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Late July, 75 AD

It had been a good while since that evening at the Gardens of Sullust, where he had been caught off guard by a thunderstorm and had to seek shelter in one of the pavilions there. And on the same night, a lovely young lady, Caecina Tusca, daughter to the proconsul of Britannia, had done exactly the same. That is how he met her and he was plenty entertained by her wit, her charm and their conversation – and her own attractiveness of course. So much that he almost found it a pity that he was already in his mid-40’s. Of course other Senators might be happy to consider such a young woman a future wife of theirs, but Tertius didn’t like the idea… at least not of her as his wife. If he should have a wife, he would like for her to be more mature and not someone who was  younger than his own son. That would be strange.

There was someone however, who should be looking for a wife, and that was his son and his heir, Teutus. He was a freedman and he could not hold office or follow the course of honor, but any children he had, they could reach proper ranks once more. And Teutus did carry the Varus name name, so any children he had, would do the same. Teutus was the one who would carry on the family name. It was all on his shoulders, especially since Secundus had no children. He hoped Caecina would like Teutus and that he would like her as well, and that her father would deem it a proper match despite Teutus’ rank.

An invitation had been sent to Caecina Tusca at the Palatine, not far from the palace, as she had explained to him. It was the end of July now, almost a month after that fateful morning of the earthquake and Tertius’ domus was more or less restored now. He had considered leaving Rome and inspecting the villa in the countryside, but decided against it, because he wanted to bring Charis and with how far her pregnancy was now… he didn’t know if it would be safe for her. So in Rome they remained. Maybe they would travel after the child was born.

Right now though, there were other important matters. The triclinium had been made ready, Rhoda was busy cooking in the kitchens and Teutus had also been informed that he should attend dinner with Tertius tonight, because they were having a visitor. Tertius had of course told Teutus how he met the young lady and that he had merely invited her to thank her for her kindness on the night of the thunderstorm. She sent for a litter for him too, after all. Now he was resting in a chair by the atrium, waiting for the guest to arrive and hoping that Teutus would be able to entertain her too.

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Teutus had vaguely expected something like this; he was a freedman but he was also the son and heir of a senator, and senators (or rather, their sons) generally did not generally arrange their own marriages - not that Tertius had admitted that he had such designs when he'd invited Caecina Tusca for dinner, but that possibility must be somewhere in his mind. Teutus would be the dutiful son and be as agreeable as he knew how, and acquiesce to his father's wishes (as he had done all his life, in fact).

He appeared promptly in the atrium, dressed for the occasion, and feeling more than a little nervous, although he could not quite pin down why he should be feeling nervous merely over a dinner - he was not the sort of person who'd embarrass his host at any sort of dinner whether said host was his father or someone else entirely.

"Good evening, Father," he said politely, noticing that Tertius had taken a commanding position in a chair from which he could see the entire atrium, more or less.

 

@Echo @Atrice

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Caecina had predicted that her interaction with the older senatorial man would produce results in one way or another, and she had been proven right the morning that his invitation had arrived. His excuse for inviting her was that he wanted to thank her for her kindness in sending for a litter for him as well, though she thought that was a little sparse of a reason - surely there was another motive, though what she couldn't imagine. But never one to pass up an opportunity to get out of the house, especially since she'd been stuck in the villa for nearly a month because of the earthquake, she had written back promptly and excitedly to accept his invitation. 

On the evening of the dinner, Caecina had taken great pains to dress herself fashionably in her most attractive clothes, a white chiton with a painstaking embroidered pattern along the hem, accompanied with a pale blue palla, also with embroidered trimming, that set her eyes off sparkling. It wasn't that she dressed this way in order to impress her acquaintance - she just loved the opportunity to dress well! She finished the ensemble with a curled hairdo and some choice jewelry pieces, then she and her trusty slave Astraea were on their way. 

Upon arrival, Caecina was shown into the entryway by a household slave, then followed behind as she was led to the atrium. As they entered the room and she was announced, Caecina dimpled at the sight of the older man, going to him first with a friendly embrace and a pert peck upon either cheek. "Tertius, you handsome devil! I was so happy to receive your invitation! Once more, you've saved me from boredom. I simply don't know how to thank you!" She had had great success half-flirting with the older man before, so she had decided to employ the same tactic now. She turned her gaze on the younger man in the room, grinning equally at him. "And who might I have the pleasure of meeting here?"

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Tertius didn’t know if Teutus wanted to marry or not – or what kind of woman he might be interested in. But the fact was that Teutus had to marry, so he could honor the family name he’d hoped to gain his entire life! Teutus had to pass the family name onto someone else, a son. So it was about time Tertius did something about that. He had of course not forgotten that he possibly failed to mention to Caecina that he had a son… but because Teutus had been a slave for most of his life and Tertius had considered that embarrassing, he’d kind of just gotten used to not mention Teutus, when anyone asked about his children. He really had to do something about that and remind himself to mention Teutus, when the subject came up.

Anyway, she would find out tonight, that Teutus was his son and very much alive. And that Teutus was a handsome and polite and intelligent young man, at the right age to marry someone. Tertius could only hope Caecina’s father would agree, but you’d never find out if you didn’t try. So here he sat in the atrium, waiting, dressed in a crimson tunica and a green and golden toga to match it, looking his very best. Teutus appeared too then, also finely dressed and greeted his father.

“Good evening Teutus… you make quite the striking figure nowadays, don’t you?” Tertius said with a smile, hoping to infuse some confidence to his son, who did appear a little nervous, still.

And then someone appeared at the door and Caecina was shown in moments later – naturally looking more stunning than the night he met her, because now she was not dripping wet and cold from rain. The light colors suited her well, he thought. Tertius stood, while Caecina headed straight to him and he returned her friendly embrace and could not help but smile at her words.

“It is I, who thank you, Caecina, for coming. I have looked forwards to meeting you again.” Tertius replied to her and then of course, she noticed Teutus, “This is Teutus Quinctilius Varus… my son and heir.” Gods he hoped it would not be too awkward that he failed to mention Teutus that night! “Teutus, this is the lovely Caecina Tusca I told you about, whom I met in the gardens during a thunderstorm. At least now, the weather is better.” He added with a cheerful smile to them both. It was nice to entertain a guest like Caecina, he thought. She was friendly and witty, how could you not enjoy such a thing? He hoped Teutus would agree.

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Teutus had dressed in blue, a light blue tunic and darker blue pallium, the colour enhancing the blue of his eyes, although he hadn't chosen it specifically for that reason. His father didn't seem at all perturbed or nervous or anything of the sort - of course he wouldn't, he'd been born to his position.

He couldn't help wondering how long it would take before he stopped feeling like an imposter - slaves were freed all the time in Rome, it was hardly an unusual situation that he found himself in. It just felt strange, and peculiar, and he had to forcibly remind himself that that was in the past and it was the present that mattered now.

"Thank you, Father," he said, accepting the compliment for what it was, although he wondered if Tertius was talking to the same person Teutus had just seen in the mirror, or someone else. If he couldn't have confidence in himself yet, his father had confidence in him and Teutus would just have to try to live up to that until it rubbed off on him.

"Good evening, Caecina Tusca," he said, following his father's example in greeting their guest, although he did not feel he could be so forward as to offer her a kiss as his father had, not when they had only just met. He noted the slightly uncertain expression on her face. Tertius had told his son about Caecina, but it was easy enough to guess that he had not told Caecina about his son.

Why did Tertius always have to make things more complicated than they needed to be? That took some skill!

 

@Echo @Atrice

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Ah, so her suspicions had been correct - there was an ulterior motive at play here. It was curious that Tertius had not mentioned his son when telling her about his children - or, child, rather. He had only mentioned Antonia. So, why omit a young man like Teutus? She resolved to use the feminine grapevine to find out what she could about this situation, but for now, decided to play her most charming and vivacious self. 

If momentary confusion had flashed across her face, she quickly recovered and smiled. "Ah, of course! I might have guessed, given the family resemblance!" The two men favored one another, that was certain. "Good evening, Teutus. It is such a pleasure to meet you. But, please, just Caecina will do!" She extended a hand for him to take, either to shake or to kiss as some men chose to do. Tertius then joked that the weather was better and she laughed. "Certainly, though anything would be better than that downpour! And what about the earthquake a few weeks ago! Were you in the city? Goodness, I thought the earth would swallow us whole. Of course, I was at our villa at the time, so the tremors were not so pronounced."

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Teutus greeted Caecina rather simply and said nothing more - how could a son of his be a man of such few words, Tertius sometimes wondered? Perhaps because he'd been a slave, that had taught him humility you did not often find in men. Tertius thought it was a good trait, but also feared it now meant his son lacked the confidence he'd need to fend in the world... as Tertius' son and heir. Hopefully Teutus' mood and ability to talk would improve over the evening. Tertius returned his attention to Caecina, taking note of the fact that she hadn't seemed to bring anyone with her tonight. No relatives and the slave she had with her when he met her, she also didn't appear to be present. That was quite interesting. Caecina certainly had confidence! 

Caecina looked confused for a brief moment, when Tertius introduced his son, but then she smiled and went over it easily, as if it wasn't odd. Tertius quietly thanked her for it. She was so charming, wasn't she? Would Teutus see that? How could he not? Meanwhile Caecina greeted Teutus with smiles and dimples and extended a hand to the younger man. Caecina then laughed at Tertius mentioning that the weather was better than when they met and she asked about the earthquake.

"We were here, in the city. As you can see, it didn't come entirely down and we're done with most repairs and reconstructions. Teutus here was a great help in getting people up and out that morning." Tertius said, hoping his son would appreciate the compliment and understand that Tertius wanted him to appear at his best tonight. 

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Teutus took the hand the lady offered him and pressed a kiss to the back of her fingers, hoping that he was showing the correct etiquette - he hadn't had any sort of training in this area at all and knew that he was basically playing guessing games.

"I hope it didn't scare you too much?" Teutus said, glancing at his father and getting the impression that Tertius wanted him to be more of an active participant in the conversation, something Teutus wasn't yet used to being. It seemed that his father wanted to show him off and he could only guess at the reason. "We were lucky, the damage to the house was superficial." They had been lucky; several less well-constructed buildings (mostly insulae in the poorer parts of the city) had suffered far more materially, with more than one actually falling in. His father hadn't lost any of his property, but one or two insulae that he owned had had to be shored up to await the builders who were suddenly in short supply due to the demand for their services.

"Can I offer you a drink?" he asked, suddenly acutely aware that the lady had come on her own (well, he couldn't see that she had brought a slave with her - how odd!) The meal would be ready shortly, but he could act as the gracious host it seemed his father wanted him to play and offer the lady something to drink while they waited.

 

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Caecina had taken note of the domus as she arrived there, and had seen that it'd been repaired, for the most part. That wasn't surprising; of course a man like Tertius would have the funds and the means to repair his home quicker than the insulae that had toppled. It was a lovely home, too, though perhaps in need of a feminine touch due to the lack of a mistress here. "I'm very glad for you that your domus was not terribly damaged," she said. "It would be such a shame, to lose such a beautiful home." Tertius then complimented his son on his help moving the people out of the domus that morning and she smiled at the young man. "I knew you were a brave soul, Teutus. I'm a good judge of character, and your household is lucky to have you."

Teutus kissed the back of her fingers and she gave him a slightly flirtatious look as she drew her hand back. Poor dear - he seemed so unsure of himself. Caecina had had beaux like that before, where they questioned their own every move and bored her till she could scream with their fumbling and awkwardness. But Teutus didn't seem quite so bad off. He was gracious, certainly, offering her a drink, and kind for asking her if she was scared during the earthquake. "Oh, yes, thank you!" 

As one was handed to her, she returned to his original question. "Oh, I was simply trembling - though that could have been because the earth was moving!" She laughed at her own joke. "But after it was all over, I was as bored as I could be! Tertius knows how I love the city, and being trapped at the villa for much longer than I anticipated was like being in prison." She wasn't exactly exaggerating, either. Such a social person as herself was bound to feel trapped by the wide-open nothingness that surrounded the country estate. Caecina's glance turned away from the two men as she saw movement in the doorway and smiled as she saw Astraea, her slave, who had let her alone for a few moments to supervise the storing of the litter until it was time to go. "Tertius, you'll remember my body servant, Astraea."

@Sharpie @Atrice

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See Teutus could be quite the charmer if he made a little effort. Tertius noticed the look Caecina gave his son when he did it and he couldn’t help but smile. This was exactly what he wanted. Even if Caecina turned out to not be the right one for Teutus – Tertius kind of feared her father wouldn’t think a freedman good enough for his daughter – it was still good practice for Teutus. Not that Tertius would mind Caecina walking around in his house at all, he then thought.

Caecina had also complimented his home and called Teutus brave and said the household was lucky to have him. Indeed! See she was quite the charmer too, but Tertius already knew that. He smiled at her kind words though, “Indeed it would be a shame to lose a place such as this. I’m glad we’re all safe here.” He said and Teutus had asked if the earthquake had scared Caecina. He also asked if she wanted a drink. How good of him.

He listened while Caecina gave her story of the earthquake, how scared she had been – and how bored she was afterwards, so she was glad that Tertius had invited her to the city. She called the villa a prison and he let out a small laugh, “Surely it’s not that boring out there. Or are there really no one there to entertain you?” Tertius said, because that would be a pity and he would be more than happy to entertain her anywhere. Gods, she was here to meet Teutus! Tertius boh scolded himself, but also thought why not?

Not many moments later, Caecina’s mature slavewoman appeared and Caecina naturally mentioned her, “I definitely do, she was there the night we met. And made sure that I too reached my home easily.” He said and offered Astraea a kind smile. Then he looked at Caecina and Teutus again, “Shall we proceed to the triclinium?”

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"Thank you," Teutus replied, accepting the lady's compliment - something he wasn't really used to having directed at him (plenty of people had compliemtned him in the past, though naturally it had been indirectly, addressed to his father. Things along the lines of 'what a dutiful slave Teutus is', given in his hearing as if he were no more capable of hearing than a block of stone). He wasn't entirely sure how best to receive compliments directed at him and hoped that he wasn't blushing.

He chuckled at her joke; being trapped in a luxurious villa could by no means be compared with being imprisoned in the Tullianum, of course, but there was absolutely no need to make a crass comment pointing that out.

His father suggested that they proceed to the triclinium but made no effort to offer Caecina Tusca his arm, which made Teutus let out a breath before offering his own, hoping that he wasn't breaching some rule of etiquette that everybody in Rome was aware of except him.

"Your father is Proconsul of Britannia, isn't he?" Teutus said to her, hoping that he had pieced things together correctly. "Are you alone in Rome, then?"

 

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"Well, my step-brother and I spend a lot of time together, but even with a friend such as he, one can run out of things to do! I'm very glad to be back in the city." Marcus and Caecina entertained each other in many ways, she thought briefly. Tertius kindly acknowledged Caecina's aging Greek servant, who gave him a deferential nod and lowered her gaze. Caecina knew her real purpose in accompanying her here: to make sure she behaved herself. She chafed a little under the woman's watchful gaze; after all, she'd been so good recently, and had given her guardian almost nothing to report back to Juliana but good behavior. But on the other hand, Caecina was thankful for a familiar face when meeting new people and being received in their home. 

After a moment more, Tertius suggested they proceed into the triclinium and the young woman nodded, smiling. "That sounds wonderful, thank you." She accepted Teutus's arm as they made their way to the dining area, looping her own slender arm through his. She was impressed by his instincts. As they walked, Teutus asked about her father. "Yes, that's right. He spends almost all of his time there, though goodness knows why!" She knew she'd never find herself there. "Well, usually I am accompanied by Astraea here. But, yes, my stepmother spends her time at the villa, so I am usually here alone." Well, as alone as she could be, shadowed by her slave. She also had Marcus to spend time with. 

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When he’d wondered if there were really no one to entertain Caecina in the countryside, she said she had a step-brother and they spent time together, but she still enjoyed the city. Tertius nodded, he could understand her. Quietly he noted to himself to check more about her family background, to find out whom this step-brother was and all. He knew her, but he didn’t know everything yet. Then he decided they should go to the triclinium and smiled when Teutus offered his arm to the young lady – and Caecina accepted it and allowed herself to be led to the dining area of the domus.

Tertius walked in front of the two, listening in as they talked. Teutus asked about Ceacina’s father and she explained that her father spent almost all his time in Britannia and that she was accompanied by her slave. She was usually in Rome alone, save for her slave of course.

“Please take a seat.” Tertius said, as they entered the nicely decorated triclinium, held in red and blue colors and with the wall decorations having been repainted not so long ago, after the earthquake. They seemed almost new now.

“I am glad that we at least are able to entertain you, Caecina, when you are alone here in Rome.” Tertius then said with a smile to her, looking up briefly as some of the servant slaves brought the food in. He also noted that Hector stood just outside the triclinium, ready if Tertius needed anything. He ought to find a proper body slave for Teutus too, he thought to himself. There were so many things Teutus needed now.

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Teutus waited until Caecina had arranged herself comfortably on the couch to his father's right before taking his own place. It still felt odd to recline to eat - slaves didn't; one informal way for a slave to be manumitted was for the master to invite the slave in question to recline to dine with him and his guests. Tertius had chosen a more formal manumission for Teutus, as befit a senator's son born into servitude.

Rome was not the safest of places for a woman on her own, Teutus thought. Especially a woman of Caecina's class. He supposed that class included himself, now, too. Perhaps not; his father had not actually adopted him formally yet and so he was still officially Teutus Quinctilius Varus, freedman of Tertius Quinctilius Varus.

"Have you ever been to Britannia or did you remain in Italia when your father took up his post?" Teutus asked, trying not to feel self-conscious at setting a topic of conversation when his entire upbringing and training had taught him not to speak without being spoken to when in the presence of the free.

 

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Caecina sat at the table, reclining as befit someone in her station, and watched Teutus as he sat as well. Something about him was uneasy, she could tell, but she couldn't tell what it was specifically. It was like he was uncomfortable in his own skin, but Caecina had noticed how handsome he was. Surely that wasn't it. She shrugged it off and returned to the conversation. 

Perhaps she should not have said that she was alone in Rome - after all, she was never truly alone. She had her entourage, including Astraea and her bodyguards, as well as other slaves who took care of more specific needs. She had Marcus, and there were plenty of friends to meet. Like Tertius, and his son here, too. Perhaps she ought to invite him out to the races sometime, he might like that. Tertius said that he was glad they were able to entertain her and she smiled. "You are all too kind to me. I really appreciate your kind invitation, and you certainly are accomplished hosts. Your triclinium is beautiful!"

She took another dainty sip of her wine as Teutus asked her whether she'd been to Britannia. "No, I've never had the pleasure of going there. I really only see my father when he comes home for a visit. But during the civil war, when I was little, my mother and I took refuge in the east, where my father was fighting with the Imperator." Caecina glanced at Teutus for a moment. "Have you ever been to Britannia? Or done much traveling?"

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Tertius glanced at Teutus as he took a seat – there hadn’t been a lot of dinners after Teutus was freed and it was summer now. He really ought to do this more often, so that his son would get more used to it. He could tell that Teutus still sat down a bit stiffly, as if he could not really relax yet. Well he would have to learn, this was his life now. Meanwhile Caecina took her own couch, reclining and looking ever so alluring in that position. How was Teutus not charmed by her already? She said that they were kind to her and how she really appreciated the invitation. Then she even complimented the triclinium.

“I am glad to hear you enjoy it. It was one of the first rooms to be redone after the earthquake.” Tertius explained. This was where you took visitors and met with the family, after all. The private rooms could wait, not so many strangers took those in, but the official rooms like this… it had to look good, when you were a Senator and a Praetor even.

Teutus then asked her about Britannia and she sipped her wine, explaining she’d never been in Britannia. And she even rarely saw her father, it sounded like. She explained how she’d been in the East once, as a small child and then wondered if Teutus had done any travelling. He hadn’t, Tertius knew that. Even Tertius had barely left Rome since he came back from Germania Inferior more than ten years ago. They went to the villa in the countryside maybe once a year, but that was about it. He’d let Teutus do the talking though, Tertius was curious about what his son would answer.

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"No - I've never left Italia," Teutus replied, feeling somewhat of an imposter at his position here, in this room and this conversation. "I would like to see more of the Empire, of course - Greece or Hispania would be interesting, I think, in their own ways."

There were days - he would never admit this to anyone! - when he would quite like to go down to Ostia and see if there were any ships heading to Spain. To anywhere that wasn't Italy, really, but Hispania had caught his imagination at some point. He wouldn't do it, though, his duty had too tight a hold on him, even now. He sipped his wine.

Caecina Tusca had done more travelling than he had, even to going out to join the new Emperor during the civil war, when he was in Cappadocia. Teutus did not really remember that period and was glad of it. Caecina must have been very young at that time, Teutus didn't think that she was his age. A handful of years younger than him, which wasn't anything, not really.

"Did your mother go with you, then? What about your siblings?" Although perhaps she didn't have any. He could only hope that he hadn't completely put his foot in it and said something that might upset her.

 

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Caecina stored away that bit of information for later - that Teutus was not much of a traveler. Of course, not all Romans were, though many did travel with their wealth or in order to visit friends or family. It was often a point of pride with Romans, to say all the places they'd been, though Caecina had never felt quite the same. She felt there was nowhere better to be than Rome, even if traveling held a sort of glamour for the first few days, at least. 

Teutus continued speaking, saying that he would like to travel to Greece or Hispania. "Oh, you should. I've been to Greece a few times, and I'm sure I must have been to Hispania as well but I can't remember." She chuckled. "But Greece is wonderful. There was so much history and art." Not that she'd ever cared for those things, she was mostly having a look at the Greek boys and flirting with them than looking at boring art or architecture. 

Caecina gave a slightly tight smile as Teutus inquired after her mother and siblings in their travels to the East. He couldn't know about her family, so she wouldn't be harsh - in fact, there was no reason for him to know about her mother anyway, so she would just brush over it slightly. "Yes, it was my mother and I and a few members of our household. I was an only child at the time." She took a sip of wine to quell her sudden nervousness - the subject of her mother always made her heart race faster, no matter the context. 

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Tertius paid attention while the two young people spoke of travels and Teutus said he’d never lever Italia – but he would like to see more of the empire. Perhaps Tertius should allow it, now that Teutus was free. Let him travel a bit, see the world and then come back home and settle down with a wife and do the family honor. That wouldn’t be the worst idea, in fact, he thought as he sipped his wine. Caecina explained how she had been to Greece a few times and she mentioned the history and the art.

Teutus asked her if she went with her mother and her siblings when she travelled and she smiled and said she had gone with her mother – she had been an only child at the time.

“That must be quite a few years ago then.” Tertius commented, “Travelling does sound a like nice thing to do. Maybe we should do it more, although right now, the only plans are a trip to the villa in the fall.” After Charis’ child was born, of course. They wouldn’t be going anywhere until then… “Not that Rome is not enjoyable, of course. What do you enjoy doing here, Caecina? Besides getting caught in the gardens in thunderstorms.” He added with a small smile to the young woman.

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"Do you have brothers or sisters?" Teutus asked, very much feeling the weight of carrying this conversation. It was not something he was used to doing, especially in front of the man who was his father and, until so recently, his owner. Teutus himself was an older brother - his sister was many years younger than him, and he was about to become a brother for a second time to an even younger sibling (and oh, how he hoped that it would be a girl if Tertius decided to declare it free. Not that he was at all insecure in his place in the family...)

He tried to imagine Tertius travelling to anywhere further afield than the country villa, and absolutely could not. Tertius was a man comfortable in familiar surroundings, dictating the lives of everyone around him and causing his own brand of chaos wherever he went. Teutus' life could best be described as a complicated disaster, if maybe a little less of a disaster now that he was actually free.

He sipped his wine, lifting an eyebrow a little at his father's question, but would let the conversation flow where his father wanted, at least for a little bit.

 

@Echo @Atrice

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"Yes, though they are all quite a bit younger than I am. A younger brother and two sisters," she explained fondly. "They live with my stepmother at our villa in the countryside - visiting them is one of the best reasons for going to the villa." Caecina returned to Tertius's earlier comment about traveling. "Certainly, I do so enjoy seeing other parts of the world. I think I should like to see Aegyptus one day. Teutus - have you done much traveling, then?"

Just then, dinner was served and the conversation dimmed out for a moment as each person was served and settled into their food. Caecina then brought the conversation back around to Teutus, curious to learn more about him. "So, Teutus, have you begun on the Course of Honor? I know that young men of your class must serve in the military. That must be an exciting prospect?"

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