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Posted (edited)

May 75CE

The family home of the Cornasidii Sabinii

Titus always felt uncomfortable coming home. As the eldest son of his late father he was now paterfamilias and, by rights, this elegant pile, situated in the heart of the lower Palatine mansion district, should be his. Cut from a different cloth, he had happily turfed over responsibility to the place to his younger brother although, in reality their harpy of a mother and two wastrel sisters ran the roost. For years Titus had been away, serving abroad and, since his return, had made a point of abiding in the rooms allocated to him in the Castra Praetoria. They were far more spartan and lacked almost all the comforts of this plush mansion but he preferred its non-descript simplicity. His father had been a good man and an excellent man of business. He had reveled in the fortune he had created and happily enjoyed showing it off, most notably through the decoration he had lavished on this place. He had loved the fact he was in close proximity to the Palace, as if that somehow had conferred acceptance on his position, earned through commerce, not through birth.

Having come straight from duty, he was still wearing his full dress uniform, necessary when one was attending on the Imperial family. As he strode along the mosaic-inlaid floors of the atrium he threw his plumed helmet to a passing slave who was practically bowled over by the weight of it. He unclasped his cloak and hurled it at another without even pausing in his stride.

Another thing which he found uncomfortable - and which he tried to keep as secret as possible - was the fear he lived in of his mother. As a man used to instilling fear in others, it was vaguely ludicrous that he still felt twinges of anticipation when he heard her use a certain tone of voice. Or, as in the present circumstances, had sent him a curt letter summoning him home in the manner of a naughty schoolboy.

He knew exactly why he was being summoned too. His mother had, finally, grown tired of both her sons and, more specifically, their reluctance to set themselves down in marriage. For Titus, it was his opinion that a wife might tie him down. His brother, Anatolius, on the other hand, was just too fond of whores and did not fancy the change of being henpecked by another woman instead of his mother. But now their mother's patience had run dry. She wanted grandchildren and dressed this up as a general desire to see the name of the Cornasidii Sabinii extended to a further generation. Even before his return to Rome she had been badgering him through letter after letter, suggesting this or that society bachelorette. Some famous for their bloodline. Some famous for their looks. Some for their virtue. Some for their money. On the rare occasions, since he had come back, that he had caved and met any of these women, he had always found it a disappointment. Many had been pretty, there was no denying that. He would have been perfectly happy to bed them. Yet all of them only enflamed his lust and did not capture his mind. All, essentially, had just been silly little girls. Their prattle had been about clothes, slaves, holiday homes. Parties and events. He had zoned out within moments of them opening their mouths.

It did not help that his mind kept returning to a place he had told it was forbidden. That just made it all the sweeter. He did not want to think about her. That woman had taken up enough of his time. He did not want to want her. He wanted to destroy her because she was everything he hated. You do not want what you hate. You the what you hate. You didn't need to study in Athens to work that one out.

It was in no small part due to the poison that woman had left in his mind that he had today given in and come home. The short letter his mother had sent said that she had invited the daughter of a family friend, one Marcella Laelia, to visit the domus. Presumably his mother had come up with some rubbish story to lure the girl here in a none-too-subtle manner which, of course, simply made it look all the more like an attempt at setting two youngsters up. Gods only knew what awaited him. A slave had told him that the woman was waiting in the peristyle garden. At least his mother had the good grace to have made herself scarce. Sighing deeply, he prepared to confront what he expected would be just another ditsy girl and a wasted afternoon.

@Laria

Edited by Lauren

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Marcella sat on a bench in the garden of the domus reading idly a small travel sized scroll she had taken with her. Shr breathed in the aroma of the plants surrounding her and waited for Titus Cornasidius Sabinus to appear. 

Once again one of her brothers had arranged for her to meet with a possible suitor. This time the offender had been Junius, she had expected more from her youngest brother, usually it was Albus or Sabinus who forced her into these meetings, but this time it was Junius. He explained to her about how he had ran into a woman who had been friends with their mother back when she was still alive and how she practically begged him to have Marcella meet her son. Of course he obliged, he had always had a soft spot for all things involving their mother and he, like everyone else in her family, was worried about her finding a husband on her own. As irritated as she was that he had forced her to do this, she had to admit, he had chosen well. Judging from the domus the man she was about to meet had money, and a lot of it, that implied power, which check a box on her list of requirements for a possible husband. 

She shifted on her bench and adjusted her dark green chiton and tucked a stray curl behind her ear. She hate having to get all dolled up for these things, having her hair piled up on her head in some intricate hairstyle was heavy and her curls always fell out after only a couple of hours. She mentally prepared herself for another long evening of being stared at but not listened to by this suitor while his mother droned on and on about how much she wished that Marcells mother could see them now and of how much she looked like her. She wondered if it was to rude to fake an illness and head home before he had even arrived. Just as she was thinking this she heard footsteps, she sighed and tucked her scroll into a small purse she carried with her, waiting for this inevitably horrid evening to begin.

@Lauren

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Titus had decided to have a little fun. He sent a slave ahead of him, telling a passing slave with a broom to go into the peristyle. The slave, bemused, did as he was told. Those would have been the footsteps Marcella heard approach. In the meantime, Titus had hurried through the network of corridors which would take him out on the other side of the peristyle. He approached quietly and rested against a cool pillar, watching the woman from a distance without her knowing.

He was impressed by what he saw. Slim, but with curves in the appropriate places. The chiton she was wearing pleasingly hugged and outlined her figure. It had a statuesque quality to it. Almost as if she had been carved from marble. That body must be firm when pressed, surely. It reminded him of her. Yes, it did but it was different too. This woman was younger. Her body had not faced the travails of motherhood. She seemed pristine. Her hair was dark and she had put work into structuring it into a contemporary style. He appreciated the work that had gone into it, even if he would have preferred to see it hanging down to see how full and long it was.

What was she holding? She was reading something? Oh, please, not some soppy love poetry, he hoped. Or some trashy romance. Those sorts of writings just gave women the wrong idea and, in his opinion, were the root cause of nine out of every ten unhappy marriages and failed affairs.

If she had brought anyone with her they were not with her now. She did not seem overly anxious or nervous. If anything, she seemed a little bored, as if she was put out by the entire thing. He could sympathise with that. Perhaps she was as unwilling as he had been to have her time taken up with this failed errand.

Well, he could not stand here all day, staring at her like some voyeur. He pushed himself up from his slouch against the pillar and spoke up.

"What are you reading? You clutch it as if it is something you wouldn't be parted from."

@Laria

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Marcella waited patiently for the owner of the footstep she had heard to make themselves known.  She looked over at where she had heard them and saw a slave with a broom with a puzzled look upon his face. She narrowed her eyes at him as he began tentatively sweeping, odd, she thought, before taking her scrool back out of her purse and continued to read it.

As she read, she saw from the corner of her eye a long shadow join her on the bench. Now the confused slave made sense, he was sent out as a red herring so that the man she was meeting could have a little fun and try to give her a fright. She decided to go along with his little game and pretended not to notice his presence. She keeped her scroll out but was no longer reading it, instead she was studying the shadow. She could see a side profile of him, and from what she could tell he had closely cropped hair, a large-ish nose, and a defined jawline. This pleased her, but not as much as his chest did, even based off of a measly shadow she could see that he was very well toned. Junius had chosen well, perhaps she would forgive him after all.

Eventually she grew bored with studying a mere shadow, how long would he stand staring at her? Just as she was about to turn around he finally spoke.

"What are you reading? You clutch it as if it is something you wouldn't be parted from."

Without even batting an eye she rolled up the scroll and placed it back in her purse, all the while answering, "the Seneca version of Medea, I've read the original by Euripides but I have to say I prefer this version. I believe that Seneca gives Medra more decisiveness than Euripides who writes her as a broken woman who blames all her mistakes on the will of the gods and fate." She stood up and turned around to face him and said, "but either version is still a wonderful cautionary tale that warns of the dangers of crossing a woman, wouldn't you say so?" 

She knew if her brothers could see her now they would not be to pleased, saying things like that was the exact reason she seemed to chase off men. Not that she minded, if they didn't like her defending Medea than it just told her that they were planning to be unfateful, and she refused to put up with infidelity. As she waited for his response she looked him over, his shadow did not do him justice. As long as conversation was at the very least bland, Junius was already forgiven. 

@Lauren

 

 

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Titus felt like he had been struck in the stomach but in oh such a good way! He had expected the woman to jump on her seat, dropping the scroll in fright at being startled out of her reverie. Instead she made no move of alarm at all. It was if she had known she was being watched and, like prey turning the tables on a hunter, it was now he who was the one to be jolted.

She turned and looked and him directly in the eye. No acting coy. No being demure. It was as if he had irritated her. That his question was either dull or obvious. He had expected to be the one doing the appraising yet now found himself being the one appraised by a long, cold, hard stare.

Taken aback as he was, he found (and this was rare for him) that he was at a loss as to what to say. He was not uneducated but he had to confess that he had not read the piece. He knew the story of Medea but not in the literary forms to which she was referring with the nonchalance of a seasoned and knowledgable reader. The realization of that, as it dawned on him as he stood under the woman's dismissive stare, made him uncharacteristically nervous and he shifted his stance in his discomfort.

Her words were a challenge. A well meaning one, he was sure, but nevertheless it was not what he had been expecting. All the previous ones had been the sort who would look down at the ground when spoken to and either mumble or give monosyllabic answers. None - not a single one - had ever taken such an imperious tone with him. None had ever made him feel like he was an irritant. To him, it had always been they who were!

He felt a prickling on the back of his neck.

"You will have to lend it to me. I try and make it a rule never to cross a woman generally but it would be sensible to see my thoughts validated in writing."

His attempt at lightening the tone did not seem to impress her. Why did he feel like he wanted to impress her? Why wasn't she impressed? Why wasn't she nervous? Why wasn't she being like the others?

"You think Euripides was wrong then? That Fate and the Gods are not the cause of people rising and falling?"

@Laria

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He seemed suprized that his joke didn't seem to work, she also saw him shifting his weight around, as if she were making him nervous. This was not a surprising reaction to her, most were suprized and often disapproving of how commanding her presence was. She decided to at least tell him where he went wrong in executing his plan to startle her, "next time you try and sneak up on someone, check to make sure the sun is not on your back," she gestured downward, indicating his shadow that been his downfall. She then properly introduced herself saying, "I'm Marcella Laelia, I believe our mothers were once friends." 

Once introductions were over the conversation turned back to her book.

"You will have to lend it to me. I try and make it a rule never to cross a woman generally but it would be sensible to see my thoughts validated in writing."

She cocked her head at him, suprized by his answer. Most would argue with that Jason was free of blame and that it was Medea who had brought all her turmoil onto herself. This man however, even without reading the play, had agreed with her that nothing good came from angering a woman. "A sensible rule to have" she said, half impressed and half suspicious.

"You think Euripides was wrong then? That Fate and the Gods are not the cause of people rising and falling?"

"I believe that they influence the rise and fall of people, but ultimately it is the people who decide weather they shall rise or fall. It's not the situation that matters, but what you do with it. Gods can only control the situation." 

This was new for her, it had been quite some time since she had a meaningful two way conversation with a possible suitor. In fact, to her knowledge this was the first time her opinion had been asked on literature. She was impressed with this man. "Tell me," she asked, "what do you believe is the cause of peoples' rising and falling?"

 

 

@Lauren

 

 

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A simple mistake and a horrifically embarrassing one too for someone who was a soldier. He cursed himself inwardly for thinking himself so clever. He was, however, impressed at the woman's intelligence. That and her composure. The tone of her voice. A steely self-confidence that was so foreign to him in the women he had come across before. It was so different and alluring.

Ahh, so that was who she was! One of the many Laelii brood. Many sons, if he remembered correctly. She was an only daughter, perhaps? In truth he rarely listened when his mother droned on about her tedious social circle. Now, however, he felt he was going to have to do some catching up on this family. What kind of father must she have? Either a very indulgent one to have raised a daughter to such intelligence or some who paid scant attention to what she did, allowing her in that manner to educate herself. He rolled the name over in his mind. It had a pleasing ring to it. It sounded sweet but, even from this short back and forth, he could tell she was not the sort of sickly sweet, good girl type beloved of traditional fathers everywhere. She did not seem the sort who would blush if he tried to steal a kiss. Instead, she seemed the type who would either slap him across the face with all the strength of a hammer or else slash out with a letter opener. That just made him want to try it more.

He moved closer and sat on the bench opposite her. He pretended not to be appraising every inch of her up and down. Not in the cursory way he checked out the ones in the past - a quick once over so see if they checked the relevant boxes. This time instead he wanted to take his leisure. He wanted to see her from all angles. This was, he realized, the first time he was properly taking any notice in one of the women his mother was trying to push on him.

"Would it offend you if I told you that I don't think the Gods take any part in it at all?" he challenged her with a boyish grin. "If you ask me, the root cause of anyone's rise and fall lies on their own shoulders. A man, or a woman for that matter, can reach up and pluck down the stars if they try hard enough. The only reason most people don't do so is because they're too busy rooting around in the dirt to bother raising their eyes to the possibilities of something greater. The Gods like those who push the limits. Why do you think they were so keen to fornicate with the mortals who pushed the boundaries?" Maybe she wasn't so cool after all, perhaps she would blush and stammer like the others had if he took conversations to a more base level.

"The authors, of course, simulate all this. How many of them actually put any of it into practice, I don't know!"

@Laria

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She watched as he sat at the bench across from her, she couldn't be sure but she thought she noticed him assessing her. She didn't mind this, she wasn't shy about her body and if he wanted to look her over than he could. She crossed her legs and leaned forward, feeling completely at ease.

 "Would it offend you if I told you that I don't think the Gods take any part in it at all?"

She raised an eyebrow at his grin and answered saying "No, I wouldn't be offended but I'm am curious about your reasoning."

"If you ask me, the root cause of anyone's rise and fall lies on their own shoulders. A man, or a woman for that matter, can reach up and pluck down the stars if they try hard enough. The only reason most people don't do so is because they're too busy rooting around in the dirt to bother raising their eyes to the possibilities of something greater. The Gods like those who push the limits. Why do you think they were so keen to fornicate with the mortals who pushed the boundaries?"

She noticed how he said both men and women could in his words "pluck down the stars", she didn't know if that was how he really felt or if he had just said it for her sake, either way she was suprized, but in a good way. "You raise an interesting point" she mused "but you make it sound as if achieving greatness is as easy as snuffing out a candle. It's not as easy as deciding that you want something, it takes work too"

"The authors, of course, simulate all this. How many of them actually put any of it into practice, I don't know!"

She laughed at this, genuinely amused by his comment,"I suppose you're right, not much can happen when you're sitting in a room writing all day."

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She showed absolutely no hint of any embarrassment or discomfort on the more contentious parts of what he had said. Who was this woman!? Did nothing phase her? She listened to what he had said and, like some machine, processed the information and thrown out searching questions of her own. It was if he was not talking with her but sparring with her and that was very, very exciting.

"Of course it requires work," he said, "few things in life do not. Most people, though, aren't motivated to put in that hard work. That's why they don't get anywhere. It is not because some God or other has taken against them. Or, if so, I don't think that matters much. No - if someone is willing to work hard and do things which they might not want to do then I can't see why it should be impossible for anyone, no matter their station, or race, or gender, or whatever to be able to crawl over the heap and up to the top."

He shrugged. "That, at least is how I have lived my life. And now here I am, a Tribune in the Praetorians and that is just a stepping stone to more. I could have just taken my father's legacy and grown old and fat surrounded by luxury. That would have been very easy but it wasn't - it isn't - for me."

He looked into her eyes. This was a smart woman. A smart woman knew when you were just saying something to try and get under her chiton. A very smart woman would know that a man is not always thinking about that and sometimes means what he says. The truth of the matter was that Titus did not believe there was any bar whatsoever to success. The only reason many women did not do so, in his opinion, was because they had not been brought up to think that ambition was part of their birthright. Gods above, recent experience only showed quite how wrong that sort of think was. Women were often more dangerous than men, especially those women who knew how to use their minds and their bodies as one. Could Augustus have done all he did without Livia?

"I presume that must be what you are doing then, Marcella? Do you just sit back and philosophize or do you actually get your hands dirty? Or do you want to? Correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think you are the type of woman to spend all her day getting dizzy over trying on shoes?"

@Laria

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It was nice to have an actual conversation with a man who was not intimidated by her intelligence. It was truly pathetic how many men could come back from the battlefield only to become flustered the minute she started talking. Without even realizing it her walls started give way as she grew more and more comfortable around this Titus Sabinus.  

Of course it requires work, few things in life do not. Most people, though, aren't motivated to put in that hard work. That's why they don't get anywhere. It is not because some God or other has taken against them. Or, if so, I don't think that matters much. No - if someone is willing to work hard and do things which they might not want to do then I can't see why it should be impossible for anyone, no matter their station, or race, or gender, or whatever to be able to crawl over the heap and up to the top."

She cocked her head to the side, surely he didn't think that it was that simple. Then again, he was born a rich male, in the equite class yes, but still privileged. "I have to disagree with you there." she said "gods aside, some things cannot be accomplish because of just hard work and determination. Do you think that a slave could one day become emperor? Public image is everything, without the support of the common people no one can rise above their station, and what you are born greatly affects how they will view you." 

She understood why he might have such a warped vision of how success of any kind worked, but it still irked her that he had no idea how easy is was for him. He may have had to jump over countless hurdles to get where he is today, but what he couldn't seem to realize was that being able to jump over said hurdles was a privilege, one that few were afforded. 

"That, at least is how I have lived my life. And now here I am, a Tribune in the Praetorians and that is just a stepping stone to more. I could have just taken my father's legacy and grown old and fat surrounded by luxury. That would have been very easy but it wasn't - it isn't - for me."

She couldn't help but feel a fluttering in the pit of her stomach when he revealed that he was still climbing the ladder that was his career. So even this wasn't enough for him, she wondered when he would finally be satisfied. "Not many would do that" she said, "turn down a premade legacy that is. So what is your goal Titus? It must be very ambitious for you say that being a Tribune in the Preatorian guard is just a stepping stone." By now she had her elbows resting on her knees so that her forearms were straight up and her head was resting on her hands, she was feeling very comfortable with this conversation and intrigued by the person she was having it with. 

"I presume that must be what you are doing then, Marcella? Do you just sit back and philosophize or do you actually get your hands dirty? Or do you want to? Correct me if I'm wrong but I don't think you are the type of woman to spend all her day getting dizzy over trying on shoes?"

She thought for a moment before saying "if the occasion called for it I would, as you said, 'get my hands dirty,' but I'm afraid that there's never been a cause for me to do so. " That was a bold faced lie, and one that he hopefully wouldn't see through, after all, they had only just meet and Marcella was a good actress. The truth was, there was an occasion where she had gotten her hands very dirty, and a couple more after that had sullied them even further. "You're absolutly correct about shoes, I only have three pairs" she only needed three, light brown, dark brown, and formal, at least one of the three would match each chiton she owned. "Just so long as they fit and keep my feet from getting blisters I'm happy with them. I find shopping to be a hassle, I take it that you are the same way?" 

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Well, she was different. Titus loved it. He did not think he had ever, in all his years, spoken with a woman like this. His interactions with women were all governed by the relevant social dictates. Deference to a mother; full of propriety to those of equal rank; with forceful condescension with slaves or whores. This, however, was a whole different dynamic and he felt a frisson of excitement in the air. A tension too. He was not used to having his views challenged. Certainly not by a woman. Ordinarily that would have made him cross but here, now, he felt something different. She brushed aside his thoughts, saying the thought of a slave becoming Emperor was ridiculous although not loading her comment with sarcasm.

"Well, we will agree to disagree there, Marcella. I see no reason why a slave could not become Emperor. Unlikely, yes, but impossible, no. If he had the right support and the right talents then surely getting the necessary public image would just be one of the many things he could pick up along the way. Public image changes. Isn't it something we can make and break ourselves?"

He didn't think he had ever had to explain his thinking to a woman before. Why did he feel like he had to with this woman, someone he had only just met. It was like he actually wanted her approval. Gods! He actually wanted this woman's approval!

He shrugged. "The lifestyle was not for me. I don't know I suppose I just...just always felt a little different. Like there was something more for me to do."

That was an admission he had never made to anyone else. It shocked him with the ease with which it had just come from him in her presence. It was as if she had a presence which made him feel calm and reassured. Otherwise why would you be so open with a stranger?

"Where in the end, I don't know. All I know is that I am not satisfied with just being what I am and I will keep going until I have decided that I am the best I can be. Where-ever or how-ever that may be."

Yes, he might feel comfortable with this woman but he did not yet feel sufficiently so to say that he would happily climb over how-ever many dead bodies it took to get to the top. If she was as astute as he thought she was, she would probably guess it.

He laughed and moved across to sit on the same bench. With some presumption that he felt she might allow, he took her two hands in his own and lifted them up, pretending to inspect them closely, like a doctor might. "Hmmmm, yes, quite right, they are lovely and soft and very, very clean. No ink. No blood. Literally or metaphorically," he winked at her. "But there is always time to remedy that, though, isn't there? You can't learn all about life from scrolls, no matter how illuminating they may be."

He set her hands back down on her lap.

"Only three? I admire your good sense. Presumably you are just waiting for a rich husband to shower you with them as presents if you hate shopping so much? A wise woman would find a doting husband who would save her the agony of it and do it all himself?"

@Laria

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Well, we will agree to disagree there, Marcella. I see no reason why a slave could not become Emperor. Unlikely, yes, but impossible, no. If he had the right support and the right talents then surely getting the necessary public image would just be one of the many things he could pick up along the way. Public image changes. Isn't it something we can make and break ourselves?"

"Well that is a very optimistic way to view the world" she answered, "I agree that we will have to agree to disagree, because that sad truth is that I don't have as much faith in people as you seem to do. I can't imagine them caring enough about any cause to enact real change. Unless the current emperor that this slave is trying to overthrow has personally offended every single citizen than I don't believe that anyone would rally behind him. People just don't pay attention to politics unless it directly affects them." 

She was thoroughly enjoying this, she was actually philosophizing with someone who would actually listen to her, he may not agree with her but he was listening. It was an intoxicating feeling, and one that she didn't like that she felt, usually she was so cold and callous but just a few friendly verbal spars and her normally icy demeanor was melting like butter.  

"The lifestyle was not for me. I don't know I suppose I just...just always felt a little different. Like there was something more for me to do."

She nodded thoughtfully at this, she could sympathize with him, the only reason she wasn't married yet was that she always thought that she could do better. She turned away every man that her brothers presented her with, and all the ones that her father had promised her to, well, there always seemed to be some sort of accident that would happen.

Where in the end, I don't know. All I know is that I am not satisfied with just being what I am and I will keep going until I have decided that I am the best I can be. Where-ever or how-ever that may be."

She knew what he wasn't saying, one didn't just get his position by applying for the job and having a good interview. She had no doubt that more body's would pave the way for his success and somehow, it didn't bother her. "I wish you luck then" she said, not out of politeness but actual hope that he would one day feel accomplished. 

He crossed over to her bench, sat beside her, and took her hands. She had half a mind to pull them away from him and say some backhanded comment but her curiosity got the best of her.

"Hmmmm, yes, quite right, they are lovely and soft and very, very clean. No ink. No blood. Literally or metaphorically... But there is always time to remedy that, though, isn't there? You can't learn all about life from scrolls, no matter how illuminating they may be."

She laughed at this for all sorts of different reasons, he was oh so wrong about the lack of blood on her hands, his wink was, well it made her smile, and he seem to think that not having blood on your hands was something that had to be remedied.  "Remedied, you say?" she asked with a raised eybrow as he let go of her hands.

"Only three? I admire your good sense. Presumably you are just waiting for a rich husband to shower you with them as presents if you hate shopping so much? A wise woman would find a doting husband who would save her the agony of it and do it all himself?"

"Thank you" she said, "any more would be unnecessary. I suppose a wize woman who was intressed in shoes would just get a rich husband to buy them for her, but I have no intrest in shoes." She took another lock of hair that had fallen out of place and tucked it behind her ear before asking, "is there anything that you think is worth going shopping for?"

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"Oh, nothing in the slightest," he said with a laugh. "Still, I could see how I might conceivably change that opinion if I had a wife I genuinely wished to please." Now that was a shocking confession and one which sounded so alien coming from his lips that he had to wonder whether he was actually felling alright?

He looked at her and smiled. "Thank you for your luck but I believe a man makes his own."

Her eyes were so beautiful he felt like he could look at them for hours. This woman had such a strange effect. It was calming. Ordinarily women did not make him feel calm. This one did. It unnerved him. He was always unnerved by the unexpected.

"I understand where you are coming from but I think you must give people some credit. Also, and for the record, I don't think I have ever before been referred to as an optimist!" He chuckled. "Sometimes you don't need to convince people to follow you. You make them follow you. In my experience, it does not pay to give people a choice. Offered a choice, most people will not think properly and will choose the wrong thing. Quick gratification instead of thinking long term, thinking tactically. It is why the Republic didn't work. Too many good intentions. They gave people a choice. Expected them to choose wisely. When people got smart and realized that it didn't matter which way people voted if you had an army at your back and were happy to splash cash around, suddenly they realized that choice wasn't necessary after all. So, no, Marcella. I am not a great believer in the inherent good in people. If anything, I am a realist. People will do what they think will serve them best."

He wanted to touch her hands again but resisted the urge. It was that strange something she made him feel. He wondered what they would feel like caressing him. Did she have some strange magic about her? Some power?

"I don't see you as a woman who would be well suited to a life of weaving and managing household accounts. I am going to stick my neck out and say that I don't think you are the good sort of woman who stands behind a man and backs him up, like a proper Roman wife. No. I think you are the sort who stands right next to him, aren't you? A partner, not a pawn?"

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"Oh, nothing in the slightest, still, I could see how I might conceivably change that opinion if I had a wife I genuinely wished to please."

She laughed and said "how very sweet of you, most men would just send a slave out." She really did think it was admirable, doing something you hated just to do something nice for the one you loved. 

"Thank you for your luck but I believe a man makes his own."

She smiled at him and caught his starting into her eyes, she didn't look away. They held each other's gaze for what fealt like quite some time until Marcella finally looked away. 

I understand where you are coming from but I think you must give people some credit. Also, and for the record, I don't think I have ever before been referred to as an optimist!..."

She laughed with him, she could see why, it wasn't that he was overly negative, he just didn't fit the bill of a typical optimist. From what Marcella could tell he most certainly was though, he knew that he would become even greater than he already was, and not because the world was backing him, but because he had complete faith in himself. 

"Sometimes you don't need to convince people to follow you. You make them follow you. In my experience, it does not pay to give people a choice. Offered a choice, most people will not think properly and will choose the wrong thing. Quick gratification instead of thinking long term, thinking tactically. It is why the Republic didn't work. Too many good intentions. They gave people a choice. Expected them to choose wisely. When people got smart and realized that it didn't matter which way people voted if you had an army at your back and were happy to splash cash around, suddenly they realized that choice wasn't necessary after all. So, no, Marcella. I am not a great believer in the inherent good in people. If anything, I am a realist. People will do what they think will serve them best."

"Once again I think you're over simplifying things, you cannot force people to follow you anymore than, well," she looked around for an example and laughed when another curl of her's fell in front of her face. Brushing it out of the way she continued by saying, "than my hair can be styled, it just dosent last. Eventually the ones you have forced to join you will revolt, even if what you have done is in their best interest. People are sadly just stupid that way, they're set in their ways and forcing enough of them to join you with bribery or black mail or other means will only end in disaster."  She honestly believed this, most people were sheep yes, but all it took was one brave enough to lead them and suddently theres a whole army to deal with. Still, she couldn't help but agree that with the average intelligence of Romes common citizens, it made the most sense to not let them have any say. One of her hands twitched, she had almost moved to take one of his but though better of it, hence the twitch. It had felt nice when he was holding her hands. 

"I don't see you as a woman who would be well suited to a life of weaving and managing household accounts. I am going to stick my neck out and say that I don't think you are the good sort of woman who stands behind a man and backs him up, like a proper Roman wife. No. I think you are the sort who stands right next to him, aren't you? A partner, not a pawn?"

"You would be absolutly correct, but goodness knows I've had enough practice managing accounts and weaving to be a proper wife if I wanted to. The problem is that I don't think I could live that way, I know that I would snap if I spent my days spinning for hours on end and looking forward to gossiping a dinner parties every night. I need to feel like my opinion is valid and listened to, I can't support one person on everything. I know that whomever I marry, he and I will have things that we disagree on because no two people are alike, and I know that I  wouldn't stand having my opinion discredited just because I'm the wife." At the end of her spiel she noticednotic color had risen to her cheeks just talking about it. The fact that she had gotten herself all worked up embarrassed her some, only causing her cheeks to redden further. "Sorry for that" she explained, "I've just had a couple close calls."

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He nodded. The woman had some excellently thought through points. So much so that they showed him up. Beauty and intelligence. Marcella was clearly a diamond. "That is why it makes sense, if you are in charge, to stamp down and snuff out anyone who even runs the risk of making others challenge the status quo. A good Augustus is not one who gives gifts to the plebs and lavishes money on games and buildings. It is instead one who knows that keeping order is more important that being liked and one who does not think twice about purging any...dangerous...elements from the body politic in the way a medicus in the legions would amputate a gangrenous limb. An even wiser Augustus knows this but decides to delegate the duty to a trusted lieutenant, so he can at least pretend to be all clement and loving."

He shouldn't be surprised by her admission that other men had circled round her. Oddly, however, it made him feel possessive. Most of those fools probably just wanted her for that youthful body. None would have wanted her for her mind. None probably had even spent any time considering it. He wanted both. He realized that this was not something he wanted to have slip through his fingers. How would be feel if he saw Marcella on the arm of some senatorial fool? Would she be happy with someone like that? She was not just a woman to carry your children. This was a woman to be your partner and equal.

"Close calls, you say? If you don't mind me asking, I am assuming you are in high demand. A woman cannot be both beautiful and intelligent and be unmarried long in this City."

If he was going to press his suit - and he was definitely thinking so - he wanted to know who else, if anyone, was in the running. He was captivated by her to the point where he was already putting her on a pedestal above all other candidates for a wife he had thus far met, but he did not want to ruin it all by finding out she had some forlorn secret love for someone altogether unsuitable - like pining for her tutor or the boy next door.

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So they could agree on something, she also thought that the best course of action in any situation was to feign kindness and find someone trusted, but expendable, to dispose of any of those who would oppose you. "I think you're absolutely correct" she replied "it's always best to keep people in line, and it's easiest to do that by being well liked." This was incredible, being able to have an actual conversation where she felt listened to. She knew that of all the men who she had ever meet this one was the only one that she could even consider marrying. She knew that she couldn't afford to loose him, men like him didn't grow on trees. For the first time in her life, she was unsure of how to do that, usually she focused her efforts of chasing suitors away, never trying to charm one. 

"Close calls, you say? If you don't mind me asking, I am assuming you are in high demand. A woman cannot be both beautiful and intelligent and be unmarried long in this City."

She laughed and said "I'm afraid you're wrong about that, women don't tend to be desired for their intelligence, and to be perfectly honest I've been known to scare them off" she was unsure of why she reveled this to him, it certainly wouldn't help her when it came to winning hin over. "What about you?" she asked, "surely there must be a reason why such an accomplished and attractive man is not yet married." 

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"Then the men of Rome are bigger fools than I have given them credit for," he said. He could, however, see why someone could be made to feel uncomfortable by her. Most men wanted quiet wives. Ones who looked good on their arm and knew when to keep their mouth closed. He pitied those kind of men, they were missing out on so much. To a man such as that, then Marcella would not only come across as cold but positively rude. If, however, you had a mentality like his, you saw that that impression was only the animal reaction of the primitive masculine mind. A higher thinking man would see that her mind was as attractive as her body and, on both counts, she was pleasingly well endowed.

"Cowards too if they run from battle. I would find it an honor to spar against a worthy opponent such as yourself."

Marcella was able to conjure up in his mind a delicious mix of feelings. Yes, there were the animal ones. Visions of him pinning her down on a bed, her hand over her head, her looking at him with those deep eyes. Then there were the other, more unusual ones for him. Visions of sharing his thoughts with her. Gods, even his feelings. He wanted to see what she thought about this or that. Was this how he was meant to feel for a woman? Not just the physical benefits of them but this deeper, much more oblique feeling.

"As for me, well, what can I say? I doubt I scare anyone. I suppose my fault is that I have been too picky."

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"The men of Rome are bigger fools than I have given them credit for... Cowards too if they run from battle. I would find it an honor to spar against a worthy opponent such as yourself."

She laughed and replied saying, "thank you, most see me as a nuisance rather than an opponent." She was honestly suprized that he was any different, pleasantly surprised but suprized none the less. She had dreamed that someone like him would exist, but now that she had actually meet him she was having trouble wrapping her head around the fact that he did exist, and he did want to hear what she had to say. It was exhilarating, for once she didn't have to watch her tounge for fear of offending whomever she was with for having the audacity to disagree with them. 

"As for me, well, what can I say? I doubt I scare anyone. I suppose my fault is that I have been too picky."

She thought for a moment before saying "I don't think you can be to picky, after all, it's the person that you are committing to spend the rest of your life with." She whole heartedly belived this, she often thought that her friends who had married so young would have been happier if they had waited until they found someone that they could have a companionship with. She couldn't understand the girls who knew that their fate was to be hidden away and to have their husbands children, and didn't care. Marcella was determined to not let that happen to her, she at least needed some who respected her, and she couldn't help thinking that she had meet that someone today. 

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He nodded. "It is a big commitment and should be approached properly." This stood against what some might say, such as the paramount importance of love which could, in a single glance, be enough to make parties sure of such a step. Bah. Love. Love comes with time. Love comes in all forms. A man can love a woman but can also love a dog or a particularly good stuffed vineleaf. Love came and went. Some things lasted forever. Some things were more important.

He had to admit that he had come into this situation with wholly the wrong mindset. He had been expecting - and half wanting - to find the usual: some girl he would never see again and with whom he would be perfectly happy for that to be the case. Marcella, however, was nothing at all like that. She was completely different. Different, in fact, from any woman he thought he had ever met. It intrigued him.

They both knew why they were here. They had been sparring around this elephant in the room but he did not want to pretend that it didn't exist any longer.

"Well, I can safely say that you, Marcella Laelia, are not at all what I expected. And I mean that in a good way, just for the record. So perhaps I can be more forward? I do not like little games. I do not have time for that. I want to know whether you would be amenable to me getting to know you better? To me pressing my suit for you? If that is something you would not like then let me know. I would not force my presence on you. I do not think you are the sort of woman who rejoices in playing suitors off against one another so you presumably would not want to waste your own time. I am sorry if that sounds blunt but I thought you would appreciate honesty."

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"It is a big commitment and should be approached properly."

She was glad that he agreed, it showed that unlike so many others, he was the type of person to take marriage seriously. She wasn't the type of girl to hold out for love, she knew that it often caused more trouble than it was worth. She was much more practical than that, all she needed for a happy marriage was a friend. 

"Well, I can safely say that you, Marcella Laelia, are not at all what I expected. And I mean that in a good way, just for the record. So perhaps I can be more forward? I do not like little games. I do not have time for that. I want to know whether you would be amenable to me getting to know you better? To me pressing my suit for you? If that is something you would not like then let me know. I would not force my presence on you. I do not think you are the sort of woman who rejoices in playing suitors off against one another so you presumably would not want to waste your own time. I am sorry if that sounds blunt but I thought you would appreciate honesty."

So they were finaly going to talk about why they were both here. She appreciated his forwardness, even if it wasn't what she was expecting. She turned to face him and said, "I do appreciate your honesty, and would not protest to any attempts you make to learn more about me." She paused, considering her next words before saying, "but before you decide you if you should want to, there are some things you should know about me. I don't get all dressed up unless I have company coming over or if I'm going out, often in my home I'll be wearing a simple tunica and have my hair hanging loose, I do not intend to change this once married. I expect my marriage to last until death, I do not mind casual sex but I will not be divorced for another woman. And I don't want children, I do not mind having some but being a mother is not a necessity for me." She could hardly believe she had done this, everything was out in the open now. She waiting for his response, hoping that she wasn't to forward by revealing these things. If he still choose to persue her then she would know for a fact that he was the one she was meant to be with. 

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It surprised him that without a moment's hesitation he nodded and agreed.

He agreed to a list of demands, essentially, that would place her outside of the expected scope of what a Roman wife should be. She was scorning the need to appear pleasing (but she would be equally alluring in her lounge-wear, so what was the problem?); she was insisting on the union's binding status and was wholeheartedly against the sort of all-consuming motherhood that her gender was expected to embrace as a given. What sort of woman was this! An extraordinary one and - for that reason - he felt like he had no qualms at all about agreeing to such terms in principle. None, in any event, unduly bothered him. He would like to further the dynasty but he could not care less whether the mother of these fictitious children was hands on or simply handed them over to nurses. He would not have necessarily kept himself chaste only to his wife (few married men did).

"If you wish to put me off, Marcella, you have failed. Like I said earlier, I am an ambitious man. If I see something I want, I will do whatever it takes to achieve that end. Right now I have decided that I want you. I will not be callous and say I want you as an object. No. If I want a woman like that there are hundreds of whores in Rome. You intrigue me. And because of that I want to find out more about you. I think, Marcella, that we would make a good partnership. If terms must be imposed then so be it. You may write them into any marriage contract if you wish."

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She was positively elated, she wasn't sure what sort of reply she had been expecting but the conformation that he still wanted to persue her despite what most would consider to be her flaws. This man was unlike any she had ever meet, in a good way of course. "I don't think I need to write them into a marriage contract, your willingness to do so is all the confirmation I need. I too think that we would make excellent partners and I cannot deny that you intrigued me also." 

While her tone was formal she wanted nothing more than to jump up in down in celebration, a thing she hadn't done since she was a girl. Finally, after years of her brothers nagging and worrying she had found someone. 

An idea entered her mind and she took a moment to consider it. Sje then looked up at Titus and tiled her head to one side, she blinked up at him as if daring him to guess at what was going to happen next. Finally, she extended her neck to kiss him. It was very forward for their first time meet but what with all that had been said, she didn't think subtlest was exactly expected anymore. 

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His initial thoughts were to damn the lot of them and just push through with the preparations for a marriage. This would all need to be worked out later but his mind was racing like a chariot in the final lap of a race. No. Things would need to be done properly. For all his sense of being drawn to Marcella, the proper forms had to be followed. He could not let himself get carried away but what he was feeling, especially if such feelings were new and alien to him. Her father would need to be asked properly. Not that Titus would take no for an answer. If he did then, Marcella's blood kin or not, he would have him dragged to the Castra Praetoria and suspended over the gate by his heels until he changed his mind. The proper legal documents would need to be signed. The marriage contracts and such. There would, of course, need to be preparations made for their co-habitation. She wouldn't be able to live in the Castra. He might be able to divide his time between the two but women were strictly forbidden in the barracks. The family home was spacious. He could move Marcella in and they could take over an entire wing without putting any noses out of joint. How his mother may take to a challenger for ruler of the roost he didn't know. His brother wouldn't care. He was a jovial soul who practically lived in the apartment of his mistress anyway.

He was so caught up in his thoughts that he almost missed Marcella's cue. He could not believe it. She was bold! Bold in thought and action. Seeing her come in close he felt the familiar fire in his veins. The desire not just to kiss her but to push her back, hitch up that chiton, feel those bare legs...

No, he had to restrain himself. This was not Vibia. This was the woman he wanted to be his wife. She deserved his respect and he intended his promise of a partnership to be true.

That was not to say, though, that he would deny himself the offered pleasure. He leant in and, drawing her to him, kissed her gently but without any tentativeness.

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She practically breathed a sigh of relief when he accepted her kiss, she had been a bit worried that he wouldn't. She noticed that his kiss, while gentle, was not shy at all. 

When she finally pulled away her thoughts wandered to wedding preparations, it wouldn't be to difficult to procure the proper legal documents, and they could always figure out their living arrangement later. The real issue would be getting her father to agree to it, latley he had been losing his grip on reality. She honestly didn't know what he would say, it all depended on who he though she was; sometime he thought that she was still a little girl, at other times a household slave, most recently he would think that she was the ghost of her long dead mother, come back to haunt him. "I should warn you about my father" she said, "He hasn't been in his right mind for a while now, I honestly haven't the slightest idea how he's going to react." If he said no for whatever reason, she could always attempt to have Albus step in as the Paterfamilias so he could approve their marriage. Of course, she didn't know if he would approve, as much as he wanted her to marry he was never a fan of praetorian's, and might deny them because of that. She decided that while he was going loony, it would be their best chance asking her father. 

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Ahh, yes, so we must turn our minds to business, Titus thought with an internal sigh. He had been enjoying the kiss, exploring Marcella's soft mouth and enjoying her readiness to engage. He had half wondered whether she would yield to more but, no, of course not and quite right too. Still, he wanted to go in and try again but could see that her mind was now working in another direction. That was fine, there would be plenty of time for more in future.

So what was all this with her father then? He was intrigued. He could not see how he would be a problem. He did not like problems. However, he had a knack of making problems go away if he wanted to.

"Not in his right mind?" He asked. The topic may well be a sore one so he decided to proceed with care rather than suggest that he didn't care if the man howled at the moon. "He is ill? I am sorry to hear that but I can assure you that I would approach him with nothing but respect and honor. Besides, you have brothers, do you not? The entire menfolk of your family cannot be uniformly against me, can they? They don't even know me! If it is the uniform that they have a problem with I can also assure you that this is just a stepping stone on the way to bigger things. Do they think I'll be like one of Clemens' mad dogs and put all their names on a prescription list?"

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