Unsettled and forthright today. What was up with Horatia? Livia let out a giggle as she followed her sister's gaze and consequently also spotted Aglaea and some other slave engaged in conversation. Right, she would have to ask Horatia about that too. Later. "It sounds like a daunting project even to me, it's hardly surprising he wants to account for every possibility. Besides, isn't it kind of him to ask for your opinion?" That was what was supposed to happen in harmonious marriages; Horatia should be thankful.

The last question was not unexpected; Livia had grown used to anticipating it and forcing herself not to physically react to it. "Oh," she started with practised nonchalance, "he spends a lot of his time reading and writing." Exactly what about , Livia had never dared to ask in either case. "I suppose he's also got paperwork to deal with regularly as paterfamilias. I don't know the details, I've never had much of a head for that sort of thing." It was true that Secundus did all this, though it was also true that these activities did not take up as much of his time as Livia would have wished; his bouts of rage or paranoia were unfortunately more time-intensive. The finger-shaped bruise just by Livia's shoulder had all but faded, and between the very final stages of healing and the folds of her stola it was perfectly hidden from view.

Livia reached for a sticky date and stole a glance at Horatia out of the corner of her eye. It truly spoke to how far apart the two women had grown when one was asking the other questions that would have made sense two years prior.

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Horatia merely shrugged, and added quietly; "There was just something about him, that's all. Forget I mentioned it." Trust Livia to brush off her genuine concern with a giggle and flippancy. Horatia thought, irritated, that she wouldn't see danger if it was nailing her to crucifix.

Her eyes were still on Felix and her sisters body slave as Livia spoke and she immediately felt colour come to her cheeks. Gods, women could be so cruel! She felt embarrassment tingle over her extremities and she shook her head, "You're right, I shouldn't complain. It's kind he asks my thoughts." She felt humiliated. She had been craving importance her entire life, and now her husband gave it to her, she complained? Gods, Livia really did know exactly where to hit her sister where it hurt. She made a mental note to never complain in such a manner in front of her sister again and that she should try and see the positives in Aulus' obsession with this building. Yet she added, childishly, "Although I'm sure if your husband starts asking your opinion, you might have similar complaints, sister." She turned her face back to Livia's, challenge in her eyes and an arched brow and added in her head; you never did really care for other peoples aims or dreams, did you, if they didn't concern you?

She listened mindlessly to her sisters words on Seconds, already growing tired of the conversation. There was something deeper going on with Livia, she could see it, but after being irked by her younger siblings flippancy she was in no mood to find out exactly what it was. Instead, she just smiled politely and sipped her wine. "And do you see Publius or Papa much? Lucius writes to you, I assume, from Germania?" Livia's twin was now serving as a Tribune to one of the legions out there, although his term was almost up, "Did I ever tell you how he came to visit us in Raetia? It was so thoughtful - brought Calpurnia and Titus gifts and all." She chuckled and sipped her wine  although she felt a flare of guilt at being so petty as to remind her sister that she was just as close to her twin, as she was. To make amends, she offered; "Perhaps when he's back we could all go to Father's villa? No husbands or wives, just him, myself, you, Publius and Lucius?" 

 

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There was something about that Praetorian all right. Something interesting. Could he have tried to court Horatia despite her being off-limits? That sort of incident would definitely have annoyed her older sister, who was probably alone in the world as the only woman who did not like being made aware that she was attractive to more than just her husband. But fine, Horatia was getting stroppy and Livia didn't fancy being shown the door just yet. Maybe Aglaea would have a juicy titbit or two to share, going by the storm she and the male slave were chatting up. 

Ah, but that was the thing, Secundus didn't care for Livia's opinion and when he did it was always in the form of rhetorical barbed questions that were better off unanswered. 'What do you think would happen, you fool?!' or 'Only an idiot would assume that' or any of their countless siblings. Maybe he was right: Livia had never been too bright, she had never thought of any and all possible ramifications like Horatia until her latest nuptials (and even then, foresight had arose of fear and necessity rather than maturity or worldliness). She knew nothing of the ways of the world other than spin and sew. With a rueful smile, Livia put her cup down to be refilled. "I doubt it'll ever be as you say. You've always had a good head on your shoulders, Horatia, but not me." The flashing intensity in her sister's eyes went ignored. In public she had no choice but to defend her husband as any good wife should, but in private she did not care to speak of him more than the strictly required.

Talking about their brothers or father, for example, was a lot more pleasant. Safer, too. "Actually, I don't see them that much," she replied truthfully, shooting an absent glance at the slave who poured more watered wine into her cup before retreating with a respectful bow. "The last time was over a month ago."  They had their busy lives in Rome, and she her sad one in Tibur with only irregular visits to the capital to break the monotony. Lucius, bless him, was the one she 'spoke' to the most despite being the one furthest away; his letters arrived at regular, precise intervals. "He writes all the time, I don't think his legate or the barbarians are giving him much to do." In all likelihood they were, but her twin somehow still found the time and energy to send his colourful missives. Livia looked forward to receiving them as much as word from Marcus Auletius. She bit the corner of her lip, affecting a look of recollection. "I think Lucius mentioned it in one of his letters... but I don't remember the details." And now probably Horatia would fill in the blanks and tell Livia all about the visit and the magnificent gifts her twin lavished upon their niece and nephew.

Livia reached for her cup and was in the process of bringing it to her lips again when Horatia's suggestion made her arm stop mid-air, halfway between origin and destination. A reliving of bygone days sounded appealing, although their mother's absence would be even more noticeable. But if all were up for it, perhaps they could forget their respective cares for a day or two. The cup resumed its voyage and after a quick sip, Livia grinned at her sister. "That's a wonderful idea! We should definitely do it!"

A sudden afterthought came to her. What about slaves? She could dispense with Aglaea for a few hours without a problem, but more than a day? Livia did not want a clumsy simpleton girl picking out her clothes or getting her requests all wrong. "No spouses, no children, but hopefully slaves? I don't know how it is with you, but I can't stand a novice slave looking after me. That would take all the relaxation out of the stay."

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Horatia frowned a little. By virtue of being the adored, youngest sibling (even if by just a few minutes), Livia was naturally closer to their shared siblings. Publius had doted on her as somebody to baby and coddle by virtue of their thirteen year age gap, and Lucius was her other half. They had shared a home with their mother, and nothing Horatia could do could replicate that bond. Equally, their very different personalities meant that whilst Horatia fostered respect from her family and peers, Livia fostered love and care and warmth that she could not. She sighed and sipped her wine, speaking once she'd swallowed; "I'm glad he writes. I know he misses you." She never really thought her youngest brother had the wits for the army, and imagined him longing for home and the embrace of his twin, but perhaps she was wrong?

Relieved that Livia, at least, was showing some energy now she inclined her head; "No spouses, no children, just slaves." She acquiesced. It was interesting, to the older sister, that her sister would put so much stock in her bodysrave's attendance and she glances slyly out into the garden. "How long has Aglaea been with you again?" She queried, using that invaluable memory bank of hers to pluck the name out of thin air. It paid to be observant, to retain information for situations like this. She couldn't help but note, however, that their divergent lives had drifted so far that the only real topic of conversation they could share was about their staff. How sad. 

Trying to remedy it, she offered a gentle smile; "What would you like to do? At Father's villa, if we could do anything at all?" 

 

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A small, barely audible sigh of relief escaped Livia's lips as Horatia voiced her concurrence that slaves would be allowed. Even if this family outing came to pass, she was far more comfortable around Aglaea than her father or any of her siblings, even Lucius. Aglaea knew everything; there was nothing to hide. But with Publius or Horatia or Lucius or pater, Livia would always have to be alert, on the lookout, so that none of them noticed anything out of the ordinary. Because then, they would ask questions that Livia was not comfortable answering, and might not even stop at that but take action too. And then what? She would be the laughing stock of Rome and pater with her for his poor judgement. No, it would be much safer with Aglaea around.

"Hmm..." she brought a pensive finger to her mouth, "I suppose I would like to go swimming. And horse riding, I haven't done that in ages." Neither activity was lady-like in her accursed husband's opinion, as they allowed for better perception of her body - but that didn't stop Livia from swimming in the stream when it was hot without his knowledge. "We could play dice, or noughts and crosses, or XII scripta..." Hide and seek also crossed her mind, but she dismissed it as too childish and embarrassing to mention. "And get drunk all together!" She giggled at this last bit, wondering what reaction it would elicit in Horatia, who Livia had never seen drunk. She wasn't even sure such a thing was possible.

"I would like your opinion on something." Those were words that Livia did not utter often lately, not when directed to Horatia. Her sister's practical instincts would probably rejoice at the opportunity to be of assistance, and at the same time it provided a nice pat to the ego - that helpless little Livia would request her wise big sister's advice once again. "Assuming you are happy with your body slave, would you ever free her?"

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Horatia couldn't help the tsk sound that broke from her lips. "I'm sure Pater would be delighted to see his," favourite child"Little girl drunk and stumbling about the place." She'd not been intentionally drunk since her very early twenties - back when she thought it might be fun with a few of her loose friends in Rome. She had regretted it immeasurably the next morning. Of course, since then, she'd accidentally imbibed too much when her nerves flared up or she felt depressed, but didn't everybody? She managed a thin smile though and inclined her head, "The rest of it sounds like fun though, most definitely." 

The fact that Livia wished for her opinion on something brought her right out of the moment and she frowned. Her sister hadn't asked for her opinion on something of note for years, probably not since before her first wedding. Intrigued, Horatia nodded, "Of course." She liked to feel useful. Feeling helpful, being helpful and simultaneously unobtrusive was a woman's role in life, she firmly believed. She needed no thanks for it either (why should somebody thank her for doing her job, after all?). "I'm not sure," She pondered the question. Aulus had freed a handful of his staff over the years, as had her father, but they were exceptions rather than the rule. "Perhaps - one day? Never say never, but I don't know what good it would do her. By the time I would wish to free her, in a few decades or so, it's hardly like she'd be young enough to pick up another trade so it would just seem...cruel? To cast her adrift?" She sipped her wine and arched a brow, "Why? Trouble with yours?" 

 

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Horatia's reaction to the mere mention of imbibing fun was exactly why she would be the one to benefit the most of a drink or two or a whole jug. "He would probably appreciate the company," Livia retorted with irony in the sweetest, most innocent tone she could muster. It went without saying that their dear pater could outdrink all of his progeny, and thanks to many years of training did a better job than any of them at remaining minimally functional even after having had three times his fill. Yet - gods, would it kill her sister to lighten up every once in a while? Horatia had probably been reading too much by Stoic authors lately, or subscribed to the ideology herself.

Discussing philosophy, however, was not what Livia had in mind for the rest of the visit, and she was inwardly pleased and relieved when Horatia took the bait and moved on to the matter of slaves and manumission. Livia listened attentively to her sister's words, genuinely curious about the reasoning behind them. As expected, it made perfect sense: body slaves to matrons were jacks of all trades and masters of none, having passable knowledge or skill at a number of things necessary to their mistress's well-being yet not being specialised enough in them in order to fashion themselves a career - as far as a slave could have one - should the conditions of their servitude change. "No, far from it." Livia shook her head, making a handful of artificially tight curls move sightly around her head like a bracelet with so many charms.

"It's rather the opposite," she admitted, tipping her head towards the gardens where Aglaea had been chatting to one of Horatia's slaves. "I refuse to think of parting with her. You can't really find loyal slaves these days, and think of the time it would take to train a new one!" Livia's eyes widened and her voice turned higher in pitch, as if the mere notion were utterly preposterous. "But..." she lowered her gaze, finding it safer to examine the details of Horatia's stola and how well the hem was sewn rather than make eye contact again and with it be subject to intense scrutiny, "... she has recently mentioned to me that she would like a family of her own, eventually." It was what every woman was taught already in the crib she should want, and the measure of her worth - a woman lacking a family was either disreputable or a slave. "Can't blame her for it. Isn't it what we all want? But I can't possibly free her." Not at this point in Livia's life, and if things did not improve, probably not ever.

She sighed and rubbed her eyes, suddenly feeling bone-deep weariness. "Yet what if she runs away with some dimwit with a nice smile and pretty speeches? I don't think she's the type, but..." she shrugged, at a loss for words in the end. Livia did not think herself to type to have ended up in her current circumstances, yet there she was. How could she claim to know Aglaea when she did not even know herself?

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Horatia's eyes followed her sisters inclination of her head to see Felix in conversation with a pretty young woman, whom she recognised as Livia's own body slave. She flicked her eyes back to her sister, cautiously observant, as her tone changed. She made no comment on 'isn't that what we all want?' given she knew a little of her sisters trouble conceiving, or rather keeping a child and had no mind to rouse those dark thoughts in her. 

"I'm sure she won't run, she knows what you or your husband could do if she did." She had rarely spoken to Secundus but rumours were abound - even if Livia didn't ever confirm them, and she imagined he was the type to be cruel to his slaves for his own amusement. Tapping the arm of her chair, she considered her sister for a moment before suggesting; "Could you not allow her to have a family within the household or outside, that you permit her to visit?" She asked and then tipped her head back to Felix, "Aulus has allowed Felix to take a wife, and have a family if he wants one...well, as much as a slave can have a wife I suppose." It wasn't a real marriage of course. 

"Not that I'm suggesting Felix take her," She chuckled. "But if you approve the man, it would make her more grateful, surely - and therefore less likely to do something silly like absconding?" She sipped at her drink, smiling impishly, "You could always buy a man for the purpose..." 

 

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Livia's jaw clenched almost imperceptibly, the only sign that her sister's comment had not sat well with her. Did Horatia really think her as cruel as Secundus? If only she had an inkling of what that man was capable of, then perhaps she would not joke so lightly... but this was not the right moment to tell Horatia of his habits, and there would most likely never be one. 

"I suppose I could, yes," she conceded, helping herself to another sip of wine. Remove temptation by allowing controlled access to its object? Worse ideas had borne better fruit. Livia thoughtfully examined her goblet for a few seconds, mind considering the possibility. "Find someone within the household that would be acceptable..." Acceptable to whom? Aglaea was the interested party, but Livia wanted naturally to have a say in it - and the last word, of course, would be Secundus' as the paterfamilias. She didn't think he would so much as entertain the thought, but that was also something she had no desire to share with Horatia. 

"As you say, it would be best for everyone for it to be out in the open." The chances of either running away would probably be lower, too. When she and Aglaea left Horatia's house, Livia would ask her companion what she made of Aulus' slave. From a cynical point of view, it would be most convenient if Aglaea did not make much of him at all - for the opposite would mean that either this Felix left his household, which did not seem likely from what Livia knew of her sister's husband, or Aglaea left hers, which Livia had no intention of permitting.

She drank the last of her wine and helped herself to another date. "How about your body slave? Does she not dream of the same? Perhaps alongside this Felix of yours?" Another evasive turn meant as a distraction; let Horatia keep talking about her household's servants.

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She eyed Livia keenly as she pondered, noting that there was something her sister was obviously not willing to share. She chose not to pry. She learned long ago, particularly with Livia, that her sisterly prying was certainly not welcome anymore. "He does not necessarily have to be in the house." She countered with an arched brow and sipped her own wine, "If there's a man good enough in another you could allow her supervised visits to him. I know some of my friends have even taken to giving their slaves whole days off," She frowned and shook her head, "I wouldn't go that far unless it was a festival but," She shrugged, " I know you care for her - and if she finds somebody she likes that you think is of good character, the occasional evening or morning to pay him a call wouldn't be so bad, would it?" 

As Livia pivoted the conversation, Horatia smiled wryly. "Mhm. She's mentioned it," Poor Callista - she was so beautiful, and sweet. She would me a good match for Felix, but she thought that the young man needed time to settle into the city first before he even began to consider her that way, "And I wouldn't be adverse. And if it did progress into something it would be nice to have some little children in the house again." She conceded. Her own were growing up, and she knew full well that Felix would be an excellent father. She agreed with her husband when he surmised that a family may just be the key to both bringing his stoic body slave out of his shell, and help him put down roots.

She knew the topic of children was not one Livia enjoyed her bringing up, and she hurriedly moved on. "It must be nice for you though - to be in a busy house when you are back in Rome what with his sister living there? How are the rest of Secundus' family?" 

 

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Either Livia had drunk slightly too much wine without realising and only now were the effects starting to make themselves known, or she didn't quite follow Horatia's line of reasoning. Even though her sister explained what she meant, it still didn't make enough sense to her. "How do you figure that's a good thing? Should there be a child, to whose household would it belong?" she frowned, pursing her lips into a thin line. Different tasks and even different locations within the same household was one thing, and a workable prospect, but two slaves each under their own master's roof was simply too much trouble. Livia shook her head, dismissing the suggestion.

"She gets half days off every now and then, and I allow her to go pray at her people's temple." Livia took another date from the platter and popped it into her mouth. She didn't think herself a terribly difficult mistress: while she was very attached to Aglaea, anybody under the same constraints as her would act in the same way. If Aglaea met somebody to her liking in her own free time, it was still better than shacking up with a slave belonging to somebody else. Livia refrained from commenting on her sister's body slave - if the girl had mentioned it, and this Felix was being allowed to take a wife, what were they all waiting for? Just give them a spare room and call it a day.

Curse Horatia and her desire to be the perfect hostess and inquire about Secundus' family. They were all terrible as far as Livia was concerned, even the best of them - Tertius the youngest brother with the son he had taken far too long to manumit. Had she been a young foolish girl, she would have exempted Marcus from her harsh judgement, but Livia was under no illusion: he was young and good-looking and ambitious, but love? She was convinced he would drop her like a hot coal when the time came. And while it didn't, she enjoyed it for what it was - a much needed escape from everyday life. "It's not so bad, actually," she smiled, sipping at her wine. "It's so quiet in Tibur that I welcome the bustle when we're here. They're all doing well, Quinctilia and her children." They could hardly be called that, with Quinctilia's daughter being only a handful of years younger than Livia herself, but it was what it was.

Another opportunity to go off on a tangent present itself. "Now that I think of it, Sergia - Secundus' niece - is having some difficulties finding a husband." Rather, her guardian had seemingly all but forgotten about it, and Livia would not be the one to remind him for fear of what that might set off. "Since you were in Raetia, do you think she should start looking out of Rome and towards the provinces? Any eligible suitors from good families there?"

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Thank the Gods. Livia was finally learning some sensible, easy conversation topics. Familial woes were always easily talked about, and polite conversation for two sisters.  It also helped Horatia feel useful - something she so often craved to be, as familial strife could often be fixed and she liked to feel needed. She was quietly impressed by the maturity in her younger siblings character, but said nothing of it lest it embarrass her or cause a tantrum. She suspected the lovely Livia hadn't entirely grown out of them despite progress in other areas. 

"I wouldn't, if I were her." She shook her head and sipped her wine, "Provincial sorts out there - the men already have wives, and those that don't aren't much of a match. Middling career types or boys that wanted a soft posting." She chuckled and shook her head, "Publius might have a friend or two, you could ask perhaps?" She contemplated, eyes narrowing as she ran through suitable candidates in her own head. "Or I could ask Aulus, to see if he knows of anybody?" She grinned, "I can't imagine she's exhausted all options in Rome for a suitable husband. She's been married before, hasn't she?" She vaguely remembered Livia saying something about her being in her twenties and no good, patrician girl stayed married that long unless there was a reason. 

"I remember being younger though, desperately worried I'd never find a man." She smiled to herself, "And we both found matches. It'll come to her." 

 

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As expected, the change in subject kept conversation flowing smoothly. Most people enjoyed talking about themselves or, when their modesty was too great to allow for such bragging, their offspring. Horatia was firmly in the latter camp. Most people also enjoyed playing the part of problem-solvers, and again Livia thought her sister demonstrated unparalleled skill in that field too. Behind a façade of polite interest and concern for the fate of her husband's niece, Livia was only marginally curious about the menfolk found in the provinces; she had living proof at home that one did not need to be a plebeian or stationed outside Italia to be a brute.

"Well, I certainly wouldn't wish for her to become involved with a man who is unavailable. That sort of thing only ever ends badly for the woman," she commented sternly as she snapped her fingers at a slave to have her cup refilled. Do as I say and not as I do, or in other words, Livia did not fret over what might happen if her own adultery was found out. She was already miserable. Miserable and emboldened, having eluded discovery for as long as they had. Aglaea and Marcus' body slave had to be commended for keeping their mouths shut.

True, their elder brother might have a friend or two in mind - perhaps a widower looking to feel younger with a shiny new wife. Lucius might know of someone, too, but Livia would not be the one to ask him for fear of him actually growing interested. "To be frank, I'm not sure. I don't think she has," Livia bit her lower lip in a genuine attempt to jog her memory. "I feel sorry for her. People will start to think there's something wrong with her if she keeps growing older and is still unmarried. She's not a Vestal," she added before taking a swig of her replenished wine. 

Only Horatia's match could be said to have been a happy one, Livia mused, eyes fixed on the goblet's rim as if it held all the secrets as to why. "You must make sure that young Calpurnia does not know the anguish we did," she chuckled, pretending to be amused. "With Titus you can afford to wait, but not with a girl. You must have one or two adequate names in mind, no?" Livia teased lightly, wriggling her brows twice for added effect. Let them gossip and trade opinionated titbits on children and youths, like the bored matrons they were.

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Horatia nodded, a frown of concern on her face. "She's lucky she's not the subject of gossip or chit chat, or if she is I haven't heard it. Poor woman." Imagine being twenty something and their class and still utterly without a man? It was humiliating to say the least, although from what she could remember of Livia's sister in law - the girls mother - she was a pretty woman, and surely had borne attractive enough offspring that their looks  couldn't be the reason for the delay. Perhaps it was their temperaments? Or more likely the apathy of the paterfamilias. "Is your husband not concerned this reflects poorly on him, given it is his role and duty to find her a husband?" It was a slightly barbed comment, but Livia was so evasive over her nuptials, Horatia would like to see her squirm out of this one. 

As conversation rolled towards her own family, the awkwardness was plain to see on Horatia's face. Calpurnia was eleven, twelve in July and just on the cusp of womanhood. 

"Aulus hasn't mentioned anything if he's been looking into it." She affirmed, and then added for good measure, "And we've discussed it loosely before - when the children where younger - and he agreed that I should have some sort of say." Even if it wasn't a decisive vote. If she was honest, it irked her a little but she understood why she wasn't to cast the final decision - it wasn't her place, and she had little conception of the political realities her children might face - something Aulus was far more tapped into. "But I know girls are getting married younger and younger, or at least betrothed." She sighed. She'd attended the wedding of a distant friend's daughter only a month ago, and the girl had been just fourteen. Mercifully her bridegroom was at least only in his twenties, although even that age gap turned her stomach a little. 

With a soft sigh she  turned her eyes up to Livia. She had been wanting to broach the subject all afternoon but struggled to find the opportune time. Better now than never, she supposed, and she tactfully asked; "Does Secundus pester you for a daughter of your own?" Which was Horatia-speak for 'no luck getting pregnant yet, then?'

 

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Livia shrugged delicately, not particularly inclined to speculate out loud on the reasons why her niece was still unmarried just in case word somehow got back to her husband. "He might well be, but he doesn't wish to burden me with his concerns." More like he could not care less, but that would not have been a nice thing to say. "I imagine she or her mother may want to have some say in it, and it's not always easy to come to an agreement on such things," she mused, temporarily allocating the blame to the two absent women in hopes of it being enough to placate Horatia's hound-like drive. Yet, in light of what Horatia had just mentioned about prospects for young Calpurnia, it was a plausible excuse. With such a relentless advocate, her niece wouldn't be stuck with a man old enough to be her grandfather unless there was very good reason to. "Well, your husband is a reasonable man. I'm sure he will consider her best interests when the time comes." Unlike pater dearest, but that was no longer worth dwelling upon.

And then Horatia had to ruin it. The question felt like a slap to the face, and Livia could only stare wide-eyed in polite reproach during the handful of seconds it took her to regain her composure. That Horatia should ask something like that, knowing all that had happened... Well, it was hardly out of character for her sister, though she should have known it was a painful subject - even if only out of womanly solidarity, for Livia had never been inclined to discuss it once her second marriage had taken place. She turned steely green eyes towards Horatia's blue ones and took a sip of wine before replying in icy tones. 

"He does not." A barefaced lie, but neither Secundus nor Aglaea were there to correct Livia and the latter would never have done it, anyway. "It all comes down to the gods' will, in any case," she added in an attempt at diplomacy despite the slight. Sometimes, however, both gods and mortal men were powerless against silphium, and Livia intended to keep it that way; no child deserved to grow up in such a household, no matter how much she longed for one. "But he may well exhaust his patience one day and look for a younger bride..." The distant look on her face had a wistful quality to it that could be mistaken for wifely devotion, but would more accurately describe a far-off hope.

She helped herself to a date and washed it down with some more wine, gazing into the cup with a small self-deprecating smile. "It's funny, isn't it? How this sort of thing skips people even if they're related? Like my brother-in-law Tertius, with a son and a daughter and now rumours that he knocked up one of his slaves again, or mater and pater with the four of us. Even if you come from a big family, it's not guaranteed you'll have one of your own."

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Horatia regretted the question as soon as the words left her lips as her sister stared at her for a moment with wide eyes, hurt evident in them. She swallowed the lump in her throat and gripped her fingers together tightly. She wanted to reach out and squeeze her sisters shoulder but decided against it. Livia could be fickle and her moods had always been terribly difficult to predict, Horatia honestly hadn't any idea how she'd react. 

"He would not." Horatia shook her head with a frown as Livia quietly mentioned Secundus seeking a younger wife, "You're still young and in any case, much as they don't like to admit it, conceiving is much down to their skills and abilities as a woman's." She eyed her sister softly. No man would admit to defective seed or any other of physical frailty in the baby-making department, and blamed their childlessness on their women, but Horatia didn't doubt that problems often rested equally at the feet of men. Of course, that didn't much help her sister and she felt a pang in her chest as she continued to speak. 

She listened quietly, storing her judgement for Tertius Quinctillius Varus for another time, and instead focusing on her sister. "But mother was older than me when she had you and Lucius." She countered diplomatically, she frowned for a moment and thought about it, "Come to think of it she would have been what...twenty when she had Publius, twenty-seven, your age when she had me, and thirty-two when she had you and Lucius." She arched a brow at Livia, "You shouldn't be so hard on yourself," Deciding to just go for it, she reached out to squeeze her sisters wrist, "I...didn't mean to be cruel when I asked, you just...never speak of it and when I was a girl, I always imagined that we could tell one another anything when we were adults and proper Roman ladies..." 

 

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Young though Livia may be, she was jaded. In the eyes of society at large, if a couple failed to have descendants it was strictly the woman's fault. Arguing the dogma required effort, brought about much heartache and produced no favourable results; it was easier for women like her to assume the mantle of barrenness and remove one element of conflict - challenging their man's virility - from the equation.

"It is a very painful matter for me still," Livia replied tersely, pursing her lips into a thin line. The sad truth was that it would always be the case, even if she were to have more children; no person could entirely replace another, as their father seemed to be well aware of in his refusal to find himself another wife. In the deepest and darkest corners of her heart, Livia would always mourn and grieve for the lives that never were: Gnaeus' as an established senator and father, hers as happy matron and mother, and little Hortensia's who had not even drawn a breath in this world. 

Feeling the first signs of incoming tears prickling at the corners of her eyes, she blinked them away and exhaled shakily, nodding with little interest in Horatia's comforting words. The hand on her wrist came as a surprise, and Livia gave her sister a red-rimmed, wide-eyed look before slowly covering it with hers for a moment. "I might have some years yet, but... I don't know. If Secundus has children, he is either unaware of them or disinclined to tell me." To an outsider, their union would appear an odd one considering either's lack of previous offspring, and it might very well remain childless even if Livia stopped with the silphium - but she would not take chances.

Livia studied Horatia with melancholy in her eyes. Was it truly so peculiar that time and distance had made them grown apart, when they had not been exceptionally close in years? Aglaea, despite being a slave, felt more like a sister to her than the red-haired woman sitting in front of Livia. Horatia had always been so busy in the last few years: with her books, with her husband, with her children, with her travels - what room had there been in her life for her little sister? Livia wanted to point her finger at Horatia, accuse her of all this and more, stand up in a huff and raise her voice and cause a small scandal and...! But she wouldn't, naturally. Couldn't. So she did what she could, which was to shrug and retract her hand from Horatia's wrist and speak in a 'can't-be-helped' tone to mask the sarcasm.

"I mean... I don't know, you had - still have - so much on your plate already that I felt like I would be imposing on you. Your husband and his career, your children, your activities... And," Livia swallowed, throat suddenly dry, and when that didn't help took a big sip of her wine, "you were away when it all happened... It hurts to bring it up every now and then. I wish I could just lay it to rest and forget it and be content with what I have now," she confessed, more truth in her words than she would like to admit. Then again, she didn't expect Horatia to understand; her sister had reached the Elysium while still alive, a feat not available to many.

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