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In honor of the Volturnalia, Secundus had joined in the day’s public festivities. Senators were expected to make appearances at these things; they represented most of a man’s religious life, so he performed the necessary civic duties. However, this year, he most looked forward to the night’s festivities. Secundus had been planning this party for many days now. Several of the men of the senate had been invited to join in. It would be a night of feasting, drinking, games, and music.

Livia, as usual, had taken no interest in helping him plan the occasion. She considered any time spent with him wasted time. Secundus did not mind that. It made his plan easier. He could arrange for Vibia to perform as the night’s entertainment without it rising to his wife’s notice any sooner than the party itself. Although he only planned her to use her skills with the cithara, if any of the other guests took her up on another offer, he had not intention to stop them.

Secundus hoped that Livia would guess what Vibia was. He imagined her affronted expression vividly as he supervised his slaves’ preparations. He wanted to provoke a reaction from her- something other than the meek, mouselike behavior of recent months. For someone so bitter and angry, she insisted on remaining dormant. Perhaps she was waiting for him to show weakness. He would force her to play her hand first.

As the day’s festivities began to come to close, Secundus watched as the household finished its preparations. The party would begin soon; if everything went as planned, Vibia would be the first to arrive, with senators filing in very shortly after. Livia, who had been in her room all day, would likely want to be ready to greet their guests. He told one of the slaves to go fetch her- no need to disturb her mood before she’d had a chance to meet their guest of honor

@Liv

@Sara

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Praising the gods was all very fine and well, but when they were already sufficiently celebrated by the whole city during the day, was it really necessary to bring the festivities home with a party? Livia considered for a moment that such heathen thoughts might be exactly why the gods seemed to enjoy making her life miserable, to punish her for her lack of piety, but the thought was out of her head almost as quickly as it had butted in. With Secundus' insistence on the bloody party, her attention was entirely claimed by it, making sure the slaves knew their places and the tasks assigned to them and that the decorations were satisfactory before retiring to her room early to get ready. Donning the role of hostess was tiresome, but at least she had an excuse to wear one of her more colourful stolas - a bright lapis lazuli one with gold embroidery that seldom left the chest where it was kept ever since her first husband's death - and match it to complimenting jewellery.

A slave cleared her throat timidly as she stood by the doorway and told Livia the dominus had sent for her, staring at the floor as she waited. Livia finished applying perfume to her wrists, gave a small nod and stood up to follow the slave to Secundus' side. Knowing him, he probably wanted to make one last imperious comment about her garb or hairstyle and tell her to go change before their guests began arriving.

Unsure of how much hostility she would be met with, Livia chose a neutral topic as she looked about her and examined the decor. "The atrium looks very nice. I think the gods will be pleased."

@Járnviðr @Sara

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Vibia surveyed the street with a smug, self-satisfied smile. Nice. Very nice. She almost couldn't quite believe the invitation when it had landed at the Venus' door, that Secundus was petty and vindictive enough to go through with it. Good for him, she thought with amusement. It was no skin off her nose if he wished to irritate a little harpy of a wife or scandalise his friends. Besides, it would hardly be a scandal for his male friends - she thought - she'd probably serviced a fair few of them, after all. 

She tossed her long white-blonde hair over her shoulder and wrapped the palla she was wearing closer to her body. She was here as a musician, not a whore (at least not at first) and so had dressed simply. But even 'simple' for her wasn't without provocation. The chiton she wore was closely cut to her figure, hugging the soft curve between her waist and her hip. The palla she had donned for propriety was sheer and gauzy and her hair was left long and almost loose - with only a few braids at the crown of her head. She found she towed the line between respectability and lustful abandon expertly, and as she bid the slave that accompanied her knock on his door, she smiled to herself. 

They were admitted, the little lad carrying her cithara, and she glanced around - turning her face up to study the ceiling and then down to the fine mosaics on the floor util she came to rest just before two figures. She beamed up as she recognised one and then flitted bright blue eyes to the other. Well. If this was his wife, she was not what Vibia was expecting. If anything, the fact that she was young and pretty made this whole scene even more amusing and bemusing. 

"Secundus," She said with a light voice, and dragged her eyes back from the woman's to her host, "Thank you again for the invitation to play. This must be your lady wife?" 

 

TAG: @Járnviðr @Liv

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Secundus admired his wife as she exited her chambers. While Livia frequently frustrated him, the way she wore this stola almost made up for it. He wondered why she had not worn it much previously. It flattered her figure (although most items of clothing did), as did the complementary jewelry. Why had she only brought this out for tonight's occasion? She never wore anything like this when it was just the two of them. Was she seducing one of their guests? Or perhaps simply trying to- he did not know which of them might be her target...

Secundus opened his mouth to berate her for dressing so beautifully, but swallowed the criticism when she spoke first. The reminder of the ostensible purpose of the party encouraged him to hold his tongue. Vibia was the catalyst for invoking his wife's envy, and she had yet to arrive. He could remain neutral until then, tolerating Livia's provocation.

"I hope that the gods appreciate our piety. How glad I am that you finally joined me."

As the slaves welcomed the first guest, Secundus smiled when he saw who it was: Vibia, wearing a chiton that accentuated her curves and draped in hair that spilled tantalizingly freely despite her braids. He wondered how many of the other guests would be distracted by her very presence. How many of them had visited her in Domus Venus? Secundus nodded at Vibia as she introduced herself, smile widening ever so slightly.

"We are happy to have a fine musician such as yourself perform on this day. The gods thank you, as do we. Your gifts will produce an enthralling performance. Livia, please meet tonight's entertainment. Vibia, meet the lady of the house."

@Liv @Sara

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Whatever Secundus had been about to say, he thought better of it and switched gears; Livia supposed she should be thankful for it, because it couldn't possibly have been anything nicer than the words he had ended up speaking. All things considered, it was a good thing that he was showing restraint - it would serve him well when the guests all had arrived. "Of course. It's my duty," she replied with a perfunctory nod as she adjusted her palla round her shoulders. Did he think dollying herself up was as quick as taking a leak? She had to look her best, because even if he or other male guests didn't notice it, their female companions definitely would, and there was no more ruthless creature than a bored, gossipy matron.

The first to arrive was an unexpected sight. The woman was young and beautiful, as alluring as a siren, and from her attire she would rather portray herself as one than even make an attempt at modesty. No respectable woman would wear their hair like that for a party unless it was an orgy, and this one most certainly wasn't - or at least wouldn't start out as one. Livia schooled her features into a neutral expression, though a hint of disapproval crept into her gaze as she studied the musician. The sort that was slick and nimble with her fingers, no doubt. 

"Vibia. Welcome. I have not heard of you before, what is it you play?" Livia ignored the boy carrying the string instrument as if he were invisible by virtue of being small.

@Sara @Járnviðr

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Vibia returned Secundus' grin with a sly smile of her own. "Oh I'm sure the Gods have more important things to do today than look down on me," Her smile widened into a feline grin and she paid the little woman to his right absolutely no heed - instead focusing intently on her host for a heartbeat too long than was probably proper. When he made the necessary introductions she finally dragged her eyes back to the woman and cast her an appraising glance just for a moment. Why on earth Secundus wished to rile somebody as young and pretty as his wife was beyond Vibia. Maybe she was frigid. Or just an utter bitch. 

"Thank you," She inclined her head at the welcome, "Oh." She blinked at the question and gestured to her cithara being carried in by the boy with a flippant hand, "The cithara.  I learnt when I was much younger, it's a beautiful instrument, I'm sure you'll recognise it once I start playing my lady." Her voice was sickly sweet and no malice could be construed in it - but her glances told a slightly different story. Trying to avert the tension (given just how early it was in the evening) she gestured around their home, "You have a beautiful home Livia and Secundus. It's a treat to play somewhere like here. I've been booked by a few Senators but none have been quite as charming as yourselves." 

She moved her head so her long blonde hair fell over her shoulder and then turned her attention squarely back to Secundus. Gods this would be fun.

 

TAG: @Járnviðr @Liv

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Secundus stayed close to Livia. Although they rarely touched one another, he wanted to imply that they were husband and wife in more than just name alone. He performed for the benefit of the other guests- Vibia would not be fooled, nor did he aspire to fool her. Her job was to wedge them apart, provoking Livia's jealous rage- for all that she expressed no interest in her husband,  she could not want him to stray.

His eyes twinkled as he realized what Vibia was doing. Secundus admired her brazen attempts to unbalance Livia. Ignoring the domina within her own domus- between that and her revealing clothing, Vibia had selected tonight's presentation perfectly. He watched, enamored, as she spoke of his history with music. He was sure that he had missed some carefully-concealed, womanly barb that was not meant for men to understand. He would watch Livia's reaction to determine how pointed Vibia's words had been.

As Vibia complimented their home, Secundus began to put on the usual veneer of proper host: although charisma was not part of his natural talents, Secundus had long displayed a professional, proper demeanor around senators and other patricians. Vibia knew better than to believe it- she had seen his true nature- and Livia, too, be disgusted rather than impressed. Still. The guests needed to believe that he was a proper Roman.

"I hope that you find tonight's venue quite satisfactory, Vibia. I know that perhaps you have ventured into more exotic places in previous performances, but I hope that your role as my greatest act of devotion to the gods will suffice. Livia, have you ever heard Vibia play? Certainly someone as" -prissy, vain, selfish- "discerning as yourself must have listened to a musician of her caliber. One one of your trips into Rome, you must have taken in the arts."

@Sara @Liv

Edited by Járnviðr
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Whoever this musician truly was, she was obviously used to commanding male attention - and even enjoyed it far more than any decent woman should. It did not take years of study to figure out just where Secundus might have picked up this stray cat in heat, but that he had brought her to their house? Livia had never been one for strays or charity. But to openly shoo her away would undoubtedly bring on her husband's wrath, and Livia had not imbibed enough yet to feel courageous enough to engage him.

"I see. It really must have been many years ago, although your make-up tonight is quite flattering. Did you apply it yourself?" she smiled demurely, venom in her tongue under the guise of small talk. She looked round them with the expression still plastered on her face, pretending to take in the walls she had seen a thousand times before. The frescoes had been witness to many situations, and tonight would just be another miserable one on the list.

She smoothed a nonexistent wrinkle in her stola and tilted her head to the side, looking as though she was deep in thought. "If I have been privy to Vibia's skills then I am regrettably unaware of it. Do forgive me," Livia waved airily as if it all was a product of forgetfulness. "When I lived in Antiochia there was an abundance of talented musicians, no worse than the ones here in the capital." She took an elegantly decorated cup of wine from a tray a solicitous slave came bearing and gestured at the other two to do the same before taking a sip.

"So where do you usually ply your trade, Vibia? You mentioned other senators, are you often hired for private parties? Can you be found at theatres too?"

@Sara @Járnviðr

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Vibia directed her gaze at Secundus as his little wife chattered away. She honestly couldn't give a fig what the woman was talking about, it mattered very little. In usual circumstances she would have flattered the wives as much as the husbands (there were a fair few female visitors to the Venus, and they were generally better in bed than their husbands), but she knew why Secundus had brought her here tonight and part of that reason was to rile his pretty little wife. So she kept her eyes studiously on Secundus and offered him a wry, feline smile. 

When the woman had finished she blinked and finally dragged her eyes back to her. "The theatre?" She arched a brow, "Is that not where whores ply their trade?" She kept a tight smile on her lips, "I'm sure you didn't mean to imply..." She trailed off and then smoothed a wrinkle from her chiton. 

She heard the sound of footsteps behind her and glanced to see a few guests - early and probably vying for validation from their hosts - walk into the atrium. Vibia whipped her head around and leaned into the couple. "I had best get set up. Do find me later though," Her eyes lingered on Secundus for a beat too long, "I'm sure the three of us have much to talk about." 

 

TAG: @Járnviðr @Liv

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Secundus studied his wife’s face as she insulted Vibia’s makeup. She averted her gaze, looking at the walls rather than their guest. A shame that he would have to miss whatever expression she might make, but he would have many more opportunities. Vibia was already proving herself a master at provoking Livia. She had mentioned her time in Antiochia simply to undermine the other woman’s skills. Even the use of the phrase ‘ply your trade’ was designed to wound her. His lip curled up into a smile. Vibia had much tougher skin than that. She would need to bring more than catty remarks to bear against a woman of Domus Venus.

Basking in Vibia’s wry smile, Secundus watched as the two competed. Their conversation was a competitive sport, with each woman taking turns trying to prove herself to the other- despite, he thought with some amusement, lacking any interest in him. He had made the right decision to invite Vibia here today, since it drew out this side of Livia. He had missed seeing this ferocity when it was turned against someone besides him. Hearing Vibia directly call Livia’s bluff, and address the painted elephant in the room only made his smile widen. He made no attempt to hide his pleasure in watching them go back and forth. Vibia finally made a move to leave as the other guests arrived, and he schooled his smirk into something more politic.

Of course. I would be happy to facilitate this friendship. The two of you share much in common.

@Liv @Sara

Edited by Járnviðr
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What a shame this ridiculous woman wasn't a slave, so Livia could order her away with few to no consequences. She opened her green eyes wide as though she had seen something fascinating, and fixed an empty gaze on Vibia. "Imply? Oh no, I meant no such thing." Livia had a very good inkling as to this guest's true occupation, and her vacant stare said what her mouth could not. "I hope you didn't take offence" she said with a little cough that could have signalled embarrassment to the uninitiated but came across as disapproval to anyone used to reading between the lines.

The mastermind behind the scenes seemed to be enjoying himself in this area of his own making, and Livia hid the sneer that threatened to surface behind a sip of wine. What Secundus' real motivations for the encounter were was a mystery known only to him, but had she been a gambler she would have bet on a perverse sense of fun. Since he could not stand the real arena games, he fashioned a pathetic substitute for it pitting his wife and his whore against each other like gladiatrices. Despicable, Livia thought to herself before taking another drink from her cup - which at the current rate would be empty sooner rather than later.

"If you say so. I don't really see it myself, but then again I'm no musician." Livia inclined her head minutely as Vibia sauntered away, willing her lips into a fake upwards curve that seemed quite fitting for the evening's mood. Before she had any chance to quietly and discreetly berate Secundus for his choice of performer, however, a few eager guests demanded her attention as hostess, and so Livia indulged in small talk and exaggerated compliments to clothes and jewellery and everything in between.

Taking advantage of a lull in the comings and goings, she shot Secundus an acid whisper. "And where did you come across our blonde entertainer?" Some high-end brothel was doubtlessly the correct answer, but Livia wanted to see just how much of a fool her husband thought her. 

@Járnviðr @Sara

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As guests demanded some of his wife’s attention, Secundus began to greet them properly. This part of the evening bored him. He knew that he must maintain these relationships in order to perform his senatorial duties, but these old men bored him with their talk. In truth, Secundus found himself tiring of life as he continued to age with the ceaseless march of time. He hoped that he would not need to continue for much longer after fathering an heir. For the moment, anyway, the interesting portion of the evening was broken up by pointless prattle.

Drinking wine to keep himself in a healthily ebullient mood, Secundus discussed gladiatorial matches, modern politics, recent marriages, and the like. These old men gossiped just like the women that Livia flitted about with. He wished there were men who understood what was important in life, but not a single one of them had attended this party. Vibia knew how to talk to him; perhaps that, as much as he other skills, was what he paid her for. He nodded as politely as he could manage while gritting his teeth.

When they found a spare moment to share in one another’s lovely company, Secundus listened to his wife’s comment. Had she already decided to take offense at merely meeting Vibia? Perhaps this had gone better than he initially expected. He wondered which, if any, of their guests had guessed her other skillset- the women might be less likely to, he thought, although perhaps Livia’s vanity caused her to assume that they would discover it somehow. Did she expect him to answer honestly, and give the game away so soon?

Vibia is a lovely woman,” he said in lieu of answering Livia's question. “Trust me when I say that she sings with a heavenly voice. Why do you never sing for me?

@Liv@Sara
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True to form, Secundus evaded her question by making a related comment that anybody with functional eyes and ears would have been able to produce. Livia was forced to agree that the woman did indeed sing wonderfully, going by the tunes that could be heard over the hubbub, but that did not change her disposition towards Vibia. 

Livia felt her jaw go slack in astonishment. How did he have the gall to ask such a thing? She could not answer with the truth, which was 'because you have never asked', but she managed to polish it into something less abrasive yet, in her opinion, just as correct. "I did not think you cared to hear me sing." There was a hint of carefully fabricated sadness amidst the reproach, in case somebody turned out to be eavesdropping - and to further play the part of the misunderstood wife, although she very much doubted Secundus had the emotional maturity to pick up on it.

But oh, how badly she wanted to please her husband! Enough to take a new cup of wine from one of the servants, look over her shoulder at her husband and walk over to their guest performer with something to soothe her vocal chords. Livia waited patiently until the song had come to an end, then extended the cup towards Vibia. "You must be in need of refreshments after straining your voice like that. What sort of training have you had to get past throat aches?"

@Sara @Járnviðr

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Secundus simply sighed at her response. Of course Livia would throw that back in his face, as though he had ever shown disinterest in her affairs. Most of his attention, until recent months, had been on her and her numerous, ever-changing emotional states. If singing had put a smile on her face, he would have loved to listen, rather than watch her sour face and hear her stoic silence as he continued to push for them to finally ensure an heir. In her grief, the woman had refused to do her duty, and even now that he had taken action to relieve her of it, she seemed to be unhappy with that as well. Did she want him to enter her bed, or to keep out of her chambers? It seemed the woman could not make up her mind. She scarcely seemed to understand how much he had sacrificed by taking her slave to bed in her stead. Until they produced a child, Livia would continue to treat him as though he had failed as a husband.

Still, as she walked away, he thought that perhaps he had won some ground back. Now that she knew that he would appreciate her singing, perhaps she would bring some music into their life. After all, that was the purpose of this exercise. Vibia gave him what he desired because that was her purpose, while Livia was unwilling to do hers. Secundus intended to carry out his duties, even if his wife would not, but he thought that confronting her with Vibia had already had an effect. She seemed interested in her, waiting towards the woman and waiting for her song to conclude before speaking. He wondered what they might say about him, when they were left to their own devices, but resisted the urge to listen in. Gossiping was women's work. He attended to the other guests, letting the esteemed men of the senate bore him as the two women spoke.

@Liv @Sara

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Vibia far preferred playing the cithara to singing, but she knew her voice was good and people tended to appreciate singing more, or think it more skilled. People were idiots, obviously. As she finished and drew a little applause before the party descended into murmured conversation, she felt somebody draw near. She blinked up and arched a brow as she saw the wife. "Thank you, that's very kind." She said as she extended her hand and took the cup, sipping gingerly. 

She paid no heed to the barbed comment, women often thought they were clever merely because they could string an insult together veiled as a compliment. Of course, Vibia didn't  have the self-awareness to consider that she suffered from the same affliction and all in all, was never going to be the smartest woman in the world. 

"I've been playing and singing since I was a girl." She responded with a nonchalant little shrug, not rising to the bait. "Do you not sing? Or play?" She enquired as she set down the wine on a small table nearby. She peered up at the other woman with an expression that was a perfect mix of innocence and amusement; "I must admit, not being a lady of leisure myself and having to work for my keep, I had thought all good rich Roman matrons spent their days with music or art or reading and such things; hobbies to fill the day, if you will." She smiled sweetly. "What is it that you enjoy? I think I've worked out your husbands passions, but yours are an enigma." 

 

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