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Zia

A Happy Union [M - S & V]

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"Hope he speaks good Latin, then," was Titus' deadpan reply as he eyed said high priest with faint disdain. In honesty, the few Dacians he had spoken to all knew his tongue far better than he knew theirs, and failing that there was often Greek to bridge the gaps. But that was something he would never admit to, and certainly not when they should be the ones learning the official languages of the empire if they really wanted to present themselves as a somewhat civilised people. As he mulled that over, a detail stood out to Titus, and he shot Zia a sly smirk. "Tomorrow, you say? The same tomorrow when there's another celebratory feast? How will I make time for both things, I wonder..."

The woman was as much a blushing bride as he was a charioteer. Titus snorted, but chose not to respond to it, much as he had chosen to ignore her pointing out the animosity - he wasn't blind, and despite Cothelus' attempts at merrymaking the tension on the room was still thick enough to cut with a knife. "No, I had a wife many years ago." Now, in particular, it felt like it belonged to a different lifetime, a different timeline even.  He did not like to dwell on what had been, much less on what could have been, but he felt the urge to defend his late wife's honour from some crude joke the Dacian woman no doubt had up her sleeve before she even could voice it. "She passed away," Titus added sombrely, lowering his gaze. There was no need for Zia to know the details - and out of some fuzzy feeling resembling piety or devotion, he also wanted to keep his memories of those halcyon days unblemished by his current situation. Even if she had no respect for him, he hoped she would at least have respect for the deceased.

Her earlier question was much easier to answer. "More cheerful than this, for one. The bride wears white, not whatever that-" he pointed his finger at Zia's dress, "-colour is. There's a couple of different ways to do it, too, depending on status. A pleb's would've been quite different from mine." Rather obviously, he wasn't privy to all the details on the former. "There's two handfuls of witnesses, sacrifices to the gods to ask for their favour, and we shared a special cake which in truth wasn't even that good..." Reminiscing on the spelt cake, Titus subconsciously wrinkled his nose. For something reserved for very special occasions, one would think that cake would taste like Elysium, but sadly that hadn't been the case. "Then at the end there's a procession anyone can join from the bride's house to the groom's. That's it." Not quite, but Titus was going to keep his mouth shut about the bridal carry lest the harpy sat next to him put it into her head to try it. Of course, if the tides of fortune had turned differently, Zia might have found herself experiencing a simple plebeian wedding with some honourably discharged centurion for a groom... but there was no point to musing on ifs and buts.

He decided to tease her a little; what with how bored he was, even that was looking appealing now. Besides, the chieftain - when he finally took a pause for breath, or ran out of words - might appreciate the fact that the new couple were by all appearances speaking civilly to one another in public, in a pathetic pretence of unity. "Would you have liked to have had one of those? Or was that just curiosity?"

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She said nothing to the mention of a dead wife. Everybody in the hall had lost somebody; mothers lost their sons, sons and daughters lost their brothers, and wives lost their husbands, as she had done. She wished to remark that it didn't make him special, but something in her tone stopped her. Whilst she was excellent at being petty, she was a better strategist. No point riling him up now when he was actually being vaguely pleasant. No, she'd save remarks about said dead wife for when he was being unreasonable - which she suspected wouldn't be that far away, judging by his attitude and general demeanour. 

"Black." She replied cooly, "The colour. Black." She said the latter in Dacian as if she were teaching a child his colours, but listened intently to his description. It sounded dull as shit. Usually a Dacian wedding was a grand affair with feasting and hunting and all manner of appropriate activities, not some odd vegetarian cake and a walk through the city. 

She smirked wryly at his question and shrugged; "Curiosity." She had half an ear out to Cothelas and could tell his speech was winding down. Her nails nug into the arms of her chair. "And you know, if we ever make it to Rome as husband and wife, your people might like us to repeat the ceremony in your way." She smirked into her cup as she sipped her wine. That would, obviously, never happen - despite Cothelas' hope that all would be resolved and they'd harmonise perfectly with the Romans. Still, it didn't hurt to foster a little hope in him that one day he might see his city again - if only to keep him from taking a knife to his throat before his usefulness was done. 

Cothelas' words drifted over to her, in Dacian; "And the happy couple, Zia and Ti...Titus." A murmur went up through the crowd and she kicked out her foot at his ankle. "Stand up." she said through the side of her mouth and then stood herself, smiling and inclining her head at the crowd. "You have to make a toast." She muttered to him, in Latin.

 

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"That can't be." Titus shook his head dismissively. Not in the same mould as his first marriage had occurred: she lacked the bloodline to go with it. It also couldn't be simply because he held no illusions about being able to go back to Rome as if nothing had happened - and Titus did not plan on lasting that long, anyway. While he could humour her by learning his colours over the coming month, in the long run it was a useless lesson. "Black," he repeated in Dacian like a dutiful pupil. So she had chosen the outside to match the inside. How quaint.

A toast. A fucking toast where he was supposed to wax gratitude about having his sorry life spared and praise the people who had decimated his legion. Titus' hand tightened round his wine cup, knuckles turning white. If he refused, there would be bloody chaos, to put it mildly. The old man, the priest and even his new wife could all die in agony and he would laugh in their faces, but the curious little boy stuffing himself and smearing honey all over his face in the process deserved better. 

Sighing in resignation, Titus let go of the cup, pushed his seat back and stood up slowly and carefully, using his arms for support. If it made him look weak before the Dacians, all the better; it would help his goal. He turned to Zia with the fakest of smiles on his lips and held out his hand for her to take. They should try to present a united front, starting from that moment. 

"Esteemed guests, thank you for joining in on today's celebrations." Had Titus been sure they did not understand Latin, he would have cursed them to Hades and back, but unfortunately that was not the case. He was not about to waste much of his breath on them, regardless. "May our peoples learn to live in harmony and to treat one another with respect, and see their relationship mirrored in ours." Smirking, he tipped his head towards Zia and reached for his cup with his free hand, raising it up in the air. "Here's to us, and to you all." That was all they were going to get out of him that night, Titus mused as he drank up, and if they weren't happy then they might as well just come at him already and find somebody else to play their fool.

@Sara

 

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Zia's jaw tensed, the muscles in her neck worked. If you can't even take his bloody hand, how are you going to screw him later? Her inner voice chimed, and begrudgingly she reached out her fingers to take his but squeezed so hard on his own hand she was worried her fingers might snap off. 

She arched a brow as he didn't try in Latin and sighed, translating into Dacian as he spoke. As he finished and sipped his wine, and as she finished her translation, awkward silence swelled in the room as nobody joined him in a toast. She glanced across at Cothelas who was looking particularly ashen-faced, the old fool. Sensing the mood deteriorate, she squeezed his hand all the tighter and sent a buoyant laugh into the crowd, speaking in Dacian: "My new husband is not a man of many words it appears." That produced a rippled laugh from amongst the gathered guests. "But as your Chief, and he says, we need to forge ahead with respect and dignity." The men muttered amongst themselves and Cothelas glanced rapidly between the crowded, assembled faces. Zia raised her cup; "To a new way forward for the Ratascenses!" The men finally murmured and half-heartedly raised their cups, before Zia, relieved that  they'd avoided disaster for now merely glanced at Titus and spoke in Latin. "You could at least have made an effort, I thought Romans were excellent orators?" 

Cothelas waved his hand at the couple; "Off with you. Get it done." And Zia felt herself tense. She turned sideways to her son and smiled at the honey-glazed view that awaited her. She leant down to kiss his head tenderly and take his sticky hand, moving past Titus to deposit the little boy next to Cothelas. "Mama has to go now, but you'll stay here with your Grandfather, hm?" Luto didn't look the least bit fussed and only bobbed his head with a grin. Zia felt her heart hurt as he the little boy waved to Titus as she departed, hand gripping the Roman's forearm as she practically dragged him out of the hall. 

The walk to their marital chamber wasn't long but she kept silent the whole time and didn't release her grip until they were in the room. Two guards were stationed outside. She finally released his arm and rounded on him, fire in her hazel eyes. "If you try anything, they," She jerked her head to the door, "Will make sure you die very, very slowly. You understand?" She shot him a final glare and then folded her arms across her chest defensively in what must have been, the least tender staff pre-consummation imaginable. "Do you want to get drunk for this, or what?"

 

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His new wife had at least one hidden merit, that of interpreting. It might play in her favour when another legion or two came knocking on their door. Of the words in her language she tacked on at the end, Titus recognised only two, both recently learnt: 'husband' and 'chief'. They made the wine sour in his stomach. "When the audience is worth it, which was not the case," he replied in a can't-be-helped tone, blinking in her direction before putting his empty cup down. 

While Titus didn't understand what the old man had said, between his wave and the sudden stiffness to Zia's body he could make an educated guess as to what it was. He was unceremoniously dragged outside, just barely managing to wave back to his honey-loving new friend who seemed fairly nonplussed at his mother disappearing with a stranger. Maybe the little boy just wasn't that attached to her, Titus pondered maliciously as she led him on. If he were to befriend the kid, she would probably be pissed off beyond belief yet also unable to prevent or remedy it. The thought clinched it; besides, it made the charade that much more believable if he actively sought to bond with his new stepson... Despite the throbbing discomfort in his chest, he smirked in satisfaction, causing one of the guards to eye him quizzically and then smile back in complete misinterpretation of the gesture.

Someone was all hot and bothered. Holding up his newly-released hand in a call for peace, Titus nodded slowly. "I'm not in a state to try anything, in case you haven't noticed," he countered irritably as he scanned the room, which was devoid of people except for the two of them. Not even a slave to help with undressing? These Dacians took their privacy far too seriously. "Yes, thank you, that would be nice," Titus mumbled as he began to fiddle with the trappings of his armour. Amidst a lot of lip biting, hissing and grunting, the thing finally came off after what he felt had been an embarrassing amount of time. His breathing was laboured and his face pale as he put it atop a chest in a corner with slightly wobbly movements, turning his back on Zia and for once glad to be rid of the thing. 

He had not been lying moments earlier: he really did not feel he was in a state to try anything other than sleep. Who would find out, anyway? She was no virgin, as her young son attested to, and seemed as happy to get on with it as a sow headed to the slaughterhouse. The guards might be listening in, but was the door so flimsy that they would hear it all? Not all instances of coupling reached brothel levels of ear-piercing shrieking. But perhaps it would be a great offence to the apparently terrible Zalmoxis if things didn't carry on as planned, and while Titus did not fear him or his punishment, Zia most likely did. If it were the other way round, he would not be keen on angering his gods either.

Needs must. He had promised compliance, after all. Titus turned around and closed the short distance with slow, uneasy steps between them before helping himself to a cup of wine wisely filled almost to the brim. As he drank he cast Zia a languorous look, trying to stir his imagination into filling in the blanks of what she might look like underneath that black dress and only partially succeeding. It would take more wine, possibly the entire unwatered jug. Titus put down the empty cup and cupped her cheek in his hand, gently guiding it upwards towards him to join their lips in a hesitant kiss.

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Zia dutifully poured two cups of wine, brimming and threatening to spill. She took her own and downed it in three clean gulps before refilling it. She didn't notice him stepping closer, she was too intensely focused on her wine, until his hand made contact with her cheek and he leant down to kiss her. She recoiled almost immediately with a shove to his chest, wine splashing over the rim of the cup and landing in a red pool on the stone floor. "We have to couple, we don't have to kiss." She said in a clipped voice, aggrieved that he should want any intimacy whatsoever. It would be uncomfortable for her, she knew, if she wasn't aroused but it would be over - judging by his ashen face, before it would get painful and thereafter it would only need to be repeated monthly. It was a discomfort she'd endure. 

Downing the rest of her wine she shot him a glare and gestured for him to refill it as she worked on the gold clasps and laces holding up her dress. She stopped herself when she was in her strophium and subligaculum, moving over to a small chest to carefully unpin the diadem she wore and slip off her necklaces. She didn't want this Roman brute to damage it. She could not have been more clinical or cold if she tried, and it was hardly as if her figure inspired much lust for most men. She was blessed with athleticism; a small chest and narrow hips with no spare fat to pinch anywhere. Her lanky frame was hardly what the Roman poets wrote lasivious verses over, and it was equally far removed from their ugly statuettes she saw toted around. 

She made no move to untie her strophium - not that there was much need for it in the first place - but it helped her feel...defended, almost, from his gaze. She flicked cold eyes to him and shrugged. "I guess I better lie down so we can get this over with." She made no move to, however, and just picked up her wine, drinking deeply.

 

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So much for trying to be nice. Titus winced at the forceful touch and took a step back, gingerly rubbing his ribcage. "That was for your sake, not mine," he glowered, but made no move to touch her again. If she wanted to make things more unpleasant for herself out of sheer, pigheaded pride, he had no reason to deny her. 

Titus refilled her cup as he was bid and poured himself a new one for good measure, stealing furtive glances while she undressed. It was a disheartening sight: how on earth had this woman borne at least one child and not filled out a little? Remove the head and ignore the obvious female parts, and her body resembled that of a prepubescent boy more than a woman's. And that was just not how he rolled, at all. Even with copious amounts of wine, it was still a tall order, made worse by Zia's standoffishness; no illusion of smooth curves and grooves or supple skin if he tangled his hand in her hair and closed his eyes. 

"Are you daft?" He rolled his eyes, pointing vaguely at his torso as he swigged his wine in a single gulp. Bitch had probably never had a broken bone in her life. She'd certainly never tried to fuck anyone while nursing one, that much was obvious. "Or just entirely clueless?" Not bothering to wait for a reply, Titus went to work on carefully divesting himself of shoes and clothing until he had stripped down to his subligaculum, kept lonesome company by the bandages wrapped round his chest. With that out of the way, there were no reasons left for dithering. Gods, how could one look so little forward to a shag? 

With grim resolve and a slightly unsteady hand Titus poured himself a new drink of wine and downed it in almost the same breath. Any more liquid courage and it would be counterproductive. He settled on the bed, half-reclining against the headrest with legs stretched out, and tugged on her arm to pull her closer and into a straddling position."May I at least take this off and pretend like it's actually covering something?" The question had barely left his lips, yet one of his hands was already snaking up to unwrap it while the other came to rest on what should have been the curve of her hip if she hadn't been straighter than an iron rod.

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Posted (edited)

Zia's standoffishness didn't improve when it quickly dawned on her that she'd have to do the bulk of the work. It was bad enough she had to couple with him, and worse still that he'd simply get to lie there and enjoy the view. Although judging by the expression on his face, he wouldn't be enjoying much. She merely cast him a scowl and then arched a brow, attempting to show him that she didn't care a fig for his opinions of her physique. Why should it matter? He was just a Roman. Somewhere buried though, it did wound her. She tried to ignore it.

Downing the rest of her wine, she reluctantly drew to the bed and hesitated, just for a fraction of a setting before climbing into place. It felt odd, it felt wrong and she tried her very best not to recoil completely from his touch. His comment stung and she fought the urge to slap him, instead just placing her palm on his wounded chest and leaning in - applying pressure to make it uncomfortable. Prick. 

But something wasn't right. She was not a virgin, obviously, and she'd done this position plenty with Diegis. She frowned and glanced down. "What's wrong with your prick? Do you even have one?" She scoffed. He was still in his subligaculum but there was...nothing there. Or nothing she could feel, at least. It shouldn't have been surprising given there was equally absolutely no physical change in her own body with her arousal at a firm zero percent, but it was offensive. She'd seen men get hard for the ugliest girl in the settlement, and he couldn't muster little Titus for her? She glowered at him and took his hand from her hip - shoving it to his lap. "Sort yourself out so we can get this over with." In what was possibly the least erotic marital scene ever, she sat back on her heels and crossed her arms across her chest, waiting for him. 

 

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Judging from the way Zia tensed under his touch and then exacted payback by pressing down on his chest, Titus realised he had hit a sore point. Even as he hissed through gritted teeth and quickly recalled his roaming hand from its strophium -unwrapping mission to slap hers away, he made a mental note to file away this piece of information for later use. Verbal ammunition, if need be. Did she perhaps feel like less of a woman because of her lack of curves? Maybe her slaves could confirm that...

And of course she had not only to pay in kind, but add insult to injury. Yes, he had a fully functioning cock, and although it possessed a mind of its own on occasion like all cocks, this time they were in perfect agreement: this woman was not worth getting it up for. Titus' first instinct was to bite back with some choice words about the Dacian, but he managed to reign it in and chuckle derisively instead. Very well, he would spell it out for her.

"You won't let me touch you. You won't touch me either unless it's to hurt me. Views are limited and subpar," Titus pointed out, gesturing broadly from her chest down to her subligaculum, "and your personality doesn't help matters either. Look, I don't care if your tribe all get off on degrading and humiliating each other, but that does nothing for me." He was drunk, tired, in pain, tired again, and at that point just wanted to close his eyes and pass out until dawn came, but she was making even that difficult. "What do you think I am, a fucking ballista? Release the bowstring and off it goes?" he asked irritably. Under the right conditions that might have been the case, but the current ones couldn't be further from it. Numa's balls, this time he wasn't even ashamed or embarrassed - she was reaping what she had sown, and deserved it. All those nice about cooperation and understanding and respect? Zia could go and fuck one of the guards, or both, for all he cared. 

No, there was an easier way out. Titus would have rolled over onto his side in a huff if he had been able to, but as it was, his only recourse was to close his eyes and drape an arm over them to block out the dim lamplight. "I'm trying to comply here, but you're actively working against that. So no point to it. Good night." 

If Zia didn't react in some way, it would only take a couple of minutes for him to fall asleep for real.

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If humans had the ability to melt things with a look, the entire bed and Titus' body would be an inferno by now. Zia felt humiliated, and humiliation made her angry. She was moments away from slapping him as hard as she could across his face or taking a balled up hand to his sensitive and uncooperative nethers, but held off - if only out of the knowledge that this had to work. Instead, she hurriedly (albeit a bit awkwardly) shuffled off of him until she was set next to him in bed. She clasped her arms across her chest, fingers drumming a rhythm against her forearms as she glared with flared nostrils at the plain wall beyond. 

"You don't get to go to sleep yet." She kicked his shin with her bony ankle and turned her fireball gaze down on him. "If you're not man enough too fuck me, then the least you could do is make it seem like you haven't failed." Her jaw worked, the muscles of her neck tensing as she exhaled a breath. She managed one wry smirk though, to herself, as she added; "Don't worry, I'm sure you don't last long. Thirty seconds'll do. You're a one pump wonder, right?" She scoffed. 

This was t he ultimate humiliation. He couldn't even hate-fuck her. Was she that unattractive? Stop it you stupid woman. Irritated beyond measure, and frustrated in a way she didn't expect herself to be, she moved to stand up on the bed - wobbling unsteadily on the straw stuffed mattress. Without alerting him to her plan she proceeded to jump up and down, letting out fake moans here and there - but largely remaining silent and letting the squeaking of the wooden bed tell her story. She didn't want the guards to think she was enjoying it after all. 

As she jumped she accidentally collided and landed on his arm and she smirked to herself.

 

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The blissful darkness lasted only a few moments before a kick to the shin had Titus groaning in exasperation and taking his arm off his face to throw it to his side and bat her away. Zia was glaring at him, naturally - it was all she ever did -, seemingly slighted at his blatant lack of interest. With bleary, red-rimmed eyes he glared back, also quite naturally. If a glaring contest was how she asserted dominance, he wasn't going down without a fight.

He let out a quick string of obscenities under his breath, calling Zia a selection of carefully-curated names of which the nicest was lupa. Even if Titus were so... desperate, or thirsty, or misguided, or skilled, or all at once that he would put effort into it and make her come once or twice, she would never admit to it; of that he was absolutely sure. He bet Zia was the type never to compliment the cook on a great meal, either. "Why bother? It's not like you'd be singing my praises in the morning no matter what I did." Whether it took thirty seconds or thirty minutes. Not man enough? More like she wasn't woman enough to make a man want her!

She rose unexpectedly, trying to balance herself, and Titus found himself looking on with a mix of dread and curiosity. What was she going to do now, use his chest as a footstool? Step hard down between his legs? Within seconds he was spared the trouble of guessing as the woman began to jump on the bed, making sounds that would sound fake even to an inexperienced boy. All Titus could do was gape at the spectacle, too stunned to even laugh. He had never hallucinated while drunk before, but the gods knew what these savages put in their wine or what plants their bees visited to make honey. Somehow he managed to get out a few disbelieving words. "Is this part of your wedding rituals?" It was mesmerising, in a way - like being on firm land and watching a storm at sea, miles away into the horizon. Only in this case it was not more than two or three feet away.

And the show, or ritual, or hallucination or whatever it was came to an ungraceful end as she lost her balance and used Titus' arm to cushion the fall. For a split second he regretted that she had not tumbled down to the floor instead, before the sudden added weight registered and he tried fruitlessly to yank back his arm. All it did was awkwardly bring her an inch or two closer. "If you changed your mind and want to snuggle you could've just said so," Titus ventured with a hint of sarcasm as he brought his other arm protectively over his chest. At this close a range, things could get very painful very quickly. Maybe, just maybe, he could try to hook his arm under and over her and lock her into place against his side, preferably with her arms trapped between them? The 'under' part was already taken care of, and kicks to his legs he could manage.

With as much strength as he could muster whilst also fighting the (very regrettable) urge to roll on to his side to make it easier, Titus attempted to hold Zia in place with his free hand so she would have more difficulty escaping, and heaved his trapped arm just enough to partially free it and forcefully wrap it around her, drawing her up against him in a mockery of intimacy. There. Now he still had one free arm to protect himself with if need be. Feeling quite pleased with himself, Titus stifled a yawn and peered sternly down at the woman. "You done fucking around yet? If you had put this much effort into turning me on from the start we'd both be a lot happier by now." Gods, it was like scolding a petulant child.

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Zia scoffed at his words and tried to right herself, pushing her hair out of her face and blowing whips of it from her mouth with angry sighs. She at least hoped her foot colliding with his arm was painful. Lost in thought, she didn't register what he was doing until he had her pinned securely to his side and she let out a yowl of discontent, trying to wiggle free. For all the athleticism of her figure, she was about as strong as a twig - even when up against a man as injured as her new husband. It didn't stop her trying though as she squirmed and kicked out at his shins. "Fuck off." She muttered with a glower up at him, hair now partly obscuring her eyes. Bastard.

Of course, the position she was in meant she had no movement to slap him or hit him as she couldn't move her hands from their locked position down by his waist. Unfortunately for Titus, however, she had some movement in her fingers - and doubly unfortunate for him, she prided herself on keeping her nails manicured into perfect points. She began jabbing them into his hip - the closest part of his body she could reach, whilst glaring up at him through a curtain of hair. She did not let up the jabbing as she tried to wriggle free again. 

"Is this how you turn Roman women on? Forced intimacy?" She jabbed again with her index finger, "Let me go, fuck off and go to sleep you cretin." She jabbed again. Honestly, she was in no mood for any more of his games. They'd failed at fucking, failed at making a truce and now she just wanted to sleep. Bastard.

 

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Titus made no effort to hide a victorious smirk, rather pleased with himself. Given the circumstances, he could have hardly hoped for a better result, even as the Dacian woman squirmed and attempted to break free. She might succeed when sleep claimed him - which wasn't a long time coming, what with the way his eyelids seemed to be growing marginally heavier with each passing second - and his muscles relaxed, and if the evening had been anything to go by, Titus wasn't sure he would be alive to greet the rise of a new day when dawn came. Well, if she decided to choke him with a pillow or something, she would probably be punished somehow when the chieftain found out about it. The thought had him pursing his mouth wider.

Did these savages not know the concept of hand grooming? The persistent little jabs with her absurdly sharp nails were as annoying as insect bites, and deserved being treated like it. "No, Roman women I treat with respect," he rolled his eyes and loosely slapped her somewhere on the head (hopefully the nose!) with his free hand, much like if he were batting away a bloodthirsty mosquito. With all that hair covering her face, he had no idea where he'd hit, but there was that satisfying flat sound that meant contact had been achieved.

"We go to sleep," Titus corrected her, failing this time to abort the yawn that followed. He closed his eyes and exhaled, but didn't loosen his hold. "Think of how pleased the slaves will be in the morning when they come in and find us all cosy and happy like this..."

If Zia voiced her objection to it, he never heard it, already drifting off into Somnus' domain.

@Sara
___________
Time skip to ___? Following day? Following week? Month? Year? Your choice xD

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It had been two weeks. Two, sodding, miserable weeks and things were no better with her husband. If one could call him that given he spent most of his day locked away in a room - a very nice room, mind - but a cell fitted out with cushions and silks was still a cell. She, of course, had taken great pains to remove anything remotely sharp or weapon like from the vicinity and even had taken such care over the welfare of her husband that she had cut any fabric that stayed into the room too short to be made into a noose, and had the slaves strip the mattress and bedding from it every morning so she wouldn't come back to discover her charming new Roman husband had decided to string himself up from the rafters. The idiot. 

She dutifully attended him every other night for procreation purposes, but those times had been about as successful as the first (aka, she'd put zero effort in and they'd just argued) to the point where she'd simply given up and stubbornly slept on the opposite side to him - making no attempts to incite him into the mood. 

It was early evening now, and she'd been busy all day. They'd received word that morning that they were due a charming, Roman visitor at some point the following month and she needed to speak with him about it. She was also starving but she did not wish to mention it. No point admitting weakness to a fool like Titus. She moved into the room, after dramatically, and very slowly unlocking the heavy door - purposefully so he could hear every click of the lock. What greeted her was not what she expected. Luto, her sweet little boy, grinned up at her with a gummy smile and messy hands - his nurse fluttering nervously nearby. She started to explain; "He...he asked to see him, mistress I...the chief said it was fine." But she was silenced with a glare that could have melted steel from Zia. 

Luto blinked between Titus and Zia confused, having thoroughly enjoyed his evening meal with the strange man with the funny accent. She tried not to let her irritation show and glanced at Titus dispassionately, letter for discussion clasped in her hand. "Good day, my sweet?" 

 

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Up until the present time, Titus did not think it was possible to die of boredom. To him it had always been the product of an idle, lazy mind. The last two weeks had proven him oh so very wrong! His new wife was a clever little snake, he'd give her that: put him in a nice, golden, utterly safe cage. Even his food came readily sliced so he wouldn't have to be provided with a knife. Such luxury, and such distress. In the beginning he thought he'd go crazy, which was probably what he deserved: left all alone with his thoughts, they descended into a predictable dark spiral - but even spirals reached a bottom, Titus had found out. A good training session was still out of the question, would be for probably another month: press-ups and sit-ups and crunches would only undo recent progress. 

Then he'd moved on to scouring his memory for all the dusty works of Euripides, Homer, Hesiod and Ennius he'd managed to hide away in some corner of his mind decades ago, and was surprised to find he remember far more than he had expected. His old paedagogus would have cried tears of joy if he'd shown such dedication as a young pupil. The nights were no more exciting, after a series of failed attempts at consummation. He wondered if when the weather turned cold Zia would still want to sleep on the other side of the bed, and immediately chastised himself for thinking that far ahead. There was no way in Hades the state of things would still remain the same when winter came.

At some point Titus had had the brilliant idea of asking for the little boy. And finally boredom dissipated, at least for the brief hours Luto came to visit every now and then. it was a good partnership, Titus concluded: the kid taught him Dacian, he taught the kid Latin, and together they played with small clay figurines. The kid had a figurine for every possible farm animal, but was somewhat lacking in the soldier department; so they had to make do with talking horses and a pig for a general. A few days prior, Titus had drawn a circle intersected by four lines that met in the middle, and with three cow figures and three avian ones (hens? geese? ducks?) taught Luto to play terni lapilli. It had been an unexpected hit, and even occasional defeat didn't discourage the boy (because Titus wasn't letting him win every single time, life didn't work out that way even for little boys).

He'd barely convinced Luto, with a little help from his nurse, to put the game aside for a bit and have dinner; after a show of defiant whinging Luto had finally acquiesced, and thrown himself at a bowl of chicken stew with all the appetite of a healthy four-year-old. They had only just finished when the door clicked open and Zia let herself in, probably aiming for some dramatic entrance that failed completely. "Good evening, my princess," he retorted, disdain dripping from every syllable. Unlike Luto's, his hands were mostly clean, and he silently willed the boy to go and wipe them on his mother's dress under the pretence of a hug. Unfortunately, Luto only grew confused as the nurse started blabbering rapidly, and the dress remained clean.

Well. All hope was not yet lost, Titus remembered before addressing the child in his best Dacian. "You tell your mama what I tell you?" The little boy nodded enthusiastically and puffed up his small chest as he turned to Zia, proudly exclaiming in shaky Latin "Dacians suck!" Behind Luto, Titus produced a smug smile, clearly daring Zia to take the bait as he switched to his mother tongue. "Kids at this age are like sponges. It's just about the right time for him to start learning a new language."

Why was she here? It couldn't be to pick up Luto, surprised as she looked to see him there. "If you came to join us for dinner I'm afraid you're a bit too late," Titus ventured, taking a better look at her as he spoke. Her posture pointed to business, not pleasure - if that had been a possibility in the first place -, and she was clutching something in her hand. Maybe unwelcome news, then. And if it was bad news for her, it was probably good news for him. "Or if you're so eager about giving Luto a sibling, I'd rather not in front of him," he added with a shit-eating grin as he gestured at the little boy.

@Sara

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If Zia was not appalled that her son was spending time with her husband alone (which she was) then she was only more irritated that the boy seemed to actually enjoy his company. Her jaw worked and she sent a hot look to Titus, before shaking her head at her son; speaking in Dacian; "He shouldn't teach you words like that, he taught you to say something horrible about your Papa in Latin...you mustn't say that again, hmm?" A white lie - which Luto took hard as he glanced at Titus and wet, rubbery tears filled his eyes. Zia smirked back at Titus' smug smile and retorted in Latin; "Impressionable sponges that don't understand a lie." 

Luto folded himself in his chair and Zia had no desire to remove him. He mercifully for now avoided a full blown meltdown and just sniffled, shooting confused glances at Titus every now and again and then back up to his Mama as she came to rest against the back of his chair; dropping her hand down to run through his curls affectionately. 

Dismissively, she waved a hand and spoke in Latin; "I'm not hungry - I don't intend to become a big ball like your Roman women." Much as he might enjoy her with a little more substance on her hips and chest. Her hand moved to gently stroke through her son's hair once more as she continued. "And no, I have something much more fun for you than sex with me." She tossed him the letter and moved to wrap her other arm around her son protectively as she bent over the back of his chair to leave a kiss on the top of his head. It produced a good natured giggle from Luto, and satisfied that he was cheered up (and he had already resumed playing with his little figurines), Zia moved to pull up a seat between him and Titus. 

"It's a letter, from your people. Apparently we're due a visit next month." She clicked her fingers at the nurse who hurriedly poured her a cup of wine. 

 

TAG: @Liv

Feel free to make-up what's in the letter/who is coming to visit!

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Had Titus been less preoccupied with the letter, now that it had been mentioned, he might have noticed how utterly out of character it was for his new wife to be so affectionate towards a person, and concluded that the icy façade melted away only when Luto was involved. He might also have felt a slight pang of regret at making the little boy cry and experience the pain of betrayal for likely the first time in his short life, though it would definitely not be the last. He did none of these things, however, because his being was entirely absorbed by the missive and its contents. Similarly, Titus ignored the confused looks the child gave him and the barbed comments Zia made as both barely registered in his perception.  

His heart sank to the pit of his stomach as he hastily grabbed the letter. His hands shook more perceptibly than he would have liked as he held out the papyrus, but Titus found that commanding his muscles to stay did nothing. Likewise was he unable to stop his eyes from roaming over the text, picking out words here and there and attempting to string them into a meaningful message, managing only to infuriate himself in the process. Breathing heavily through his nose, Titus forced himself to start at the beginning and take in one word at a time. 

This... was not what he had been expecting. Not when Zia had said 'his people'. The words had evoked the coming of some provincial officer, somebody attached to the propraetor's office; if he dared to dream high enough, maybe a tribune from one of the other legions. Not that it would have been proper for him to welcome such news, because he would have been expected to have offed himself long ago. And yet, for all his disappointment, the elephant that had all of a sudden settled on his chest grew feather-light and disappeared. Titus almost felt like laughing.

He had nothing to fear from a tax collector.

The Dacians might, though.

It puzzled Titus as to why the man would give notice of his coming: to make sure the Dacians buried their valuables beforehand? Maybe he intended for the news to spread so that nobody could excuse themselves from the tally by going hunting or working the fields? Perhaps he fancied himself someone of great importance and wanted a grand reception, or was an old drinking mate of Cultellus' from back in the day.

He returned the letter to Zia, blinking at her in confusion. By some mercy of a watchful god, his hands had stopped trembling. "I don't get it." What manner of riddle was this? How did this have anything to do with him? He owned nothing in this gods-forsaken place that could be taxed. Even his armour had probably been melted in a forge and reworked into something else by now. "Do you not know what a publicanus is?"

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Zia watched him, eyes narrowed like a hawk and surveying the way his hands trembled lightly and his eyes flitted across the words. She was literate, as much as she could be anyway, but the letter made little sense to her or her father-in-law. Judging by his reaction, it made little sense to her husband too. She snatched back the letter and tucked it in the small pouch at her hip. "I..." She snapped her jaw shut and frowned. No. She didn't know what a publicanus was. Or, she thought she did but judging by his reaction perhaps she was mistaken. 

"Is it not the Governor?" She frowned at him and kept her hands softly stroking Luto's mop of curls. No, Zia, it wasn't. The poor woman had confused Publicanus with Propraetor (it was not her fault Latin is a foolish language where everything sounds the same). Cotelas hadn't been much better than her, flapping about the place swearing blind and informing them all it was too soon for a visit from the Governor - that she should have been with child, a half-Roman child, before such a thing happened. She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from snapping at Titus - panic slowly receding in her blood but being quickly replaced by humiliation. "I assume it is not." She muttered tersely and then removed her hands from her son to fold her arms across her chest. 

"It matters not," She said dismissively and shrugged, "The chief is nonetheless displeased with you." 

 

TAG: @Liv

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From what Titus had been able to gather through their blessedly limited interactions over the last few weeks, his wife was the sort who would rather die by her own hand than admit she was wrong. And wrong she was now, mistaking a mere tax collector for someone of more import (although judging from the smarmy missive, said tax collector held a high opinion of himself and would probably argue that he very much was of import). She probably had an inkling herself, what with her question and the suspicious way in which she looked at him, stroking the little boy's hair in what looked like a mechanical gesture of comfort.

Decisions, decisions. Keep the knowledge to himself and watch the bloody Dacians scramble about like headless chickens for a few weeks - by far the most tempting option - or take the high road and elucidate Zia and the chieftain? That would likely mollify them, let him earn their trust, and then... Then what? Get close to a fire and set the whole damn town ablaze? Taunt them in their sleep by emptying the contents of their chamber pots in their mouths? Satisfying at that might be, it would lead nowhere. His best choice, as much as he disliked it, was to play along and clear up the misunderstanding - but first, find out why exactly the old man was displeased with him.

"Displeased? Why? Have I not complied with your wishes, like I promised? Gone along with every whim of you two like a well-trained dog?" Titus countered nonchalantly, getting up and picking up an ox figurine off the floor before walking the few steps to where Luto was sitting and handing him the clay animal with an innocent smile. They were doing so well, too, until Zia had to come along and confuse her son. The little boy accepted the toy but did not smile back, instead glancing up at him with uncertainty in his big eyes. 

Titus sighed and trained his gaze on Zia, feeling much like a tutor with an unruly student. "No, a publicanus is not the governor. It's a..." He thought on it for a moment, chewing on his lower lip, and switched to very tentative Dacian. "Man, come to ge-- take coin." The last word was almost a question, wondering if she had understood what he was attempting to communicate; for emphasis, Titus mimed rubbing a coin between his thumb and index finger. For the sake of compliance, he continued in Latin. "He's coming to collect your taxes. You know, what you pay every year to Rome for the privilege of existing and carrying on with your lives?" Assuming they'd had previous visits, that was; wouldn't surprise him if they hadn't, the bunch of barbarians.

@Sara

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