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Early August, 75CE

Why was Caecina plagued with forced visits with people she didn't care to know? It was nothing personal against those she had to meet - she just had a million other things she'd rather be doing! And Juliana had an amazing ability to make connections for Caecina while being miles away at the villa. Today's visit was no different. She had been introduced to Horatia Justina before, and had attended a social gathering, a book club, at her home as well (also spurred on by her stepmother) but had never had a visit with the woman one on one. At the book club meeting, Caecina had made the appropriate niceties and then retreated to spend the rest of the evening with the one young woman she'd known there. 

Because she'd never interacted one on one with the older woman, Caecina was going into the meeting today with little to no context or knowledge about her personality, and that intimidated her. The young senatore lady was of the notion that all older women were simply out to get their younger counterparts, to judge their new fashions and hair styles, to judge their adherence to the proprieties. Caecina was absolutely better at interacting with women her age than older women. But at least she had some knowledge about how to appease the old cats, so she was at least prepared on that front. 

Caecina dressed especially carefully, choosing a more modest chiton than she usually wore. The fabric was a light blue, Caecina's favorite, and embroidered along the edge's by the girl's own hands, something she could brag about if she needed to defend herself. Her palla was also blue, though darker, and sparingly decorated. Her jewelry was tasteful and not too garish, and she brought along a bottle of fine wine from her father's cellars as a hostess gift. Upon arrival, Caecina was shown into the entryway to wait for her hostess. 

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Horatia smoothed down the front of her stola, and then made her way to the atrium. She had decorated the domus in light flowers to try and make it seem less...imposing to her guest, and she'd dressed simply. Her stola was a light yellow to compliment her red hair, and finely but simply adorned with embroidery in that understated Horatia sort of way. Her hair, up as for all married women's, was only simply braided - none of the great Flavian up-dos for her, the weight of them could make a woman faint! Besides, Caecina had seemed a sweet albeit quiet girl from their brief meeting and Horatia had no desire to be ostentatious and scare her. How little she knew the girl! 

As she swept into the atrium, a warm smile lit up her face. "Caecina, welcome." She paused in front of her and extended her hands in greeting, leaning to kiss the younger woman's cheeks in welcome. She tried to avoid the tugging feeling of...well...age when she looked upon her guest. She was only thirty-two! Why did she feel so ancient all of a sudden! "Come, I was thinking we could sit in the garden for a little while?" Her garden was her pride and joy, and her place of personal solitude where she withdrew when she needed space, or wanted to entertain close friends. 

She had been surprised by the ask to meet the young woman, although she didn't doubt the intentions. She had had many similar meetings when she had been Caecina's age with friends of her mothers or other such matrons in Rome. All to do with preparing her for her wifely future she assumed, and now time had ticked on and she was doing the same for a new generation of Roman women. She tried to ignore the uncomfortable feeling settling on her shoulders. "Tell me, you've been in Rome long, or do you usually live in the villa?" 

 

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Before the mistress of the domus arrived, Caecina took a chance to look around the atrium, noticing its tasteful and bright decorations. She wondered if the flowers were from the domus's own gardens, or if they'd been brought in from elsewhere, though the effect was the same either way. Caecina wondered how she would decorate her own house someday, assuming, of course, her husband allowed her to decorate how she liked. 

She was tugged out of her thoughts by Horatia arriving, greeting her by clasping her hands and kissing her on each cheek. Caecina returned the gesture with a bright smile, instantly turning on the charm just as she had intended to. "Horatia, it is so wonderful to see you again. Thank you for inviting me to your home - it is a beautiful domus." Astraea cleared her throat and Caecina took the hint. "Oh, goodness, I almost forgot. I brought you this wine from our cellars - a gift for your kindness in inviting me."

Horatia suggested they retreat to the gardens and Caecina dipped her head, smiling. "That is a wonderful idea." With greetings out of the way, Caecina drew a breath of relief. There had been no barbed statements with underlying meanings, no chastisement. She was thankful for that. Horatia was asking her a question as they walked toward the gardens. "I usually stay in the city, actually. I am ever so fond of all the activity here - the villa can get awfully quiet. My stepmother, Juliana, stays at the villa most of the time, though." She gazed at her companion. "Do you get to the countryside very often?"

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Horatia smiled and took the wine, before a slave appeared to take it from her mistress. "That's very kind of you Caecina, you needn't have." But Horatia was impressed at the thoughtfulness, even if she suspected it came from the girls stepmother rather than the girl herself. But manners were taught, not innate, so it was a good start. 

Horatia watched the girl as they retreated into the sun trap of a garden, the heat of the day only staved off by a smattering of clouds that came and went, and a few diligent slaves stretching up the awning to cast them into shade. "And what sort of activity is that?" She asked innocently, before a wide grin lit up her face and she shook her head, obviously only teasing. A more vicious woman than Horatia could have spread a rumour about Caecina on that single sentence, but she was not such a woman and lectures to the girl on what to say, and what to be circumspect about, could come later. Wine was served and Horatia took a sip, relishing its coolness. "Not as often as I did. When my husband was away on campaign and with the Emperor, I stayed at Baiae a lot, even in the winter sometimes - just to get away from Rome - but since we've been back from Raetia, I'm actually enjoying the city a little more." She chuckled, "I never thought I would, but the provinces are...well...provincial. It's nice to have some culture back again." 

She set down her cup and arranged the folds of her stola over her thighs, blinking into the sun. "I'm sorry if you feel you've been forced to come here," She smiled wryly, "I remember visiting so many matrons when I was your age, and resented every one of them." She arched a brow at the girl.

 

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Caecina smiled as Horatia accepted gift, glad that Juliana had thought to remind her to bring it. It certainly wouldn't have been her first thought, being a naturally self-centered person. But if it scored points in her favor, she was glad for all the help she could get. She'd met with meaner old cats than this particular lady, but she was still on high alert in case her words turned venomous. 

As they settled in the garden, Horatia did seem to take her words as something other than what they were, but then appeared to be teasing. Caecina laughed hesitantly in response. "I only meant that I enjoy exploring the markets and visiting the temples and my friends. One cannot enjoy such activities while buried in a villa in the countryside - the culture here in the city is invigorating." She accepted a cup of wine graciously. "Not to say that I am not grateful for the villa, though - it is certainly pleasant to spend time there, particularly with my family."

Horatia continued by saying that she was sorry if Caecina felt she was being forced, noting that she'd also visited matrons in her girlhood. Caecina was still suspicious, and unsure of whether to be honest or flippant, though she gave a wry smile. "It seems, then, that we've entered a time-honored tradition. I do appreciate you agreeing to meet with me, though. You must be a busy woman, to have such a lovely home."

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Horatia silently approved of the deft way Caecina recovered from the teasing question and nodded. "You live there with Decimus Silanus' boys?" She queried as she sipped her wine, before correcting herself, "Or is the eldest still abroad?" She always had a habit for names and remembering things and it came in useful for conversations such as this. 

She chuckled again, amused at Caecina's reticence to engage fully but she didn't blame the girl. For all she knew, Horatia could be reporting back her every word to Juliana and she would have been mortified - at the young woman's age - to be scolded. "Mhmm, we have." She said with an amused little smile and waved a hand, "Oh not at all. It was either this or scolding the slaves for letting my youngest run rings around them." Calpurnia was a quiet, reserved girl - taking after herself rather than her father - but she had a deceptive streak that the slaves couldn't quite handle. It would be funny if it weren't her daughter. "I...hope you get some use out of this," She continued and set down her wine cup, fingers resting on the stem of the goblet, "The first time I visited one of the matrons they quizzed me on my skills stitching and how many children the women in my family had borne," She wrinkled her nose and rolled her eyes with a chuckle, "I was far too naive to ask the questions about married life that I really wanted answered." 

 

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Caecina had had similar meetings to this one, so Horatia's light teasing was nothing like the cruel and double-edged comments that older matrons often aimed at her. The young woman could certainly take more abuse than it seemed Horatia was willing to dish out. The older woman asked whether she lived with the sons of Decimus Silanus and she smiled, nodding. "Yes, that's correct. He was married to my stepmother. Lucius, the elder, is abroad though, serving Rome in the east, I believe. Marcus splits his time between staying with us and at the palace."

Horatia joked lightly about having had the choice to spend time with Caecina or scolding her slaves. "How many children do you have? I don't believe Juliana mentioned." Every time children came up as a topic, Caecina's mind eventually came around to her own fear of childbirth, and it inevitably increased her discomfort. But Horatia's words distracted her and she smiled lightly. "Well, if you must quiz me, I won't begrudge you," she said, letting a slightly playful note enter her voice. The older woman then said that she had had questions of her own and Caecina nodded. Of course, she had questions of her own, or something like vague confusion and nervousness when it came to marriage. But, like the younger Horatia, she didn't know where to start. 

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"Two." She said proudly, although not without a little, almost imperceptible wince. Most of their class had fewer children than their plebeian counterparts, it was one of the reasons for the introduction of the Lex Papia Poppaea after all. But it was odd, she supposed (if one didn't know her consumption of silphium - which nobody did) how she had fallen so quickly with child with Titus (a month after her wedding!) and almost as soon as they had started trying for Calpurnia and yet now she seemed barren as a desert. Still, needs must. And she was not going to go through childbed again if she could help it. "Titus is fourteen and Calpurnia has just turned twelve." She smiled a little, "I had quite forgotten what teenagers can be like, until I found myself with two of my own." 

Horatia waved a hand, however, at Caecina's comment and laughed a little softly. "I have no intention to quiz you and report back to Juliana, don't worry. But your father or step-mother must be on the hunt for a husband for you by now?" She asked gently, "Not that I wish to pry but...it can be a demoralising time. I had men thrice as old as me courting me, and the ones I really wanted at the time were off with other girls." She chuckled. She had lucked out, of course, in the end. But it had still been hard - horribly so - to face the uncertainty and fear of both rejection and an unsuitable match. 

"How many dreadful dinner parties have you been invited to with female acquaintances and their very eligible sons?" She grinned as she sipped her wine.

 

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Caecina smiled as Horatia said that she had two children with such pride. She didn't think to be catty about that small number - after all, how could she? She had been her mother's only surviving child. Fertility was not something she chose to be cruel about, even though it was a central focus of many conversations she'd had with girls her own age as well as more mature women. Horatia went on to tell her her children's ages and admit she'd forgotten what teenagers were like. Caecina gave a slight smile at this, though she felt a little offended - was she just a teenager? She had moved on into womanhood, of course, but everyone still treated her as though she were a child. "I am sure they are lovely children. My stepmother has three of her own - a boy and two little girls. I love going to see them at the villa." 

The topic then went on to marriage, as it always inevitably did. Horatia gently asked whether her parents were looking for matches for her and Caecina felt a touch of pride about the situation. There were any number of young men that courted her at social events, even taking her out to walk in the Gardens or to give her petty gifts to catch her attention. She was a well-connected young woman and therefore desirable as a bride. "Certainly, they are looking," she agreed. Horatia then said it had been demoralising for her and Caecina nodded, trying to be sympathetic - but Caecina rather found it exciting and pleasing to know how desirable she was, even if it was to older men. 

"Too many to count," she admitted with a laugh. "Those can be a little embarrassing. But I am sure that Juliana and my father will find a suitable match for me." She took a sip of wine. "I am ever so excited to be married, though. I know it is a lot of responsibility - but what have I been training for all these years, after all?" She felt ready - though she was immature and probably didn't conceptualize what marriage was actually likely to be. 

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Horatia chuckled. She had been much as Caecina in her youth; she wished for nothing more than to be a wife and a mother, and she'd fulfilled both aims to the best of her ability. It did not mean everything she had been through smelt of roses though, and she knew plenty of young women whose dreams had been utterly dashed by their parents choice in partners. 

"I'm sure you've been taught all you need, and will make an admirable wife." She knew several such friends of her husband who would no doubt throw themselves in the Tiber for a chance to wed a girl as pretty and well-bred as Caecina. "But marriage is not all that everybody tells you when you're young," She cautioned and sipped her own wine. She was not foolish enough to make complaints to a perfect stranger, she was far too bright to be that loose with things that could invariably be turned into gossip, but she wanted Caecina to have the full picture. "Should you marry a man who has a particular yearning for the military, for example, it's rare for a wife to be able to follow him into the provinces if he's only a Tribune or a Legate. He could be gone for years," She eyed the girl carefully, "I think people should be more honest over the fortitude that's required of wives when their husbands are absent. Not only do they often have to deal with pregnancy or children, but in-laws and household management as well." She smiled wryly, hoping Caecina would catch her drift. 

"I'm sure you've thought of it all, however," She waved a hand - although doubted the girl had thought of much more than what man would look best on her arm, "So do tell me to move along if I'm boring you." 

 

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Caecina's mind, ever-unanalytical, was not so different than many young girls her age, at least in the department of marriage. Her thoughts had only brought her as far as the altar, as it were, and she rarely stopped to think about what came after. Occasionally, though, her mind did wander toward the marriage bed and the having of children, and those thoughts brought her a lot of fear because she remembered what had happened to her mother. She remembered the anguish she had gone through, and how fruitless it all was because of her death and her son's. Caecina didn't want that at all, so when she thought of these things, it was usually followed by "I'll think of that later."

She listened carefully to what Horatia had to say, though, something that happened very rarely. She hadn't thought of marriage to a man in the military - surely she would be confined at home, possibly with children and certainly with servants to direct and a household to manage. She couldn't stand the thought of that, but it was food for thought at least. She smiled along with the older woman, shaking her head at her last statement. "No, of course not. I value any knowledge you can give me." She took another sip and frowned, gazing into the cup, then back up at Horatia. "What else... should I know about marriage?" She was actually learning something, which was a nice change - the other women she'd been forced to sit with had only alluded to marital strife and never told Caecina anything she thought  worth knowing. 

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Horatia was pleased with the girls reaction as she gauged it. Some of the young women she'd met (and if she was being honest, she feared Caecina was made in their mould- at least when they had first met) seemed to dismiss any notion of reality over how hard a marriage could (and likely would be). They reminded Horatia of her sister, Livia, whose naivety had come crashing down around her in most destructive ways now the real world had bitten her. It was a shame, and if she could give some girl the honest but positive take over what marriages entailed, then she'd consider it a job well done. 

"Oh there's too much for one conversation," She chuckled and smoothed the folds of her stola over her knees. "But things I wish somebody had told me about..." She thought to herself and narrowed her eyes as she did, "You should perhaps try and educate yourself in subjects that interest men," She eyed the girl, "I'm not sure what your father would make of it but it doesn't hurt to ask; books on wars - famous ones if you're not that interested in reading," Not all women were after all, "Conversations with male relatives on the military or politics...pick up as much as you can, but don't be overt about it." Few men enjoyed the nagging of women in areas where they really had no business nagging at all. "I think the best marriages I've ever seen are the ones where the husband trusts his wife to talk of things that he's facing; whether in the senate or the legions or wherever...When I was younger I had a fascination with the army," Her lips twitched and then a wide grin unfold itself on her face, "Odd I know, but it came in handy in my courtship with Aulus and all the years that followed." 

 

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Caecina supposed it couldn't hurt to take the advice of older women, though it was a lot easier to swallow than the sharp words and admonitions of the matrons older than Horatia. Perhaps Juliana had known of Caecina's disdain of these older cats and chosen a woman she could more easily relate to and talk with. And she had at least learned a little in their conversation. 

She smiled slightly as Horatia explained that men liked it when their women could talk with them on subjects that interested them. That was no problem, then - Caecina had a head for politics and quite enjoyed that. The military was less interesting, as it brought up thoughts of discomfort and filth, but the brightly flashing uniforms and dashing young men held quite a bit of interest for her. If talking about politics and war was all it took to keep a husband, Caecina was confident she could deliver, and happily. "That is a good piece of advice, I will certainly keep it in mind. On the subject of the military, what topics should I seek to learn about?"

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Horatia thought about the question, pursing her lips as she mused. "I'd start with topics related to your family, your father is the Proconsul of Britannia, isn't he?" She knew he was, and she stood then, gesturing with her head. "Come, I have a few things which might be of help." She left the peace of the quiet garden to move through the domus until she came to the back stairs. Their domus had scant rooms upstairs, but some, and one was her private sanctuary - newly gifted to her. 

She climbed the stairs and walked down the corridor until she came to a room, separated by a heavy curtain. She pulled it aside and inside was a room in the very image of Horatia. On one wall were neat shelves with hundreds of scrolls organised by name and genre, perfectly in place and organised just how she liked them. There was a desk, everything set in perfect lines and neat, and two couches richly decorated and covered in cushions for comfort. She gestured for Caecina to follow her in and to take a seat on one of the couches. 

"My husband surprised me with this, a study of my own." She had been delighted. Aulus knew how much she valued her solitude and time to read and organise their affairs, and so had gifted her a study of her own - upstairs, and smaller than his own naturally - but a space just for her own affairs. She went across to the shelves and narrowed her eyes until she found a scroll that she needed. "Ah! This one," She selected it and held it out for Caecina, "A history of the people of Britannia. It contains the names of the tribes that live there, and the forts and such, it might help contextualise your fathers letters a little." 

 

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"He is, yes," she responded. It was a source of pride for her family, that her father was so high up in rank, even though Caecina felt rather cold toward the man. They had never been close and Caecina resented the cool indifference with which he had treated her throughout the years. But she didn't let these feelings enter her voice, and she followed after her hostess at her signal. "I appreciate the help, Horatia. I'm sure it will be very useful in the weeks to come." Perhaps she could use her newfound knowledge of the military to impress Lucius Silanus the next time he came home - she did enjoy being surprising and interesting to men. 

The pair of women entered the study and Caecina glanced around, impressed by the decorations and the tidiness. "It's a lovely room, and it must be so nice to have a space of your own." She took a seat on one of the couches as Horatia gestured for her to, and watched as she perused the carefully stacked scrolls. She accepted the one that Horatia held out for her. "Oh, how fascinating. My tutor has been discussing a bit about the history of Britannia, but I am sure this scroll will help me understand better. Thank you very much."

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Horatia chuckled and shrugged, "It needs some paint but it's fine for now, and it's nice to escape some of the...more raucous activities of my family up here." When her husband, son and father-in-law (when he was in residence) got into one of their animated conversations about this campaign or that, she could politely excuse herself up here and take solace in her books. 

"You're welcome." Horatia smiled over her shoulder at the girls politeness and then sensing a change in the atmosphere, stopped her pursuing and came to join the younger woman on another couch. "You are welcome to tell me if I'm overstepping," She cautioned and adjusted the stola over her knees, "But...I know some young women are worried about more than just learning about the history of Britannia and being left whilst their husbands are on campaign overseas." She swallowed, "Things such as..." Oh Gods, why was this so awkward? She dreaded the fact that one day she'd have to have the same conversation with her daughter, "Marital relations and children and such...without a mother, I hope you've been...educated on such points?" 

 

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The girl smiled as Horatia downplayed the room. She wished she had a room of her own, other than her bedroom, to which she could escape. Sometimes someone just needed alone time. "I'm sure that's a comfort. But really, it's a lovely room." She watched as the woman stopped perusing her collection and came to sit next to her, sensing the change that the other woman felt too. Then she realized why the atmosphere had changed. 

Caecina blushed furiously crimson and immediately her eyes shifted to her skirts, trying to process what she had asked. Of course she had questions - would it hurt, being with a man? What would she have to do? but her first thought somehow had been of Marcus. She hoped that didn't show on her face. "Uhm," she cleared her throat, "Yes, Juliana has told me some things..." Then she thought of her mother, dying in childbirth. "My mother... she died, trying to give birth to my baby brother. Does that... happen often?" It was clear, no matter how hard she tried to cover it up, that this was what terrified her most in the world. 

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Horatia was relieved, and presumed the mention of Juliana would be the end of this particular track of conversation. She had no desire to educate Caecina on the intricacies of sex and marriage f it wasn't needed, but then she posed a question and Horatia stalled herself. She saw the way the girls face changed and the slight wobble in her voice, and she gently reached out a hand to softly squeeze the younger woman's forearm. 

"I'm so sorry Caecina." She knew what had happened, of course, it seemed too often that news travelled to the wives of Rome's greatest - another woman or her child dead on the birthing chair, and it always shocked her how quickly normality seemed to resume to those not directly impacted. Perhaps it was her own difficult birth with Calpurnia that made her see it differently. She had been informed, and been perfectly aware otherwise, that she had been on the precipice of life and death herself and only managed to claw back her health through the careful ministrations of a talented medicus and midwife. Not that anybody, not her husband or siblings or in-laws knew. It was her deepest secret, or one of them at least. 

"It...does happen. How often," She sighed and pushed back a strand of fiery auburn hair from her face, "I don't know. Men will never understand," She sighed, "I've heard childbirth compared to a battle before, but that doesn't do it justice, does it? Men can choose to turn and run from a battle, save their lives, no matter how shameful. Women who are with child have no such choice, we just have to...get on with it." She sighed and released her gentle hold on Caecina's forearm. "But just because your mother passed in such a way, it doesn't mean you will. You can afford the best midwives and medicus' should you want them when the time comes, and you're young, I'm told that helps." Why, she didn't know. "And there are different reasons women pass in childbed..." She sighed. Maybe having the facts would make her company feel a little better? "And some can be helped, and some can't, but that's the will of the Gods. Not that it makes it any easier, I know." She bit at her lip. "It is...terrifying, to be quite honest, and any woman who says anything different hasn't been scared or is naive." 

 

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Caecina had no desire to have a practical stranger explain sex and childbirth to her, especially since the topic had been broached long ago by Juliana, once the woman had gained Caecina's trust. It had been an embarrassing experience the first time, much less having Horatia (who was altogether a very nice woman, Caecina had decided, but still a stranger) tell her all about it. No, thank you, she thought. Death in childbirth, however, was another topic altogether - something all women discussed, young and old, in different ways. 

Caecina managed a brave smile when she felt the woman's hand squeeze her gently. "Thank you." Her explanation was illuminating, though not particularly comforting. Caecina reasoned that Horatia didn't owe her comfort, though, and settled with the acquiring of knowledge about childbirth. The allegory about childbirth and battle was an interesting one - she'd have to think about that one for a while. 

"I think... my mother was older. I've heard that that can affect a woman's chances of... well." She waved her hand vaguely. "I think that is the one thing about marriage that frightens me. Of course, I've been trained well and I'm ready for other aspects but I suppose hearing about birth doesn't really do it justice, does it?"

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Horatia nodded gently, "I've heard similar...which doesn't make it easier. I'm only thirty two but I wonder if I were to fall pregnant again..." Not that she should, given the silphium she took, but still..."And no," She managed a little laugh and sat back away from Caecina, giving the girl some space. "Nobody really warned me of it, but even if they had, it's not something one can accurately describe and of course, most men don't bother to write on women's matters so you'll not find a huge amount in any literature on what to expect." She rolled her eyes. 

"But...all you can do is plan and try and prepare, and the rest is up to the Gods." And with all the offerings in the world, there was no guarantee they'd take an interest and help in a time of crisis, as she knew too well. 

"But," She sighed, trying to affect a lighter tone and a breezy smile, "You're a lovely woman Caecina, and any man would bet his fortune for an hour of  your time, I'm sure." She chuckled, "And I'm always here - should you have any questions at all...sometimes it's easier to go to a perfect stranger than your own family, or at least that's how I felt when I was your age." There was far less embarrassment in asking a friend's mother on sex than her own mother. The thought of engaging Livia Calavia in such talk horrified the adolescent Horatia. 

 

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I think we may be nearing the end?

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Caecina started to feel a bit better as Horatia spoke, describing birth as nearly indescribable, and saying that all one could do was to prepare and hope for the best. Caecina, of course, believed in the gods and goddesses, but had never found them to be particularly helpful in her everyday troubles. Why should they take an interest in her giving birth one day? No, she decided, she would trust in the medicii and midwives. They would be her gods when that day came. She smiled again when Horatia said that she was a lovely woman and that any man would bet his fortune for an hour of her time, and nodded when the older woman said that she could come to her with questions if she wanted to. 

"I really appreciate your advice, Horatia. I'll admit, it is a bit easier to talk to you than Juliana." She was sure that she would have other questions once she got the gumption to ask her, but for now, her anxieties had returned to the shadows, to be remembered another day. "And thank you for inviting me into your home. I hope I can return the favor soon."

@Sara Sure, we can wrap it up :) 

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