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Aeterna Roma RPG

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Late August, 75CE

It had been a good couple of months for Gaius. He’d been promoted to optio in the Praetorian guard and quickly proven himself worthy of the station. This naturally came with a substantial pay upgrade and he was considering moving from the barracks to a house of his own. He’d been touring around a nearby neighborhood, in the market for a simple domus that he could afford, and though he’d been unsuccessful, he was still in a good mood. Since it was getting dark, he decided to stop in the poppina for a drink and something to eat before returning to the Praetorian barracks for the night. 
He made his way into the upper section of the establishment, pleased that he was allowed here instead of the lower section. The wine here was better as well as the service. He smiled shyly at an attractive young server, just thinking that a domus was empty without a lady to guide it. He would have to remedy that situation soon. Gazing at the woman, he didn’t notice someone standing with his back to him, and bumped into him. “Oh, my apologies,” he said, blushing as the server giggled. Then he looked at the man he’d bumped into and vaguely recognized him. “Secundus? Is that you?” 

@Járnviðr

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Since the earthquake, Secundus had remained in Rome for longer than his previous return trips. Livia seemed to prefer it here, a fact which stoked the fires of his jealousy, but for now, he was happy to be distracted. There was still business for him to complete. Politics intruded on his self-pity and anger, channeling those dark thoughts and feelings to productive ends. On this night, he was enjoying a reprieve from the stressful concerns of the day. Looking for a place to drink away his troubles, Secundus slipped into the poppina silently.

Ignoring the jovial atmosphere, Secundus found his usual seat. Despite his rare visits, he always tried to sit in the same spot. Something about the familiarity comforted him. However, tonight, his usual spot was behind another man, standing and goggling about as he chatted with a server. Secundus tamped down his irritation with a practiced mental sigh. Young men could indulge their temptations, he reminded himself; they did not have a legacy to concern themselves with. It was hardly his business. He could wait the few minutes for this moment of immaturity to pass.

Instead, however, the man walked backwards into him, startling and stammering out an apology. Secundus nearly barked at him for the insult, but he recognized  Gaius just a moment after he recognized him.

"Gaius, what a pleasant surprise. How do the fates treat you?"

@Echo

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Gaius grinned at his acquaintance, glad it wasn't a stranger that he had bumped into. A stranger might not be so understanding - even Secundus had seemed like he was about to snap at him, but held back to ask about him. "Oh, I'm doing very well. The fates are kind to me. And how about you? Staying in Rome for a time?" He turned back to the barmaid who had stopped giggling in order to pour his drink and Gaius grinned sheepishly at her. "Secundus, why don't you come sit with me and have some dinner? I'd like to talk a while."

@Járnviðr

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"Rome is my true home, though it may no longer have all of my heart. Dinner will be fine," he added, though he couldn't muster up more enthusiasm than that. Gaius was perfectly pleasant company, in that he did not demand anything that Secundus could not give. He was not given to prattling on about tiresome subjects that Secundus did not wish to hear about- they were as likely as not to punctuate long periods of silence with the barest of pleasantries. It was exactly the kind of socialization he preferred on a night like tonight.

Secundus led Gaius to their seats. It was simply natural for him, as the older man, to set their course. He rarely visited the poppina (as despite the availability of seating for men of upper classes, he saw them as beneath his notice), but when he did, he knew exactly what to order. He chose a simple stew with bread to round out the meal. He raised an eyebrow at Gaius, waiting to see what he might order. Young men tended to strut about vainly when in the presence of women such as their server, so he suspected the man would minimize his appetite- or, conversely, show it off. One never knew which way the winds of fashion were blowing.

@Echo

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Gaius nodded, his smile faltering slightly as the man seemed curt and a bit unenthusiastic. He chose to press on with his goal of making a connection with him, though, and so followed him to their seats. Gaius took a healthy gulp of his drink and held it out as their server poured him another. Secundus led the way, too, in ordering dinner, and after a moment's thought, Gaius ordered a roasted pheasant and some bread, mostly thinking about filing his stomach rather than what would impress the woman. Gaius was, after all, hopeless with women. 

He sipped his drink once more as he cast around for a topic to discuss. "So, you are in the senate, yes? Good for you," he said with an encouraging smile. "I've been appointed to the praetorian guard - optio."

@Járnviðr

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Secundus returned the smile. Gaius lacked the manipulative tendencies of his senatorial colleagues. Such an attitude was refreshing. His attempts at making conversation were simple, but polite and friendly enough that Secundus found himself more charmed than annoyed. He wondered if this was the type of person he should spend more time with; honest, but not inclined to assert themselves. Senators lied and cheated and snuck around to gather what power they could- a mindless, endless game of arguments and ideologies that mattered less than lining pockets. He thought he should do this sort of thing more often.

"Yes, I am. Our work is important for Rome's health, but the discussions held there are often insipid. May you never be forced to face men who are too old to fight or lie with a woman, and must instead satisfy themselves with argumentation."

@Echo

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Gaius wasn't really a statesmen. He had staked his career on the military, and when his time was up there, he had found a way to put his training and leadership to some use within Rome. Plus, being a praetorian and living in Rome gave him a better opportunity to meet people - especially ladies - who might catch his fancy enough that he would want to court them. 

Secundus explained that his work was important but the discussions insipid, hoping that Gaius would never have to go through such things. The younger man gave a hearty laugh at that. "I'll be sure to steer clear of such interactions. The praetorians might be a rowdy lot but they aren't overly complicated, at least for me." And most interactions with people were complicated for Gaius. 

@Járnviðr

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Secundus smiled knowingly. The praetorians were honestly more his type of man, he thought. Although he liked very few people, Secundus much preferred rowdy to respectable. Maintaining his aura of propriety took reigning in many of his impulses. The elite guards impressed with their skills, not with their ability to blow hot air- he would have liked to live like that. Perhaps he ought to surround himself with more of them. He could cultivate Gaius as a companion- nothing like a friend, but someone whose company he could enjoy.

"How do the praetorians feel about the current state of things? With politics being as they are, there has been less need of you as of late, no?"

@Echo

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Gaius was an honest man, through and through. He knew of the reputation of the Praetorians from the past - their sneaking and conniving, their plots to grab power. Gaius didn't stand for any of that nonsense. His unit, at least, had been keeping busy enough with training, and he suspected that the higher-ups in his unit believed the same things he did, believed in maintaining the station of praetorian as an honest calling to protect the emperor and the empire. 

Secundus's question was relevant, of course. The praetorians had had a time of it in years past, before Quintus had come into power. But now, with peace a reality and not a dream, some more restless men than Gaius found themselves getting itchy for a fight. "Well," he said slowly, "I've been keeping my men busy. We may not be needed now, but my men will not be getting fat and lazy just because of that. We might be needed soon, and then where would we be? Unable to help." He shook his head. "No, some units may be letting themselves get soft, but not mine."

@Járnviðr

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Secundus listened attentively. Unlike his colleagues, who repeatedly disrespected Rome and its institutions, Gaius valued his role as citizen and soldier. What made him respectable and respectful also made him gullible. Secundus feared that he would compromise himself unduly- especially as naïve as he seemed around women. He ought to give the younger man some advice on how to comport himself. Perhaps he would appreciate words of wisdom from someone with many more years of experience.

Hearing your assessment of the guard gladdens me. I had heard poor things- and seen evidence of a decline in quality myself- but I am grateful to you for your service to Rome and to the emperor. I commend your dedication to the necessity of the eternal battle.

Secundus had, himself, grown softer than his prime years. Although his head often pounded with a bloodlust that senatorial combat could never satisfy, he had stayed off the battlefield. Perhaps he should return to it. All able-bodied men of sound mind should be prepared for it. His mind remained sound, hang anyone who said otherwise. If there was anything to teach here, it was about preserving one’s mind despite the onslaught of violence- which an active soldier knew better than did an aging politician. Not much to offer Gaius after all.

How do you train them? Commanding soldiers is a lost art,” he said carefully. Secundus did not intend to offend the man, and in his experience, most soldiers were easy to offend. They rose to anger quickly- something he knew quite well, as a man with quite a temper himself. Even in this conversation, he felt his skin prickle at comments uttered without intended malice.

@Echo

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Gaius took a healthy sip of his drink as the other man spoke, bristling ever so slightly at the suggestion that the guard was visibly declining in prowess. But he had to reason with himself - they were, after all, declining. At least, some units. Gaius took pride in his men and their skills and dedication. He took men and turned them into parts of a greater whole. It was the one thing he was good at. "It is my pleasure to serve Rome and the emperor," he said, acknowledging the compliment with a tilt of the head. 

The younger man brightened considerably at the question - clearly, it was a topic that interested him greatly. Especially so because he spent most of his waking moments either practicing discipline, considering it, or putting his men through their paces. "Training is much like military training. When I served in Britannia, I gained a lot of experience in training men." He took another sip before continuing. "I like to start with physical training - running, strength trials, things of that nature. And then formations, battle tactics, individual combat training. We wake up quite early," he finished with a little laugh. "Perhaps you would like a demonstration sometime, senator?"

@Járnviðr

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Secundus listened to the man’s description of the guard’s training regimen inattentively. Although he admired Gaius for his role, the details of the process did not interest him. He did note Gaius’ mention of his service in Britannia. He wondered whether he had learned anything worthwhile. Secundus waited for Gaius to finish speaking before raising an arm. One of the servers approached, and he ordered more food for them both- a spiced meat dish for himself. He gestured for Gaius to select something for himself.

Returning to their conversation, Secundus realized that Gaius had asked him a question. A demonstration? Secundus felt the old ache of his injury, sustained in Germania. Yes, perhaps he would like to see a demonstration. The praetorian guard stood between the Roman machine and those who intended to do it harm. Secundus wanted to know whether he could trust in the stability of this place. Matters in his household continued to worsen, and he would enjoy standing on firmer ground for once. Perhaps these young warriors could offer more comfort than his treacherous wife.

A demonstration of their skills would please me greatly. Do you believe your men are prepared for an outside observer to pass judgment?”

@Echo

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