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Zia

A Happy Union [M - S & V]

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Posted (edited)

AU - 72CE - Dacia

Zia slammed the door to her quarters so loud she was sure the wood would snap off and splinter. "Zia!" The voice beckoned from outside, booming through the wooden walls that made up the Chief's residence. "You have to listen to reason now girl." Zia huffed and kicked at a box that lay at her feet, aiming it at one of the slaves who squealed and jumped out of the way. From down the hall she could hear Luto cry. He hadn't stopped crying since she had broken the news that his Papa wasn't coming home. The handle to the door rattled and then the oak opened up and the face of her father-in-law, stony but sorrowful, loomed into view. 

"Get out of my room." She swore and aimed another kick - this time at a loose bundle of clothing - which landed at his feet. The man raised his hands, and she could see from  few paces away that tears pricked in his eyes. Weak. Pathetic. Scared. Was all that came to mind as she looked upon him. "He's all we have. You have to see reason." She scoffed and shook her head, a glower on her face. "At least meet him with me. And then we can see, hm?" Zia huffed again and appraised her father-in-law Cothelas (or not her father-in-law, now?). She only nodded her assent, and it was reluctant assent at that before clicking her fingers at the slave. "Find me something to wear." Her father-in-law smiled, relieved and inclined his head - backing out of the room slowly. She noted he didn't turn his back to her as he walked away. Smart. 

---

It was some hours later that she was in the great hall. Those survivors of the battle two days prior were there; a motley court of the injured and the afraid; filling the room but leaving a gap in the middle. Zia was arrayed in her finest, gold glinting from her wrists and her armbands and a diadem atop her hair which was left long down to her waist. Her son sat next to her - between her father-in-law and herself, eyes still red raw from crying but mercifully quiet for now. She could tell Cothelas was nervous. He picked at the skin around his nails and his eyes were red-rimmed from tiredness. She supposed losing both of one's sons in one fell swoop was bound to do that. She dared not dwell on Diegis lest her face crumple. No, keep projecting strength, that was what she told herself. Somebody has to. 

The battle had been short and bloody. The Ratacenses, her husbands (late husbands) tribe were fearsome and well equipped, and had decimated the legion that had surrounded them. A winner could not be declared; they had both lost their commanders. The Dacian's had lost Diegis and his older brother, heir to the chieftaincy, and the Romans had lost their legate and tribune. The former of which had been sat stewing in a dank little hole for the past two days, but now he'd finally see the light and the Dacian's own particular brand of mercy. Many had called for his execution; something public, something painful. He had taken their hope in the form of the two heirs, and Zia had at least initially agreed. Yet Cothelas, in one of his rare moments of intelligence had held a different idea. Luto, her son, was now to be named the heir. He was, however, only four and utterly fatherless and frail in the way that all children that age are. Besides, Cothelas knew that the Romans would be back - braying for blood - and Luto would be first on the pile. Hence his simultaneously utterly ridiculous and utterly brilliant plan. What better way to appease the Romans than by aligning yourselves with them? And what better way to do that and keep your independence then by matrimony? 

Zia had been appalled, but understood. If she married this Roman and eventually had further children, they would be of both Roman and Dacian blood. Half-brothers and half-sisters to their future chief, and beholden to two lands. It would show that their tribe was serious about peace, but would not surrender in the traditional way. Yet despite the logic, she didn't like the idea one bit. Cothelas knew that as well as anybody and so had arranged, after a public greeting of the man (whose name Zia had already forgotten), there would be a private summit between his daughter-in-law and her future spouse to...test the waters, as it was. Her nails dug into the wood of the chair as she gripped onto it. 

The doors at the end of the hall broke open and the room was bathed in light. She squinted those narrowed green eyes at the figures that approached, a man bound in rope at the wrists, escorted by two of the surviving (and purposefully largest) Dacian warriors. 

She turned to Cothelas when the Roman was in earshot and scoffed. "This is him?" 

 

TAG: @Liv

Edited by Sara
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How could it all have gone so wrong? How could a ragtag tribe of miners and smiths inflict such damage and defeat a bloody legion - professional soldiers, for crying out loud! Some bored, wicked god must have been wanting a repeat of the Teutoburg Forest massacre for their own entertainment, because nothing else could explain such a phenomenal blunder. In the two days he had been held captive, Titus had replayed the whole grim scene over and over in his head. He had failed everyone. His tribune - who now lay dead in some ditch -, his men, his emperor, his family, his ancestors. The only minuscule measure of satisfaction amidst all the misery was that it had been something of a Pyrrhic victory for the Dacian tribe: they had lost not only a great number of their forces but also their heirs and future chieftains. On both sides the chain of command had been irreparably cut.

That desperation, he reckoned, had to be the reason why the chieftain - Cothellus, Cultellus, whatever - had come to Titus with his absurd idea. From a purely logical point of view it made some sense: what better way to delay your demise by an angry enemy than to entreat one of said enemy to your side? The old man was placing some obscure hope on him, for it would have been much easier (and more popular) to have him executed, probably crucified in a mockery of Roman custom; perhaps he hoped Titus would share information on the tactics and training of the Eagles. Or perhaps he wanted his little grandson and heir to learn Latin and the Roman ways for diplomatic purposes, and more grandchildren and spare heirs of partially Roman blood. Had the Dacian been reading up on the daughters of Mark Antony and their fates and gathered inspiration from their lives? Who could really tell? Titus was in no position to negotiate, and Cultellus did not relent even after being made acutely aware of just how little clout Titus' name carried at the moment within Roman power circles, courtesy of the Ratacenses.

He went quietly. What was the point in resisting, bound as he was, with no weapons and flanked by two bellicose giants who would be happy to crush his head into a pulp like some melon the moment he so much as fiddled with the rope round his wrists? Titus let his gaze wander, taking in his surroundings with disinterest. A big hall, but it could not compare to the marble buildings of Rome. Sullen faces stared at him, and some jeered and called him names - if they had more eloquent things to say about him, his Dacian was not good enough to understand it. 

The giants stopped at some random point in the middle of the hall and so did he. Ahead was old Cultellus in a fancy chair, next to a sad-looking little boy, and by the boy's side was a haughty-looking woman with long flowing hair and covered in golden jewellery. Apparently she was none too impressed.

"Apologies for not living up to your expectations. You're not the only one complaining these days," he observed in self-deprecating Latin.

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Zia arched a brow. She was not a savage, she had learned Latin in the years of the Roman occupation even if her husband had thought it a futile effort. She was not utterly fluent but she had enough to converse with people such as this creature. "It speaks." She said in said Latin and narrowed her eyes on him. The grime of imprisonment had done him no favours over the last few days, but she didn't doubt he was good-looking underneath it all. Not that she cared much, as far as she was concerned his life would be spent sequestered in his rooms; trotted out for public events or if the Romans should come knocking, or for certain marital duties. The rest of his life would be spent in excruciating isolation, the thought of which produced a warm smile on her face. 

Sensing the tension, Cothelas glanced between the pair and then hurriedly (or as hurriedly as an aging, exhausted, grief-stricken man could) rose from his chair, easing the room into silence with imploring hands; "Peace, peace." The room's jeers turned into whispered mutters as the Chief began to speak, in Dacian, to the assembled crowds. 

"We have suffered a great deal, my people, but we have won a great victory. Who else amongst these lands could lay claim to defeating the occupiers so bravely and with so much skill?" Zia merely rolled her eyes. Hardly skill when both of his sons were long since buried. "But the fight has only just begun. With this victory comes a great burden; they will not stop now, they will not leave us to our crops or our mines, they will come back again and again and keep coming until every single one of us," He looked around at the faces of those assembled for dramatic effect and Zia had to suppress a smirk, "Is in chains or with our Gods." The crowds murmured and glanced uneasily between themselves. "But there is another way." Zia zoned out at this point as Cothelas rattled through his plan, her eyes focused and unwavering on the grime covered man standing a few feet in front of her. As Cothelas spoke about the marriage and the rationale, gasps and jeers went up through the people and she saw the flash of blades ready to pounce on this Roman's smug throat.

There was to be no peace as long as he was in the room, and with a jerk of his head, Cothelas ordered the giants beside him to escort the Roman out into an antechamber where he was roughly deposited on a chair and left alone, the door swinging back on its hinges behind them. Her father-in-law muttered through the side of his mouth to Zia, "Go. Now." And whilst never usually one to do as she was bidden, she did so this time. Sweeping up from her chair in a wave of fabric and glinting gold, she moved the same route until she was outside of the door of the ante-chamber. She could hear the crowd behind her, baying for blood. She smirked. Cothelas was going to have a fight on his hands, it seemed. 

Composing herself for just a moment, she inclined her head to the men stationed outside who summarily opened the door. She only took a half-pace in as the door closed behind her and she arched a brow, appraising him in the sort of way a cat does with a mouse it's hunting. "Do you speak Dacian?" She asked in a neutral voice, in her own language. 

 

TAG: @Liv

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If the woman was expecting to rile him up with her little quip she would have to put far more effort into it. Titus merely blinked lazily at her with half-lidded eyes, to show how utterly unimpressed he was. The chieftain appeared to pick up on it, and quickly embarked into a grandiose-sounding speech of which Titus could only make out a few loose words.

When the spectators understood the old man's plan, however, they did not seem as convinced or impressed by it as he. Gasps turned to indignant cries and angry voices rose above the crowd's murmuring. Titus smirked; such poetic justice it would be if the damned tribe ended up perishing to infighting on his account. Another of Fortuna's whims, or another god if not her. As he was escorted out, a light sneer remained on his lips. Many of the Dacians were glaring daggers at him, and would doubtlessly have made use of their actual daggers if not for the gladiator-like bodyguards that flanked him.

In the antechamber, Titus could not help but laugh out loud at the way in which Cultellus' plan had backfired. Was this his role now, to be some Cleopatra come from distant lands to sow discord amongst the Ratacenses like the last queen of Aegyptus had done with Antony and the divine Augustus? Why, they were even planning on using him for breeding stock! It was all so stupidly funny. The funniest thing he'd sheard in the last couple of days, really. His shoulders and arms shook as he laughed, causing his wrists to rub uncomfortably against the rope that bound them, but Titus paid it no heed. 

He stopped only when the door opened to let in the woman from before. His breath was ragged from that little fit of near-hysterical laughter, but she did not seem to be bothered by it. In fact, she looked very much the type who did not want others to see what bothered her - she had lost a husband barely two days before and there she stood, tall, proud and dry-eyed in her gold adornments. Titus looked up at her, weary -and wary - all of a sudden. "Just little," he replied in her tongue with the typical hesitance of non-fluent speakers. Just enough to call you a whore and tell you to fuck off was what he would have liked to add, but since she wasn't being openly hostile, neither should he. Maybe she had as much choice in this whole farce as him, though the way she studied him made him think otherwise. 

Titus briefly considered asking a question or two of his own, but decided against it even before he opened his mouth again. Being their captive, he was at their mercy - let the woman lead the conversation, if it could be called one. By the looks of her she would probably next taunt him for his presently less than hygienic state, or some similarly stupid thing outside his control.

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She tutted, arching an unimpressed brow and spoke in accented Latin. "You will have to learn, I will get a teacher from one of the nurseries to help you." A light smirk lit up her lips and she moved wordlessly to take the seat opposite him, across the table. The door was shut and she was alone with a man that rightfully was still her enemy, but she knew well enough that one sound of distress would prompt the men outside of the door to barrel in and cause him a world of hurt. Besides, he was bound, what was he going to do?

She drummed her fingers on the table in a rhythmic, and irritating pattern and scanned her eyes over his face. What on earth did she want to say  to him? Anything smart would sound hollow given the situation meant she had absolutely zero choice in this if she didn't want to end up in chains in the home of some dull cruel Roman. Settling on a question as she appraised him, she intoned in Latin; "What would your people do to you if you went back to Rome, given how badly you fucked up when you lost all your men?" She tilted her head to her side and studied him. What was the point in marrying a Roman if they were as useless as a flaccid cock, and if his own people didn't care for him? It was a question that had been bothering her since Cothelas' plan had come together.

 

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She presumably expected him to bristle at the notion of a grown man learning a language alongside children, but it did not provoke such animosity in him. How many nurses had listened in on their charges' Greek lessons, picking up the basics, and went on to use them for their own advantage? Titus shrugged nonchalantly. If he was to stay in this hellhole for an undetermined amount of time, he would like to at least be able to exchange insults with the Dacians on equal terms.

For all the angles to the situation, the woman seemed to be taking it all in her stride. If she wanted him painfully executed for being ultimately responsible for her husband's death, her disdainful contempt kept eventual anger well at bay; she did not show fear either, taking a seat across him as if about to sign some contract. Had she been one of the Dacians' commanders that day, they might have not lost so many of their own and inflicted an even more shameful defeat on his legion. She was even humouring him by speaking in Latin instead of keeping to her mother tongue and have him tumble over his words in a mediocre attempt at communication, irritating drumming tic notwithstanding.

"They don't want me back," was the simple answer Titus provided as he stared down at his hands, oblivious to her gaze. "They expect me to end my own life." Which would be the honourable thing to do, if not for the lack of utensils and the constant watching that made it impossibly difficult for the time being. He smiled, but there was no trace of mirth in it. "Have you ever heard of a man called Quinctilius Varus? He did much the same, some sixty years ago. My only redeeming quality compared to him is that I only fucked up one legion, not three." He had an idea of what the woman was trying to figure out; he wondered the same thing himself. "I'm not sure what your chief's endgame is with this plan of his, but whatever he's relying on my name for, he'd better forget about it." He was just a dead man sitting.

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Zia's green eyes narrowed on his face. "And why have you not? Taken your own life?" She queried in Latin. Surely there had been plenty of swords littering the battlefield for him to pick up and run through his chest? It was much the same in Dacia, she mused, better to be dead than taken alive. This one must be a coward, which only detracted from him further, she thought sullenly.

She shook her head lightly at the mention of the name; so foreign and funny sounding. She sighed and resumed her drumming on the table, fingers methodically sounding out the odd rhythm. "Your name doesn't matter," She waved her free hand, "Blood does. No matter how bad you fuck up," Her Latin slipped a little not that she noticed, "You still Roman and we are still aligning ourselves to you. We," She smirked a little and tossed her hair back over her shoulder, her fingers still drumming on the table, "Surrender. But on our terms." She shrugged and leant back in her chair, finally withdrawing her fingers from the table. 

She studied him, content in the silence, eyes probing and narrowed. "We are getting married in a week. Not that it will change much for you, you will just stay in a nicer cell with a bed and a door and things to read," She smiled now, "In Dacian of course." 

 

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A very good question. Titus could not even begrudge the woman for asking it, as he would have the done the same. He lifted his bound hands for her to see and wiggled grimy fingers in a mockery of the pattern she'd been drumming on the table before dropping them on to the hard wood. "I would have if your friends hadn't got to me first." And of course they had been cautious enough not to let him out their sight, or to leave just one man keeping watch over him. Not that he had anything left to live for. But if he could fool the Dacians into a quiet lull for a few days, then at some point he could gets his free hands on something - surely this woman had a knitting needle or two laying about. And then he could finally do the right thing.

Titus stared blankly at the woman, struggling to make sense of her words. Surrender? This did not look like surrender. Surrender would have been their corpses strewn about a field and the survivors in chains, ready to be handed off to slave traders. Surrender would have been Roman roads criss-crossing the province, and fora and theatres and baths and temples raised here and there. If he voiced his confusion, though, she would probably see it as a small victory, a show of her people's superiority over him. "Either something is getting lost in translation or I don't think that word means what you think it means," he mumbled, shaking his head in frustration.

A whole week - if he made it through that long (and if some merciful deity was listening, he wouldn't).  And then what? A sham of whatever these people called a wedding? Would they still have him bound then?  Maybe they'd even tie a rope round his neck and drag him to the place like you did to a stubborn ox. The thought elicited a wry smile. "Didn't know you people had an alphabet." He had never bothered to learn more about this pig language than the strictly necessary, and roughly half of his vocabulary were choice words not suitable for polite company. "A bed does sound nice. A bath would too, for both our sakes." A shave would probably be too much to ask. As if provoked by his unkempt state, Titus scratched the side of his head awkwardly, the simple gesture made difficult by the way his wrists were forcibly joined.

"Please, do enlighten me. What exactly are 'your terms'? I honestly don't see what it is your old man hopes to achieve. Rome would sooner forget I ever existed. There's nothing in it for you." Either the plan was absurd beyond a possible explanation, or he really was far too exhausted to be able to follow their convoluted reasoning.

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Zia's jaw tightened and she stared him down. Was this man an idiot? Was she going to be tied, for life (or until his usefulness had passed) to a complete dolt? "He's not my old man." She countered flippantly and shrugged thin shoulders, green-hazel eyes not wavering from his face. With a dramatic sigh she leaned both her elbows on the table and rested her jaw in one palm, continuing the drumming with the other hand. 

"The chief thinks, and I agree, that my late husband and his brother acted too rashly by engaging in an open battle." Gods preserve Diegis but if he were here Zia would have slapped him blue, "That was their mistake which we now have to deal with. My son," She gauged his reaction, "Is in line to be the next chief but he's only four. I know you Romans love to kill children as well as men and women, so we have to keep him safe. Cothelas feels that by surrendering, completely, explaining Diegis and his brother," A lump came to her throat at her late husbands name, "Acted without the approval of the tribe, but that we intend to make amends by submitting to Rome as a client annex of Dacia," She watched his reaction, "And to show our loyalty, Cothelas will marry the mother of his heir to a Roman," She smirked now and a bubble of laughter left her lips, "To show we've changed our ways and on the understanding we can expect no retribution for what you fucked up with your poor leadership." She withdrew her face from her palm and leant back, arms crossed. 

"All clear?" 

 

TAG: @Liv

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A look of mild surprise crept upon Titus' face, making him look more alert for all of a few seconds. He had been ignorant of the familial intricacies of this tribe beyond the most basic need-to-knows, and now that they had been brought to light, he found himself wondering why the woman in front of him had not gone back to her own father following the death of her husband. Perhaps her kin were dead, or maybe it was the little son she spoke of that compelled her to stay. Either way, she was looking more and more impatient with each instant.

Surprise then gave way to indignation, and before he could stop himself Titus was leaning forward in his seat and speaking up, interrupting the woman. "We do not! Men -yes. Women -sometimes. But not children!" They could be turned into slaves and sold, which was much wiser financially. Trust these barbarians to be misinformed; no wonder they fought tooth and nail if they operated under the assumption of mass extermination should they fall.

Under different circumstances (rather, between different nations) the plan would have held water. It would have even been called a sound one. However, as things stood, it had one glaring flaw Titus could not overlook. "Very clear. But there's one thing you aren't accounting for. I get it, you want this to go the way of Armenia. But look instead to Pontus, Numidia, Mauretania, Aegyptus. They tried the client state trick too, and what are they today? Roman provinces. Do you know why?" He did not wait for the woman to reply, but but merely drew breath and carried on. "Resources. You lot are sitting on literal gold. Why should Rome let you control it when she can cut the middleman and take it for herself?"

No, it did not seem to him like they had thought it entirely through. Whether it was desperation or honest, misguided belief that they could buy themselves peace in this way - Titus would find out very soon. "You're just delaying the inevitable. I give it three, five years tops before you're forced to see the futility of your plan. Then again," he shrugged, mocking glint in his brown eyes, "you'll have me dead long before that." And if they didn't, he would do the job himself. 

Fatigue was starting to take over, but he would not give in to it just yet. The conversation wasn't over. Titus leant back in his seat, let his hands drop onto his lap and cast the woman a long, tired gaze. In spite of her cold demeanour, she had explained everything to him, which is why he couldn't figure it out - how was a woman who did not hesitate to glare at him with such contempt simply do as she was told? She seemed to have drawn the short straw just as much as him.

"One more question. Why are you going along with this? And don't tell me it's just because of your son." 

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She gritted her jaw at his retort and glowered through thick lashes until she was sure the power of her glare would melt him clean off the face of this earth. "You'll forgive me if I don't trust the judgement of a man that killed how many thousands of his own men, two days ago, due to his own stupidity." She scoffed and shook her head, arms still firmly folded across her chest. "It is also, conveniently, the only plan we have short of being enslaved and murdered so..." She smiled a forced, nauseatingly fake smile and shrugged limply. It was a desperate last act to save his people by Cothelas. It would be admirable, really, if they weren't in this mess in the first place due to the idiocy of her husband. If only they'd listened to her, she thought sullenly. 

His final question made her smirk though and she retorted, flippantly, with no hesitation. "Because I am desperate to ride you until I'm screaming out in pleasure." And arched a brow, making no suggestion she was not serious besides the tautness of her posture and the lazy way she eyed him. She let the silence swell for a moment before adding, in an an equally nonplussed voice; "My son is the only important thing to me, so yes, I'll do this for him but," She rolled her eyes and readjusted her position in the chair, "My father in law is an idiot, I was married to an idiot - Gods keep him - and they've left me with a mess to clean up. Unfortunately for both of us, this is the only solution I can see that doesn't end with me in chains or nailed up to a cross. But," She released a hand and waved in his direction in a deferential manner, "By all means Legate, tell me what I should do instead if you have any bright ideas." 

 

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Lesser men would have wilted under the woman's fiery glare, but Titus let it roll off back, seemingly unaffected. Whatever her opinion of him, and it was painfully obvious it was low, it could not compare to the way he felt about himself and his monumental failure. Her little offhanded jab stung with all the precision of a good medicus, and Titus felt his muscles tense involuntarily, the rope burn on his flesh immediately more noticeable.

He would not be so arrogant as to deny it, but neither would he give her the satisfaction of seeing him hang his head in shame. Titus returned her depraved smirk with a raised eyebrow on an otherwise impassive expression, filling in the silence to rob it of its intended meaning. "Actually, with you I'd prefer to do it in the manner of beasts1. That way we won't have to look at each other." The rest of her little speech fell in line with what he expected: yes, it was about her son, and she was the very picture of a self-sacrificing parent who would put their child's safety and well-being above their own. To that he could not relate - the gods had not seen it fit when they had decided to take Valeria and their child over a decade before, might they be forever free of suffering under Dis Pater's care.

Titus shrugged once more, again deliberately ignoring her mockery and forcing himself to relax his posture. "Why not take the boy and go back to your father's? Or are you forever tied to your husband's family even though he's dead?" One more reason why these creatures needed a civilising influence, so they would learn to turn relationships into political acts. Unfortunately, somebody else - someone better than him - would have to be the bringer of that influence. "And why wait a week for this pretence? That'll just allow more time for the news to spread, which I would think goes against what Cultellus is trying to achieve." He made to wave his hands, but stopped short as the rope began cutting mercilessly into sore flesh. A dusty piece of knowledge from what had might as well have been another lifetime struck him as a possible reason. "You bleeding now or what?"

@Sara

1 - apparently this is what they called doggy style!

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She made no retort to his little jibe and merely sat painfully still, watching him with an irritated expression. She honestly couldn't think of much worse than sex with this brute, although sex without seeing him was slightly worse, she supposed. His one redeeming feature - underneath the grime, as far as she could tell - were his looks. 

She merely quirked an eyebrow at the insinuation she should go back to her father and smiled that sly, vicious smirk; "Oh I will go back - if this all goes to shit." She was ruthless when it came to the interests of her family, which at present solely consisted of Luto. "But if he has the opportunity to be the chief here then," She shrugged, "I might take a punt and see how it goes for a while." Luto's future came first, and at present this was the most lucrative offer - even if she was displeased by it. Of course, should the Romans come knocking searching for their lost legate then she'd be on the first cattle wagon back to the Appuli. 

"Cothelas." She corrected him, disappasionately. She really, truly didn't care for his views on the matter until his final statement and her eyes flared with annoyance. "Yes." She shrugged, trying not to let him see that the fact he had deduced it bothered her. "Why? Does that offend you?" She smirked. "I'd like to see a man try and walk around and conduct business whilst on a flux as us poor, weak women have to." To prove her point she raised her foot silently off the ground and kicked as hard as she could into his balls. The resulting scene made her chuckle and arch a brow. "You see? You can't even take that. Pathetic." 

 

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The woman's lack of a retort to his crude statement led Titus to wonder if she was seriously considering it in her mind. She wasn't bad-looking in spite of the arrogance that marred her features, but between performance anxiety caused by current circumstances and the judgmental look that seemed to be a permanent fixture in her eyes, the chance to fantasise about a different face and a different place would be a precious one.

Cultellus, Cothelus, Cinaedus, Culus - who cared. It's not like these barbarians would pronounce his name correctly, either. Titus just rolled his eyes in mild annoyance, not even proud of having his guess confirmed. For whatever reason, the Dacian was very defensive about her current state. Maybe it was a thing of shame in their culture. "Why should it? Just proves you're a wom--".

The surprise kick had him instantly crying out and doubling over, trying to protect himself from an eventual new blow. His world dissolved into all-encompassing pain. He could feel nothing else, see nothing but sparks in the darkness behind eyes screwed shut. The pain came in waves, each worse than the other, until it finally started to abate as he panted heavily and stars slowly disappeared from his blurry vision, the world gradually regaining its colours and contours. His fingers twitched and his whole body shook as Titus struggled to regain control over his breathing, but slowly he sat up straight again and with watery eyes glared at the woman with as much scorn and hatred as he could put into it. Fucking bitch. 

A deep breath to steady himself...

And then he was standing up lightning fast, using all the strength he could muster to flip the table with his bound hands towards the woman. She would have to jump up and back off to avoid it, and Titus seized the opportunity to close the distance between them and charge her with his shoulder, knocking her down on her back. If she wanted a fight, by Mars she was going to get one! Wasting no time before the commotion inevitably brought in the guards, Titus pounced on her, straddling her waist so she wouldn't be able to use her knees to strike back and looming over her to dig his left elbow onto the sensitive area right below the spot where collarbone met her right shoulder, putting all hips upper body strength into it. His left forearm was brought to bear down hard on her throat, a manic fire gleaming in his eyes. The chokehold was awkward, but still frighteningly effective as he made use of his tied right wrist to increase the pressure on his forearm. It wouldn't be long before the lack of air had her in a panic.

Titus grinned down at the woman, a predatory smile hanging loosely from his lips. "Do you want to die? I don't mind dying. I've got nothing left to lose anyway." He gave a short derisive laugh, but did not ease the pressure on her throat. "But if you die, your little boy will be all alone when the legions come back. How do you think that will turn out?" 

@Sara

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Zia grinned maliciously as he doubled over in pain. It had amused her since her teenage years that men liked to project this strength - that they were infallible - when all it really took was one well timed kick to the balls to have them writhing around in agony. The grin was knocked off her face almost immediately, however, as he launched himself at her. She let out a cry of pain as his shoulder barrelled into her chest and she crumpled to the floor. She didn't even have time to react, to call out or try and stop him before he was atop her and the breath was knocked from her body by pain and the pressure of an arm on her throat. 

She scrambled, nails clawing at his arms and then his face, but she didn't - couldn't - even listen to what he was saying. She just wanted to breathe. She felt her head swim as she kicked and contorted, feeble arms desperately trying to push him off. It felt as if it lasted for years but could only have been moments until the pressure was released and she felt a great sweep of air rush back down her throat into her lungs, sending her coughing and writhing on the floor. 

She lay there, trembling, as the guard mercilessly kicked him into submission on the floor next to her. Her fingers shook as she finally managed to draw herself up to sit. "S-stop," She said hoarsely but the men either didn't hear her or purposefully ignored her, "STOP." her voice was a shadow of its former self but the guards glanced between her and the crumpled man on the floor. "W-we need him." She broke into another fit of coughing and winced as she tried to rotate her arm, the pain from his elbow digging into the soft tissue still lingering vividly. 

On hands and knees she crawled over to him, until she was sat above, staring down into those brown eyes. "You're an animal." She choked as she stared him down, shaking fingers coming to the tender skin of her neck. "And here I thought you only killed women sometimes.She shook her head and the muscles of her jaw tightened. She wanted to take the eating knife from her belt and stick it right in his stupid fucking throat. But she couldn't. But it equally couldn't go on like this. The guards lingered behind them as she contemplated. 

"What do you want? To make this work?" 

 

TAG: @Liv

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Nothing made priorities clear like your life being in danger, but Titus barely had any time to take in his success in leading the woman to terror and desperation. The men guarding the door ran into the room, wasting little time in pulling him off of the woman and sending him hurtling to the ground a handful of feet away. Before he could take a breath's pause they unleashed their fury on him, pummelling and kicking everywhere they could make contact with. He didn't stand a chance, not with hands bound and so little energy left, and all he could do was curl up on his side and make a feeble attempt at protecting his skull. The sickening crunch of something in his chest giving way, the blow to the side of his head that made everything fade into blackness for two seconds or two hours, the fountain of blood sprouting from his nose and getting in his mouth - or maybe it was his mouth that was filling with red and flowing backwards into his nose, he couldn't really tell anymore -, the throbbing eye that would swell shut in a few hours... he doubted all that would heal within a week's time. The thought made him want to smile, but he found he couldn't; it hurt too much.

Sometimes meant sometimes. This could have been one such time, had it not been for the guards' timely interruption. They might have killed him, too - probably would have, if not for the woman's also timely interruption. Her order gave them pause, and after what felt like an eternity they backed away, ready to spring into action again if needed.

He briefly toyed with the idea of saying he wanted nothing they could offer, had no need for anything anymore, just to see what kind of look she would make. Would she be angry? Fearful? Satisfied? But the idea left his brain the moment he spat out the blood pooling on the inside of his cheek and lifted his eyes to meet hers.

There was one thing he wanted. One single thing. "I want our eagle returned to Rome. Intact. No games, no trickery." It took great effort to force out the words and his jaw hurt with every syllable and fresh blood dripped from a million places at once - his mouth, his nose, his temple -, but it was his only wish at the moment, because winding back time to three days before and redoing it all wasn't fulfillable by anyone, not even the gods. Even though he had failed his men, he could do right by them one last time and have the symbol of what they stood for sent back to their homeland. They did not deserve to see their standard abandoned and degraded in a foreign field, or melted down for its metal - of which the Dacians had more than enough anyway. 

The adrenaline wearing off hit him like a chariot out of control. With every passing second Titus became acutely aware of every bruise, every ache, the way his chest heaved painfully with each shallow breath telling the tale of at least one broken rib, the metallic wetness mixing in with sweat and dirt. His eyes desperately wanted to give in to darkness and shut out the world, but he forced them to remain open for a few moments more, still trained on the woman. A whisper left his bloody lips. "That's all I want."

@Sara

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The man was pitiful, it should be embarrassing really, but there was only an odd hollowness in Zia's chest as she looked at him. She briefly considered, for the shortest of moments, whether he would be as merciful should the tables have been turned and she lay on the floor bound and bleeding. What would he do? The hypothetical question strengthened her resolve, she knew she could expect no mercy from him. But he assumed they were barbarians, savages; no culture and nothing really beyond the desperate needs to breed and displace Rome. It was ill-informed of course, but she could understand why he thought thus. It would do him, nor her, nor any of their tribe much good should that view prevail. 

Nodding slowly, she sat back on her heels and winced again as she tried to rotate her shoulder. "It will be done. When we take them the happy news of your recent nuptials." She grit her jaw and then spoke in Dacian to the two men guarding him; "After he's put back, find Cothelas and bring him to my rooms. And keep that Eagle safe." They looked wary, but they were just foot soldiers - idiots the lot of them - they didn't understand the bigger picture. Returning their standard only added to their scheme; not only were they submitting their highest rank woman to a life with a Roman (hah!) but they were returning the very essence of a legion intact, back to its motherland. The note or speech crafted to go along with the return would have to be carefully constructed - something saccharine and apologetic, but she could dwell on that later. 

She flicked her gaze back to Titus dispassionately and tried to steady the tremble in her hand and the shake in her voice. "You'll be taken to a room where you can wash and clean yourself." Supervised, of course, she wasn't an idiot. "And your military...things." Uniform, "Will be cleaned for the wedding. I trust you'll be compliant now?" She arched a brow but knew she was losing a battle against sleep that also pulled at his attention. 

Tutting, she shook her head and without a second glance at him, rose unsteadily and strode from the room. 

 

TAG: @Liv

Do you want to pick this up after the wedding or before...?

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Titus had not expected the woman to agree so readily, or quietly, to his one demand. That the tribe would try and manipulate the circumstances of the delivery to fit their narrative better was pretty much a given, but not one worth fighting over. To Rome he was a dead man, regardless of whether a body turned up or not; nobody would concern themselves with his fate. His brother and sister might, in private, but as far as public life was concerned, his had effectively ceased to exist.

His actual, bodily one was also threatening to suspend operations for deep maintenance. He heard the woman bark something in Dacian - probably orders to the guards - from very far away, as if she were on the other side of a great chasm. Titus hoped she was telling them to take care of the eagle. The rest of her words in Latin and the way she said them registered only briefly. Why was she blurry all of a sudden? What what it she wanted now? Compliance? Yes, yes, she'd get it.

He tried to give his verbal assent, but only managed to splutter and then flinch with a groan at the resulting stabbing pain in his chest. When had it all become so dark? With the last of his energy, Titus gave a feeble nod before finally giving in to the bone-deep exhaustion that was ruthlessly taking over.

His whole body hurt, but it would be a hundred times worse in a few hours when he woke up. And he deserved all of it.

@Sara

We can pick it up right after if you're okay with it!

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Zia's face was as stony and cold as marble as she sat at the top table of the wedding feast. The revellers that packed the hall weren't looking much more impressed either. Indeed, the only person that looked even the slightest bit happy was Cothelas who grinned as he spoke at lengths about the prosperity of their tribe for generations to come and yada yada yada. Zia zoned out and sipped at her wine. 

Mercifully the Dacian wedding ceremony didn't necessitate any kind of physical intimacy with her new husband, at least not until later on in the night, and she cast sparse glances at him. Whoever had tended to his injuries had done a poor job, and the bruising around his eye was the same hue as the dark dress she had purposefully, and bitterly donned in opposition to the usual lightness of wedding attire. The lad who had tended to his armour had done a better job and it stood gleaming against the candles that flickered in the hall. The very image of a Roman man; there he sat. 

Luto was sat to her left, between herself and Cothelas, whilst Titus was on her right. The separation did not stop her son from peering, curiously, at their new visitor, his new step-father though. She glanced at him as he stared. "Stop looking at him." She said sternly in Dacian. "He's not special." Luto frowned that comical frown four-year olds do when they're being chided and can't work out why. "He looks poorly and...funny." She rolled her eyes and glanced sideways to Titus. "He is ill." She said in Dacian and then spoke to Titus in Latin. "Tell him you're ill, in Dacian." It was an order, not a request. 

 

TAG: @Liv

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Dacian weddings were apparently very drab affairs. The only one who seemed even remotely pleased was the old man, who was droning on with enthusiasm about a great many things. The guests did not look convinced and their scepticism was shared by the bride, who kept stealing glances at Titus when she thought he wasn't looking. He ignored her in favour of sipping on his wine or dipping bread in some honey. Though they might be barbarians, Titus conceded that in matters of viticulture and apiculture their current products were already plenty satisfactory.

While he busied himself eating and drinking, Titus couldn't help but draw parallels to his experience with a Roman wedding. No procession, no white dress, no knot of Hercules, and he certainly wouldn't be carrying the bride over any threshold that day unless she wanted him dead of a punctured lung a few hours later. He had not given up on his intentions yet, but choking to death while the lungs filled with blood and stopped being able to do their job sounded clumsier and more accidental than other methods. That first time round, both he and Valeria had been nervous and excited in that typical way of young newlyweds. This time, he only felt bored, and tired: whilst the armour did provide his rib cage better support than the bandages under his clothes, it was also far from comfortable in his state. 

The Latin words brought him out of his thoughts and back into reality. "I don't know how to." While he had been picking up a few more words here and there over the last week during his waking hours, Titus' Dacian skills were still far from enough to hold even a simple conversation. But he had promised compliance, so comply he would. Craning his neck forwards so he could make eye contact with the little boy sat on the other side of his mother, Titus braved what he hoped came off as a smile and addressed the kid in his shaky Dacian. "I'm no good." Wait- that didn't sound right, not even to him. He corrected himself. "Not good. Body feel bad." The head did too, but he couldn't bother with more eloquence.

He then raised his eyes to his new wife and switched back into Latin. "How much longer is this going to go on for?" Leaning back into his chair, he took another drink of wine before glancing at the chieftain with vague interest. "Old man's got balls of steel. What's stopping all these people from just offing him and then us?"

@Sara

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The little boy giggled at the man's poor Dacian, but seemed content with the shaky explanation and happily went back to munching on his dinner. He had his fathers even temperament, something she had to ensure wouldn't last into adulthood. Nobody needed an affable chief, they needed one with a will of iron and cunning. 

"A few hours." She said with disinterest, "And respect is stopping them." She studied his face from her position next to him, her penetrating gaze  not wavering. "We take hierarchies seriously here and Cothelas," She gestured to the aged man, "And our high priest," She gestured to an odd-looking man next to Cothelas, "Decreed it. So it is done. If anybody should think it foolish or try and stop it then they'll answer to Zalmoxis1 and nobody wants that." She often found the rigid societal structure of her homeland irritating - especially when it cast her opinions out to the wind and promoted the idiotic ideas of men in her place, but in this instance she was relieved that the men so rigidly stuck to their ways. This whole mess, charade, was for the greater good and if they couldn't see it is was because they were those aforementioned idiots. Her father was included in that group judging by his furious missive received a few days ago. 

Turning her face away from his finally, she took a sip of her own wine and scanned the crowd. When she spoke, it was only to him and had the tone of somebody who couldn't conjure interest of she tried, "Your silly little mascot," She waved a hand, "Eagle, left for Rome a few hours ago with our happy news." 

 

TAG: @Liv

1 Chief God of the Dacian's and Thracians.

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How degrading was it that the one person in the room who had not treated Titus with hostility was now giggling in amusement? Trust children to be children, even in the dreariest of situations. Had their fortunes been switched, would the boy still be laughing and stuffing his little face without a care int he world? Probably not. 

Hours? The gods truly laughed at him. He would be lucky to be awake by then... although falling asleep did not sound like such a bad idea if it allowed him to skip the neverending speech. The strong wine was certainly helping with that. Unfazed by the intense scrutiny he found himself on the receiving end of, Titus helped himself to another piece of bread and dunked it in the bowl of gooey honey he was currently monopolising. His appetite was finally making a comeback, but the painful clicks in his jaw when he yawned or chewed too hard made him stick to soft foods. 

So they took the chain of command very seriously, even outside the battlefield. That was good information to have, if only it could somehow get to the right hands. Titus swallowed the last of his bread and trained his eyes on the woman again. "What does your Zalmoxis do that is so scary?" Maybe he (she? it was impossible to tell by name alone) enjoyed frying people with lightning bolts like Jupiter. Their high-priest had peculiar garb, though Titus reckoned a foreigner could say the same upon laying eyes on the flamen dialis for the first time. 

She had no obligation to inform him of the eagle's whereabouts, but the news made something in his chest fill with warmth. In spite of his failure, the act meant the legionaries would not be forgotten; that none would be subject to the gossiping tongues mentioning desertion. Their families would no longer have to wait countless years for a return home that would never happen. Titus raised his cup in a silent toast to the fallen, eyes staring unblinkingly at the cup but clearly in a faraway place. After taking a swig, he turned to Zia and flashed her a brief, heartfelt smile. "Thank you." 

He mimicked his new wife in scanning the crowd, looking for signs of a change in rhythm. Failing to find them, Titus had no choice but to ask her. "What happens after he's done speaking? Do we just sit here and eat and drink?" For that they needn't have bothered with him; a scarecrow in armour would have been enough. "It's a one-day thing, right? No speech and banquet tomorrow?"

@Sara

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Zia looked at him puzzled, a frown furrowing her brow. How had he not heard of Zalmoxis? Savage. "He is our protector, he controls all." She shrugged limply, "Of course there's the other Gods but he is the most important and," She smirked, "Next month it'll be four years since the last messenger was sent to the other side to greet him so you'll see his power then." The ritual of casting the messenger on the spears1 to die might be a step too far for their Roman guest but he'd have to see it eventually. Besides, didn't the Romans once sacrifice people? Or was it just silly little farm animals and the like? 

She could sense his palpable discomfort; it radiated from him like a stench and she was content to let him stew in it for a while longer. Smirking, and lying, she nodded; "No, there's another feast tomorrow and the next night and the night after that. It's a week long celebration." It wasn't. Even in better circumstances it was one day and that was that, but their guest didn't need to know that. 

She purposefully avoided his first question. No, they didn't just sit there and drink. After the speech was done the couple would depart to the chamber where the door was locked and barred (something she was not looking forward to given what had happened the last time the two of them were alone) and they'd get down to the business of consummating the marriage whilst the feast roared downstairs beneath them. But he'd figure it out soon enough, and although she felt nervous (not that she'd ever admit it) it was for an entirely different reason than the nerves she'd felt on her first wedding night. She had argued until she was blue in the face with Cothelas that they didn't need to actually bed, that nobody would believe him if Titus denied it, but the old man had stubbornly refused to accept it. He wanted this done properly. 

After a moment of quiet she merely shrugged; "And no," She said it accented Latin, eyes scanning the hall with stony misery, "We go to bed after he's finished speaking." 

 

TAG: @Liv

1 From Herodotus (courtesy of Wiki): "Every four years, they send a messenger to Zalmoxis, who is chosen by chance. They ask him to tell Zalmoxis what they want on that occasion. The mission is performed in the following way: men standing there for that purpose hold three spears; other people take the one who is sent to Zalmoxis by his hands and feet and fling him in the air on the spears. If he dies pierced, they think that the divinity is going to help them; if he does not die, it is he who is accused and they declare that he is a bad person. And, after he has been charged, they send another one. The messenger is told the requests while he is still alive."

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Now Titus knew this fearsome Zalmoxis was a he. Unfortunately, that fucker had been doing too good a job of protecting the Dacians. Titus' ears perked up at the very cursory explanation, if it could even be called one, of whatever ritual was happening next month. He had no idea who the messenger was or what they would do other than deliver a message... but what if the god was not pleased and withdrew his favour? That would be to Rome's advantage, especially with a four-year window like the woman had implied existed. By then someone more capable than himself would have come and coated the earth with the blood of these barbarians.

This was a minor setback to his hidden agenda, but if Titus had waited a week he could wait a month. By that time his captors would hopefully have grown less wary of him and slacked off on their supervision, and he could finally help himself to one of their admittedly well-made swords and do what he was supposed to. For once not needing to feign interest, he turned a curious gaze on Zia. "Tell me more," he half.-requested, half-ordered.

At least while he listened to stories of Zalmoxis boredom would be staved off, even if only for a few minutes. Jupiter, if it truly were as she said, Titus would be wanting to hear stories of all their gods if he was to stay awake and power through a whole week of sitting there looking pretty. Trying to fight off a yawn and failing, much to his jaw's chagrin, Titus put down his drink and supported his temple on his fingertips, displaying his tedium for everyone to see. "That's a relief," he muttered under his breath. "This isn't your first wedding. Are they always this charming and lively or is this specially for me?"

@Sara

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Zia scoffed and glared at him. "No." She simply replied with a little shrug and turned her attention back to the hall, "I've got a treat for you. Our high priest is willing to give you a little lesson in all things Dacian tomorrow, and my we've found a tutor for you to teach you our language so you can stop it with this." She smiled triumphantly back at him. She wasn't expecting him to convert his religion, that was out of bounds - even for the Dacian's and their captives - but she did expect him to take an interest, or at least feign one in their culture. 

At his question she felt herself bristle. Memories of a wedding, years ago, and a very different man sat in the exact same chair this man was now occupying crossed her mind. 

"No, they're usually better." she simply shrugged, "Fewer people wish to kill the groom, usually." Though she was careful to omit that most Dacian weddings ended in violence - Roman groom or not. But the question had suitably piqued her interest and she glanced across at him after checking Luto was content with his bread and honey (which he had managed to smear all over his face). "What are Roman weddings like?" She asked with genuine interest and then sipped her wine, "Or am I your first blushing bride? No Roman women took to you?" She shrugged, "I can't say I'm surprised." 

 

TAG: @Liv

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