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November 59 AD; Greece

 

The slave hadn't been very forthcoming when Aulus said that he was here to meet with his master, but had admitted him, at least. There seemed to be little reason to have admitted him because he was led past any areas of the house where either Marcus Horatius Justinus or his son Publius might reasonably be found, and taken to the garden. It was not the first time that Aulus had been admitted to the garden - he was a close enough friend of Publius' that he had been allowed access to a relatively private part of the house before.

He was not alone; there was someone sitting on one of the marble benches and Aulus stopped, unwilling to intrude further. And yet, as he began to make his apologies, he came to a stop, captivated by what he saw. He had met Publius' sister before, but she had not really caught his eye, among everyone else, with her hair done up in what must be the very latest style in Rome, and weighed down with jewellery, the very height of elegance. This simply-dressed woman was far more elegant in her simple clothing and with her hair artlessly done up.

"I beg your pardon, I had come to see Publius," he managed. "I am sorry to have disturbed you." He would offer to go, but remained frozen in place, utterly captivated.

 

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Horatia was relieved to have the house to herself (with the slaves of course). She hadn't realised quite how much she would miss the female counter weights of her sister and mother, and spending a protracted period of time with only her father for company - and Publius, when he was not with the legion, was something she hadn't experienced before. It was mildly exhausting. Every conversation focused on military matters or politics. Of course, with both topics she wasn't of the right gender to understand fully, although her father was irreverent enough to let her listen and learn. Equally, the house - rented of course - was filled with a domineering male presence that was so unusual for her after years in the soft, warm embrace of her familial domus back in Rome - decorated to her mothers exacting specifications. 

So when Publius and her father announced that morning that they were to take a trip to meet an old military colleague of her fathers, she had been delighted. Even more so when they announced her presence wouldn't be necessary. She had spent the early morning in the baths, luxiarating herself in a way she rarely did, and had dressed simply in the heat in a plain blue tunica. Her hair, still damp at its ends was casually half-up, done carelessly by her body slave rather than an ornatrice, with the rest flowing down her back in bright red waves. 

Delighting in the quietness of the place, she had retreated to her very favourite place in the home; the garden. On her lap lay a scroll - non-fiction this time, recounting the first Romano-Dacian war of 53. It was a weight tome, and detailed, but a relatively new release and one that suited a more engaged mind. She found herself jotting down words she didn't understand on a wax tablet next to her; technical, military terms that obviously passed her by as a woman and one not schooled in matters that should - for all intents and purposes - be over her head. She read it with a curious mind, and a desire to learn about the wars that were fought whilst her father was at the last of his military postings, although didn't dare read it in public company. No, no - she saved the fiction works, suitable for a woman such as herself, for those occasions. But today she was alone, and so out it came. 

Only she wasn't alone. She blinked up at the sound of footsteps, expecting to see a slave but this was no slave. She blinked and immediately flushed, hurriedly re-rolling the scroll she had been concentrating on and setting it down next to her on the bench. She recognised him, she'd always had a knack for faces and names and details and managed a smile although she felt awkward as anything. "It's fine, Aulus, wasn't it?" She asked with a flush and stood up, clasping her hands in front of her waist. "I...I'm sorry, I wasn't expecting company today." She said by way of explanation for her bare feet, simple tunica and half-done hair with trailed over her shoulders. "Publius and my father are out of the city visiting one of my fathers friends today, they'll be back late." She swallowed and the slave eyed the pair awkwardly. She asked, out of politeness more than anything - given he'd traipsed all the way here, "Would...would you take some wine?"

 

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"Aulus Calpurnius Praetextatus, at your service, Horatia Justina." She looked like a much better-looking (female!) version of her brother Publius. Anyway Aulus recognised her from some gathering or other, despite the distinct lack of adornments today. She looked beautiful, with her hair half-down (half up? He had no idea!) and in a simple blue tunica that brought out the colour of her eyes and made her hair glow a reddish gold. Like a demi-goddess at the very least - a dryad, perhaps. No, a naiad in that blue. "I would like that - unless I am disturbing your reading?"

He had caught sight of her scroll. The veracity of her words about not expecting a visitor was obvious, from her informal attire and the presence of the book.

"I wouldn't like to put you to any trouble," he added, moving a little further into the garden before stopping again, careful to keep a distance between them. She certainly looked discomfited by his sudden, unannounced appearance and he had no wish to add to it. He adjusted the pallium on his shoulder - a dark blue, complementing the paler blue of his own tunic. He had worn civilian clothes because it had been intended as a private visit between friends, and suddenly he was glad of it. His military garb would have been too much, he thought. The match in colour between his clothing and hers was completely accidental, but must have had divine inspiration.

 

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"Oh no, not at all, it can wait." She said and gestured to the scroll, bending down quickly to snap shut the tablet with her musings and notes in. "It was nothing important, and no trouble, I'd be glad of the company." She wouldn't, she didn't know him at all and she had been envisioning a relaxing day on her own, but she had been raised right and properly and wouldn't deny hospitality to a guest, and he was pleasant and polite himself which helped. Besides, Publius would have undoubtedly sniped at her had she turfed out his peer and friend. 

She gestured her head to the slave to fetch some refreshments, but kept her distance. It was wholly inappropriate for her to be alone with him - at least if not in law, then by lectures from her mother, and she was relieved when the slave trotted back out with a tray of drinks and another carrying a small table to set it on. As they set down their wares, her eyes skirted to the second slave - a clever one, sometimes used by her father as a second secretary and she offered a smile; "Herius, you may stay should Aulus or myself need anything." The implication was subtle, that she'd want a chaperone, and whilst the words were veiled it was there. 

She gestured for Aulus to join her on the bench and moved the scrolls out of the way, cheeks still flushed by the embarrassment of being caught off guard and so unprepared for visitors, especially a male visitor! The past few months (years...) had been spent in pursuit of a suitable husband for the young Horatia, seventeen now and still without a match. She'd tried to doll herself up with wigs and jewellery and cosmetics, far out of her comfort zone and attracted nobody in recent months and it had been part of the reason she'd come to Greece. She needed to soothe her soul away from the attentions of men, and who should walk into the house? A man, a friend of the family, and a handsome one at that - right when she wasn't ready for one. She tried to put such thoughts from her mind. 

"I hope you weren't looking for Publius for anything important?" She queried gently and took her own cup of wine, "My brother occasionally has a habit of arranging appointments and then forgetting them." She smiled conspiratorially at Aulus. Out of the corner of her eye she saw her body slave fluster through the house, palla in hand and waved her hand dismissively. The woman gawped and stood silently in the garden, keeping watch nonetheless. 

 

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"Thank you," Aulus said, taking a seat, careful not to encroach on her personal space - she barely knew him, and he certainly did not really know her. "And no, not really - it was nothing official, anyway, or I would have come in my uniform." And probably flustered her worse - he had no doubt that he had managed to fluster her, although she was covering it very well, showing herself to be every inch a senator's daughter.

He was grateful for the presence of the slaves setting out refreshments; the pause helped him gather his thoughts a little and Horatia Justina could tell one of them to remain as a chaperone if she wanted; as indeed she did.

"I was planning on surprising Publius, actually, so it isn't his fault he's not here to receive me. I had not expected to find a much prettier hostess, though." He waited until she had picked up her own winecup before taking his. "Ah, how are you finding Greece, so far? I understand you have only been here a few weeks or so?"

 

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Horatia arched a brow, with an amused smile on her lips. "That's good to hear, I won't have to chastise him later for forgetting you, although I'm sure he'll be sorry he missed you." And concerned that his sister had said something she shouldn't have, like how when they were children he used to be so terrible with his wooden practice sword, their father had cried. Fortunately he'd learned that skill in time, and she remained silent on the matter. She equally glossed over Aulus' compliment, besides a gentle inclination of her head in thanks. 

"It's beautiful, I'm glad I'm here. Rome can get stifling after a little while," She said lightly and absently adjusted the scroll which was at an odd angle, irking her. "And yourself? You're a Tribune, if I remember? To Quintus Flavius Alexander?" She asked lightly, diverting the conversation to him as all good Roman women were taught to in the company of men they didn't know. Besides, she was positive his career and achievements were far more interesting than her own life which had been relatively sheltered besides forays into Hispania and Germania with her father. She didn't realise her habit of remembering things, names and dates and the such (from conversations with Publius and meeting the man himself) made her look a little like a stalker. "You've been here longer than I, so should you have any recommendations, I'm all ears." She took another sip of the cooled wine and placed it back on the table. 

 

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"I'm sure he will, although I can't say I regret missing him, not when he left his beautiful sister here in his place," Aulus said, the compliment genuinely meant although it felt a little forced, or fake - surely she was used to receiving all sorts of flatteries from all sorts of people and her brother's friends could not compete with the suitors clamouring for her father to allow one of them to marry his daughter?

"Oh, there are many many fine things to be found in Greece," he told her. "Even Rome cannot compete with it in beauty - you merely have to look up at Athens' Acropolis to see the very heights of Greek architecture. Whether or not you worship Minerva, you cannot deny that her temple here is not one of the most beautiful of all temples - and Greece has three of the wonders of the world, should your father and you venture further afield."

He had noticed the minute adjustment she gave the placement of her scroll, which prompted him to return the favour and enquire, "May I ask what you were reading when I interrupted you?"

 

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Horatia flushed a little at the compliment and shook her head, her hair falling over her shoulder as she did; "I'm sure he wouldn't agree with you on that." She didn't agree with it herself. She knew she was attractive enough, but when compared with the ultra-fashionable women of Rome with their perfectly coiffed hair and astounding jewellery and perfectly made up faces, almost like masks, how could she compete and be considered beautiful?

She listened with interest as he spoke and nodded, "I had intended to visit her temple tomorrow as it happens," She chuckled, "My father has acquiesced to that, and I'll be sure to add the Acropolis to my list. And I've heard some of the islands are without comparison?" In truth she had no idea how long she'd be here for - the plan was very loose as it was, and she didn't really have any notion of how long it would be. She was content with her lot though, it was refreshing to get out of Rome. 

She arched a brow and the flush on her cheeks grew a little into a rosy hue. She couldn't rightly lie. Balls. She placed her hand atop it for a moment before passing it over, with a gentle smile. "An account of the first war with Dacia, I've not made much headway with it - I imagine it's probably beyond me." It wasn't. She adored reading and could cycle through any manner of difficult or stubborn texts with ease, but it wouldn't do to boast - especially about reading something as high-brow or masculine as an account of the war. "Perhaps a military man such as yourself can illuminate some of it for me?" She was only joking, in a sly sort of way. Not mocking him, of course, but she wondered if he'd read between the lines and see that she was perfectly capable of understanding it herself or whether he would see her at face value and dictate the fine points of war to her, as many men would. 

 

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"Brother are not apt to see their own sisters as beautiful," Aulus said dryly, although he could not really speak from experience, not when he had not seen his sister for any length of time in the... fifteen years or so since she had been selected for Vesta's service. Was it really as long as that? It must be! He had been about twelve when she had been taken to the Atrium Vestae, and now he was twenty-seven. Or nearly twenty-seven, at any rate.

"The war with Dacia?" Whatever he had expected, it was not that, but he noted the intelligence in Horatia's blue eyes as she passed him the scroll. "Surely not beyond your comprehension, unless you mean merely the military terms? I daresay most civilians would struggle with those."

He had not expected that she would have any interest in such a masculine subject, but did not doubt her ability to comprehend it in the least. Well, once she knew the various military terms, anyway. He set his winecup down to have both hands free so that he could unroll the scroll, although he wasn't sure where she had been reading precisely. "Ah, see here, the tortoise? That's a formation with the shields all around, and held over the men's heads. It's a good protection from projectiles - done properly, it's even possible to hold a chariot up on the shields, although I haven't actually seen that done myself."

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She noted his surprise with a sly smile of her own, but was relieved he didn't seem put out by it. Many men she had met (and who had courted her) had thought nothing of her appetite for reading, and they hadn't even known the variety of scrolls she enjoyed. She nodded and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, "Indeed, it's the terms more than the way it's written." She reached next to her to open the simple wax tablet where her neat script had jotted down some of the words she had failed to understand and would need to ask Publius or Pater later. 

She smiled to herself as he unrolled it and quickly flipped those bright blue eyes over the words. "Mhmm." She said as he pointed to the word and arched a brow, listening. He had a knack for not sounding condescending, which she appreciated and managed a laugh as he finished. She took her stylus and swiped out 'tortoise' from her list. "Well that has cleared that up for me, I was trying to understand what benefit an actual tortoise might have in the heat of a battle." She chuckled, only half joking and set down the tablet again. 

She reached out to retake her goblet and took a sip. Her voice was light and gentle as she spoke again, "Do you enjoy reading? I suppose you must not have a great deal of time for many hobbies with your position?" 

 

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"It's called a tortoise partly from the look of it, like a tortoise's shell, and partly because it's not easy to move fast when hemmed in like that," Aulus told her, giving her tablet the briefest of glances before politely looking away again. "I don't have much time for reading or similar pursuits, although I enjoy it when I can. I can remember bits and pieces, of course, although I can't rattle off whole books of anything from memory. My tutor would be horrified."

He scanned the neatly-written text of the scroll, mouthing the words quietly to himself until he reached the next word that must have puzzled her. "This is a ram, by which the writer means a battering-ram. I presume he's talking of the Siege of Sarmisegetusa?  To the Legions, a ram is a whole tree-trunk, with the business end covered in bronze. It's usually suspended from a siege tower, which protects the operators from whatever the besieged can throw at it, and makes it easier to work."

He had not expected to spend his time talking military engines and manoeuvres with a very pretty girl, but it was surprisingly pleasant to do so.

 

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Horatia chuckled, shaking her head, "I shan't tell him, even if I knew who he was. He can go into his dotage content in the belief that his pupil Aulus Calpurnius Praetextatus is reciting the Illiad at length every evening." She smiled and watched him as he read, although discretely averted her eyes after a moment or two. She took a sip of her wine and ignored her body slave's imploring glances to retreat. She was sat an appropriate distance away and was a friend of the family. Besides, a feeling in the pit of her stomach urged her not to move away. It was an odd feeling, a sort of flutter or a tugging deep within her. 

She listened patiently, as any good Senator's daughter would but her eyes shone with genuine interest and she leaned in a touch to see which section he was referring to. The smell of her freshly washed hair and rosewater on her throat mingling with the smell of the fresh blooms in the garden. She nodded slowly and tried to visualise it in her mind. Of course, given her gender, she would never have to see such a thing in person but it was interesting nonetheless. 

"You know, should you decide military or political life is not for you, you would make a find tutor yourself Aulus." She smiled and set down her own tablet. She was teasing lightly, gauging how he'd take it. Ever the hostess (not that she'd had much opportunity to be a hostess with her mother still alive and running the show) she gestured to his virtually untouched wine. "Can I fetch something else for you? Or some food? I should hate to think you came all the way to civilisation from a military station, only to be greeted by poor hospitality." She smiled warmly at him, joking a little. 

 

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He could not help laughing at the picture presented, of himself declaiming the Iliad every night. "Oh, make it the Aeneid. The Iliad is supposed to be about the great heroes of the Trojan War, but all I can think is how childish of Achilles, to spend so long sulking in his tent over a slave woman." He looked up, smiling at his hostess as he recalled the words Virgil had penned. "The leader of the enterprise was a woman..."

She was leaning over to see what part of the scroll he had been looking at,and he caught the delicate scent of rosewater and whatever she had used in her hair. She was a very beautiful woman, and seemed artless rather than calculating with it. The combination was attractive, one of the most attractive things Aulus had ever seen, and he wondered if this was what it felt like to fall in love.

He reached for his wine again. "May I ask why you decided to read this today? I'm sure it's not the usual sort of thing women read." 

He was curious, and that was all that showed in his face and voice. If Marcus Horatius Justinus wanted to allow his daughter to read books on military subjects, who was Aulus to say she couldn't? She was surely intelligent enough to get bored with the usual froth women read, after all.

 

The leader of the enterprise was a woman - It's more pithy in the original Latin: dux femina facti, speaking of Dido and the founding of Carthage.

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Horatia laughed with him, although arched a well shaped brow at his flippancy; "Does it not make you wonder, what sort of woman she was that she was able to create such passion in him?" She queried with a sly smile and then shook her head, "Although I've been told before that that isn't a valid question, because he only cared for her as his property, not out of love." Which might have been true, she certainly had no notion of what a slight it would have been to have been rewarded such a high honour as Briseis, only to have her taken away. She knew of male pride, of course, and she could understand how such pride could escalate. She didn't say as much to Aulus, of course, but the thought of petty, squabbling, prideful men made her smile.

She sipped her own wine and her cheeks coloured a little at the question. It was a valid one, of course, most women didn't enjoy such technical reading material. 

She set down her cup and angled her body to face him on the bench, "I've found myself, over the last few weeks, in conversation with my father and brother on things which I know nothing about. And I know I don't need to contribute, of course, but I thought it would be nice to understand a little of the context of what they discuss. I don't just read great military volumes," She said with a rueful smile, "You've caught me at an embarrassing moment, I'm sure my father would be quite horrified to hear you were teaching me the finer details of military manoeuvres when I should have been reading scrolls on gardening or sewing." She smiled a little, although felt awkward. Sods law that he came today. Her father let her read such things because he was progressive, when all was said and done, but there were limits to said progressiveness and reading such things as a technical account of the Romano-Dacian war in the company of a man she didn't know, probably pushed the boundaries of what he'd find acceptable. 

Returning to her previous question she gestured with her head back to the slave, "Are you sure there's nothing else I can get you Aulus? I'd hate to be considered a poor host." 

 

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"I will lay half the issue at least at Agamemnon's door, that he took Briseis without even a word of warning to Achilles, so I would say that his sulking was at least as much in response to that as to the actual loss. He still should have acted in a more... dignified manner than withdrawing his Myrmidons from the war." He smiled, her earnestness was touching - he could not recall ever having such a conversation with a woman before. "I will confess that men are apt to do some very foolish things when it comes to women and wanting them to think highly of their men."

Of course she must be finding it hard here, as the only woman in a household of men, and Aulus was yet another man. He could not offer any sort of female company for her; his own mother was in Rome, or possibly Baiae.

"I don't think it's anything you need be embarrassed about. I can quite understand wanting to have something to say in a conversation, after all. I think I would be equally tongue-tied if you were to start talking about the quality of thread for weaving, or whatever things women talk about when they're on their own." His smile grew conspiratorial. "We won't tell your father, then, if you think he wouldn't approve."

He sat back, keeping one hand on the scroll to prevent it sliding to the ground. "I wouldn't mind something to eat, but please don't feel obliged, I would be a poor guest to insist on it. I'm not one to throw my weight around, after all."

 

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She said nothing but merely raised her brows in agreement at his words around the foolishness of men. Her family were generally level-headed sorts but she'd seen plenty of foolishness from potential suitors, and didn't doubt that Publius had his moments when he was chasing girls. 

She let out a little sigh of pleasure that he seemed amused or intrigued more than irritated by her choice of reading material, and smiled conspiratorially, "Ah, in that case I shall stave off discussing the intricacies of the Greek weaving patterns and how thrilling it is." She chuckled. She enjoyed traditionally 'feminine' pursuits as much as any woman of her class, but obviously also knew that discussion of such would likely bore him to tears. 

She shook her head and then called for the slave, speaking in Greek (he'd been purchased whilst they were out here and his Latin was ropier than his native tongue), asking for small dishes to be brought out. She met her body slave's eye with a challenging look that withered her own irritation and she glanced back at the floor. "I should think you have every right to throw your weight around," She said casually as the Greek slave disappeared to fetch something or another. She turned to look back at Aulus and her hair fell behind her shoulder as she did, "We don't often host Tribunes here, usually some minor official or my own female friends." Of which there were precious few in Greece. "But we have met before, haven't we?" She narrowed those bright blue eyes on his face for a moment before averting them to her wine, "I think when Father hosted that party, a week or so after we arrived, for Publius and his friends?" 

 

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"Oh, we tribunes throw out weight around enough as it is, we don't need encouraging." His expression grew wry, though there was a spark of humour in his eyes. "Although I will allow that whatever authority we have is from the Legate or governor, and his comes from the Augustus. It is all perfectly ordered, you see."

He met her eyes - bright blue, an unusual colour in a native-born Roman (as he would know himself) - as he nodded. "Yes, I believe so. Though I think I shall return to my quarters and give thanks to Juno for giving me the opportunity to see you as you are right now. I thought I had been brought into the presence of some demi-goddess, if not Venus herself. I think you ladies are apt to use your jewellery and accessories as armour against us defenceless men - if you will forgive the comparison."

He would be only half-surprised if she had her slaves put him out of the house after that, and wouldn't that be fun to explain to Publius later.

 

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Horatia blinked, startled for a moment at his compliment. It wasn't that she hadn't received such before, she was the daughter of a well-made Senator who had been courted before (albeit it unsuccessfully) but this time it felt different, and far more earnest. She felt colour come to her cheeks and she ducked her head to avoid his gaze as that odd fluttering sensation in her chest intensified. 

"You shouldn't flatter Aulus, you'll leave me speechless." She retorted gently and then shook her head, "I have to admit it is nice to be out of Rome if only because I don't have to spend hours in a chair getting my hair pulled and braided and piled up high and placing on enough jewellery to sink a ship." She felt most at home in simple clothes and with simple jewellery, but such things weren't always befitting - especially not when she was trying to catch a a mans eye or she was attending a party or a formal dinner. 

She felt awkwardness creep in; she hadn't really talked like this with such an earnest man (and one who made her feel...things), and certainly not without a familial chaperone. The arrival of a slave with small dishes of bread and oil, dates, figs and such provided a welcome distraction although she felt her appetite sink away as she offered with a sweeping motion that he should go first. "Do you have your own family in Greece, Aulus?" She enquired, trying  to steer the conversation back to safer pastures. 

 

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He was interested to see the colour come into her face as she ducked her head, escaping his gaze. It hadn't meant as idle flattery but as a genuine compliment - he didn't think he would be capable of idle flattery.

"It was perfectly genuine," he told her, looking away and rolling up the scroll he was still holding before helping himself to a date just to give himself something to do. "I'm very bad at idle flattery, although please don't tell the governor's wife that, she loves it and thinks it's all perfectly genuine."

He chewed the date, setting the stone aside, and swallowed before replying. "No, my family are all in Rome - or possibly Baiae; they go there every summer. I am here on my own as duty called me."

 

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She smiled at his joke, still feeling a touch awkward (although she couldn't place why exactly). "Publius tells me she's an awful sort, although my father wishes me to join her weaving circle. Men make connections via war, us women make connections via stitches and such." Would a man ever understand the ways of women? That an invitation or lack thereof to weave or read or gossip was critical to forging alliances? Making a poor impression on the Governor's wife would lead to a lack of invitations to social calls, and a lack of invitations meant fewer prospects for them, and fewer still for appointments for the men in her family as women often whispered words in their husbands ears as she understood. 

She arched a brow at the reply, casual as it was. She wasn't sure if he meant his own family; his wife and children and such or his parents and siblings. She gently pressed on with an inquisitive look as she took a handful of honeyed almonds for herself. "Oh, you have a villa down there? My father does too, I used to love summers on the coast, swimming and reading on the beach," She smiled fondly at the memory and glanced down at her wine as she took a sip. "Your family must miss you, I'm sure. Father couldn't keep away - hence one of the reasons we're here, even if Publius is supposed to be concentrating on his military endeavours. You have a large family?" Horatia-speak for, are you talking about a doting mother, or a doting wife? Not that she could quite unpick why she was so keen to know.

 

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"A large family? Oh, no, not at all. It'll just be Father and Mother and the slaves. Calpurnia Praetextata is one of the Vestals - we are all quite proud of her. And I'm here, in Greece, as Tribune to Quintus Flavius Alexander." He smoothed the tunic over his knee, trying to find a way to enquire about her own situation without blurting out that he hoped she was unmarried - a woman of her age probably was married, it was be crass of him to suggest otherwise, however much he might hope to have a chance. She was here in her father's house, though, and he didn't think she had been wearing a stola when he had seen her before. 

"I, uh, suppose you have come to Greece for your, uh, wedding?" he managed, feeling tongue-tied all of a sudden, and about as subtle as the battering ram they had been speaking of earlier. He was not good at divining women, and their elegant subtleties, it seemed. He swallowed some wine to try to alleviate the sudden dryness in his mouth.

 

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Horatia's brows rose in surprise and a wide beaming smile split on her face, "A vestal? And so you should be proud!" She exclaimed. It was an honour to be chosen, and a further honour on the family given their position. Horatia had never had any inclination herself for such a role (although she supposed at the point at which girls were presented for it, she wouldn't have had much of a say anyway), but it didn't stop her from wondering what life must be like. "Does she enjoy it, do you know?" 

His question made her choke a bit on her wine, although she recovered and composed herself quickly and set it down, cheeks flushed. Not as badly as his though, as she glanced sideways at him. "Oh...no, nothing of the sort. I came for a break from such things, if anything." She regretted setting her wine down, as it gave her something to do. In truth, a woman of her station at seventeen should have been married, or at the very least betrothed. It was a source of shame to her that she wasn't, and she wondered sadly if Aulus was trying to figure out what was wrong with her, why she hadn't found anybody to take her on. She spoke again, trying to explain (although why she wanted to justify herself, she didn't quite know) "I was betrothed, before I came here but...my father couldn't agree on a dowry and so it was broken off. And trying to compete with the glamorous women of Rome is trying on a woman's patience and self-esteem, not that I expect you to understand of course." A man in his position could surely have the pick of any of Rome's great beauties.

She smoothed the thin tunica over her knees and smiled softly; "Not that I mind a break, of course, it gives me time to do other things...like reading great big volumes on tortoises and rams." she added as small joke.

 

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"I think she likes the prestige of it, as no doubt anyone would - the best seats at the races and the Games and all that sort of thing," he said. A Vestal Virgin had as much prestige as any senator, really, including lictors (although without the fasces carried by consular or magisterial lictors, of course).

"Oh, thank Juno for that," he blurted as she said that she wasn't married or engaged or anything of the sort. "I mean... Oh, I didn't mean to imply you shouldn't be. Just that... I'm glad you're not." 

He had a chance with her, maybe, if he hadn't just absolutely ruined it. He tried to collect his scattered wits. 

"You don't need to compete with them, you're so far beyond all of them already," he said, wondering just how red he could get. He was probably a similar colour to the scarlet cloak he'd left in his room back at the Praetorium. Which was not going to make a good impression on the cool calm woman he was talking with. 

"Men are such fools when it comes to women," he managed. And he seemed to be just as much a fool as anyone else.

He would have to have a conversation with his Legate, and then another with Marcus Horatius Justinus, and could only hope that neither of them thought he was a complete idiot.

 

@Sara

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Thank Juno?! She blinked and only offered a polite smile to him. Was he so starved of female company in Greece that he thought her presence worth exclaiming to Juno about? Then again, his embarrassment told her he was being truthful and not trying to flatter her, which was...odd, but obviously not unwelcome. She felt that unusual sensation in her stomach and her chest tug at her again and she tried her best to ignore it. She was not usually easily flustered, but this man had a way about him! 

"Most women are fools when it comes to men, so the feeling is mutual." She managed with a sly smile. "I don't mean to speak ill of my peers, but you should have listened to the gossip of the women in Rome...And I'm sure, should you have been in Rome you would have been the foremost subject of the women's chatter, Aulus." She passed the compliment in veiled words, but it was there. As was the implication that he should surely have his pick of the fine ladies of their class?

"Truth be told, I'm rather glad I'm here. There's few eligible bachelors - or ones that my father considers worthy enough - which is a small mercy. There was a point back in Italia when it felt as if we were hosting new men every other week to get to know them and see if they would live up to the families expectations." She realised that she sounded as if she was complaining and stopped herself, "Of course, I didn't mind too much, I'm fully aware that a woman of my age should be considering a family of her own and children and such." She wasn't a spinster yet, of course, she was only recently turned seventeen, but time was ticking away. 

"I suppose you don't get much time to socialise, with your work?" She tried to divert the conversation back, in a roundabout way. 

 

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The feeling is mutual... Did that mean what he thought it it meant? She certainly didn't seem to be acting half as foolish as he seemed to be, but was he grasping at straws and only hoping that she had said what he had heard?

"I, uh..." He had to clear his throat. "I don't think anyone would be gossiping about me, I'm merely a tribune on the lower rungs of the cursus honorum, i haven't done anything worth talkingng about." 

And then he got what she had meant, and went pinker than ever. 

"Are you... Are you not considering a family and children of your own, then?" He felt obscurely disappointed. It hadn't really been much of a hope but nevertheless the possibility had suddenly arisen, and now it looked as if he would have to rethink. 

He was still young, for a man - most men didn't marry until they were in their thirties and he had three years before his thirtieth birthday. Plenty of time, for him. He hoped that when the time came, he would find a wife who was everything he needed - calm and gentle, a support when he would need it, a civilising influence, even. And preferably someone he could converse with. He didn't need some silly airheaded wife, after all.

"It depends. My social rank demands that I attend as many functions as possible, even if my position doesn't always allow it. I think I would be there for everything if there was a chance you might be there, too. Even if the governor's wife is an awful sort of woman."

 

@Sara

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