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Celebrations, Confidences, and Confessions


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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

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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."

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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?" 

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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

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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." 

 

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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

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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. 

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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?"

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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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"You're welcome," Livia smiled courteously, as full of good intentions as a butcher eyeing the lamb he would slaughter next. She ignored Vibia's question in favour of her own; talk of playing music brought back memories she had no interest in - like that of a young girl tentatively plucking a lyre under the approving look of her mother, or being encouraged by her teacher to go show Livia the Elder her latest attempt at adding a few notes to a declamation of one of Crinagoras' works. "I was under the impression outstanding artists had no difficulty finding a patron to support them. Have you not had success at it?" she inquired, green eyes full of honeyed concern as if happening upon a begging orphan on the streets. Vibia's musical portents were apparently not enough to charm the wealthy into keeping her; neither must her other skills be, since she could be found dallying at parties, belonging to no one.

Livia deftly launched into her own pastime. "I'm quite keen on sewing. The embroidery on this veil is my handiwork," she claimed with a note of pride in her voice as she pointed to the diaphanous fabric of a much lighter blue than her stola that hung from her hair and down her shoulders; it was decorated with beads kept in place by dark blue thread. In truth, Livia derived no extraordinary satisfaction from it, but it kept hands and mind busy and could be engaged in under Secundus' watchful eye without arousing suspicion - it was exactly what it looked like.

She was, however, intrigued about one thing. "But do tell. What do you make of my husband's passions?" Did he subject this whore to the same unpredictable moods and flights of fancy?

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Despite his distance from the two women, Secundus could not help but keep an eye on them. Watching Livia and Vibia lob insults back and forth provided much-needed entertainment during a party that did not have enough of it. If only he had hired a musician! Secundus pretended to listen to the man in front of him, nodding and speaking only when it was required. None of these men had ever suffered violence at the hands of captors; they would be much more adept at detecting the shifting moods and interests of the person across from them. The same skills that Secundus had learned in order to survive his imprisonment were useless or even distracting, here. He paid attention to the intent of these soft, old men, who did not mean him any harm, and thus found it difficult to attend to any less important matters. Offense, fury, and aggression were the only things Secundus bothered to acknowledge in others, ever since his return.

One of the senators asked about his wife, and their future children; they circled his family like harpies, looking for weakness. Secundus refused to admit any, deftly steering the conversation away from any fault of his own. Here, when he did not need to show any kindness, think carefully, or consider another’s point of view, Secundus exceled. It was the one-on-one, intimate settings where he brushed others the wrong way, where they felt the beast moving beneath his polite façade. Although he could not hear their conversation from here, he could make out Vibia’s shrug, and Livia’s indication of her stola. Womanly topics, then. He awaited the moment when they discussed something more interesting as he waited through the tedium of his senatorial peers.

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"I do not feel the need to be tied down to one man, or patron." Vibia retorted with a sweet and simultaneously sour smile in Livia's direction. The Venus was, she supposed, technically her patron and they allowed her to exercise her talents outside of the bedrooms on the condition that it came with enough coin to divide. She suspected this little toad of a woman understood her main occupation but it went unsaid.

Gods. Sewing. No wonder Secundus took his search for pleasure elsewhere if he was subject to such dull passions here. Vibia arched a brow before she could stop herself - a look of disinterest passing across her face. "How sweet." She added when she'd schooled her expression into something more polite. It really shouldn't be surprising that the Venus was filled to the rafters with bored men when their wives, such as Livia, provided such a dearth of drudgery. 

But she was clever, Vibia had to give her that. She toyed around the unspoken awkwardness deftly - she wondered if women of Livia's class were educated in such matters, fitting in lessons on catty comments and thinly veiled insults alongside their Greek practice. It amused her to think on. She merely shrugged slightly and arched a brow up at her hostess, debating just how far she could push this little woman. "I enjoy them. His passions, I mean." She did not hold back, "It's nice to converse with and get to know a strong man. So many men in Rome seem to be soft hearted, brow beaten by their wives or families..." She shrugged and sipped her drink, "It's nice to meet a man who doesn't care for such things. And of course, he's very generous with his coin purse." She grinned and tossed her long blonde hair over her shoulder. 

 

TAG: @Liv @Járnviðr

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In other words, the harlot would sell herself to the highest bidder, and wasn't even good enough to secure steady patronage by a wealthy client. Why had her husband invited her, then? Did he intend to talk business with her later, when the guests had all left? He could have done that at whatever infected establishment Vibia frequented without needing to parade her to Livia. Secundus' intentions were as inscrutable as his moods. Livia nodded at the artist, lips curved in a pitying smile. "I imagine you cannot miss what you've never experienced."

She couldn't really expect a woman of Vibia's... calibre to appreciate a fine piece of embroidery or even know how to do it. Clearly her fingers were used to holding less delicate things in them than a needle and thread, cithara notwithstanding. No wonder she claimed to enjoy Secundus' brutish pursuits, and even that was probably because of the gold he was dropping in her purse. "Strong as bull indeed," Livia inclined her head and sipped at her wine. More reminiscent of the Minotaur in his crude pigheadedness, really. "So you prefer men who care only for themselves, ignoring even you? Few women would be satisfied with that sort of arrangement." Livia took another drink of wine, irritating smile still in place. "Then again, women of your ilk are perhaps used to being a means to an end?"

For all the talents Vibia supposedly possessed, she was a tedious conversationalist. No amount of wine was going to make her more tolerable to Livia, but the drink gave her at least something else to focus on. She took a new cup from a slave passing by with a tray and handed him her old one, deliberately failing to get one for their esteemed guest. "How much did he pay you to come here tonight? I'm afraid I don't see you putting in an appropriate amount of work." No doubt he had paid her far more than she deserved, the boor.

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Vibia arched a brow. She lived and worked in a brothel, she was not so easily baited by a few vicious - ill-disguised words. "I have come to realise, mistress, that men can often be different with friends than they are with their wives." She shrugged limply, "I don't abide cruel men, or selfish ones," Of course she did - that summed up half the poor-performers she serviced at the Venus. A means to an end? She could have laughed. Of course she was! She was skilled in her chosen profession, but that didn't mean she had any illusions that she was essentially a glorified statuette to be gawked at, or a hand to help out a frustrated, lustful man. "And if you wish to offend me you shall have to try harder than that." She shrugged again and offered a sly little smile, tossing her white-blonde hair over her shoulder as she did. 

"I find it gauche to discuss money with women, mistress." She said although didn't look at her company - eyes trained on Secundus a few paces away. "It is not our domain - is it? That is your husbands job to worry about." In truth she didn't actually know whether rich, fancy women like this one had any say in how the household finances were spent but judging by her own extortionate cost (the girls of the Venus were a luxury), she doubted women had too much to do with money. Otherwise, all her clients would have a lot of explaining to do when they were suddenly a hell of a lot poorer after a visit to her establishment. 

"And of course, let me play something for you." She picked up the cithara again and finally turned her pale face to her hostess. "What would you like? It's my ambition to make you smile at least once this evening, mistress." 

 

TAG: @Liv @Járnviðr

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How curious. Secundus was cruel, and he was selfish - and Livia knew that these were sides of him he did not save for her alone, for he acted the same towards his brother and sister and on occasion showed his clients glimpses of what lay beyond the cracked façade he put on. Either he did not show it to Vibia (but could a tiger ever really hide its stripes?), or she was attempting to paint him in a positive light, most likely after he had left a few more coins in her purse.

"Oh no, you mistake my intentions," she deflected with a carefree gesture, causing the wine inside her cup to slosh and threaten to spill. "I was merely interested in your opinion of my husband, that is all." What an annoying woman with that unnaturally coloured hair that she insisted on tossing this and that way at every opportunity; a wig bathed in lime, surely. "Is that not what a dutiful wife does? Concern herself with her husband's reputation, even amongst the lower classes?" She cast a look in Secundus' direction, frosty smile on her lips to lampshade the loving matron she was supposed to be. Finances weren't much her arena, true, but she would not see her husband squander her father's money in lowly prostitutes; he could use his own funds for that.

And now to be treated to a serenade, Juno have mercy on her. How was she to know what pieces were in this wench's repertoire? Livia waved Secundus over, hoping for once he would have a suggestion. "I am not as devoid of worries and sorrows as you are," she muttered to Vibia in the meantime. Empty-headed, she would rather have said, but reading between the lines would have to be enough. "My smile is not something available to all who would see it. I keep it for those who deserve it," Livia concluded before diverting her attention entirely to her loathsome husband.

"Darling, you have heard Vibia play before. What piece would you say she excels at?"

@Járnviðr @Sara

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Vibia tossed her hair, a gesture that drew attention to her beauty more easily than any other. He wondered how long it had taken her to perfect it. As Livia called to him, Secundus responded immediately. He made his excuses to the senators and moved to join his wife and her tormentor. Vibia held her cithara, offering to play. He wondered just what Vibia had said to offend Livia, or if it had been the woman’s presence itself. That had been why he had invited Vibia, after all; to test his wife’s patience. It seemed that whatever they had discussed had incensed Livia enough to call him over.

Secundus joined the two women, hearing the tail-end of her biting remark about her smile. He supposed that comment had been intended for both him and Vibia- who he suspected would not be bothered by it. She was a resilient woman, perhaps because her position invited criticism from many women like Livia. He joined their conversation, nodding respectfully at both women. When Livia asked him about which piece Vibia excelled at, he smiled thinly. Everyone involved knew exactly which services Vibia had most often provided him.

I am no connoisseur of music, Livia. Perhaps you should partake of Vibia’s talents yourself, so that you may judge more accurately?

@Sara, @Liv

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The corners of Livia's mouth drooped downwards in an unmistakable expression of displeasure. No, Secundus was no connoisseur of music and that was something she knew well - the most talented artists would sound like elephants to his hopelessly rustic ears. "I would like to judge her musical talent, but I do not wish to embarrass her in front of everybody by accidentally selecting a piece that is above her skill level," she drawled as if explaining things to a stubborn child. Why was it so hard for him to be agreeable for once in his life? Livia cast him a look of disdain before continuing. "After all, it would reflect poorly on you as host if you happened to have selected a subpar musician to entertain our guests..." She let her words hang in the air, looking about in a pretence of concern that someone might have heard her. It would only be too fitting for all these people to know what Secundus really thought of them!

"But very well." She took a sip of her wine and turned to Vibia, at the same time signalling to a slave for a refill. "How about hearing the Carmen Saeculare in the sweet tones of your cithara? I don't suppose you sing as well...?" The cup of wine grew heavier on her hand again and Livia quickly brought it to her lips as the slave retreated, drinking as though every gulp bought her a little more patience (and was she in need of it!). "Does she, Secundus? Or is she more skilled with her hands?"

@Sara @Járnviðr

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Vibia watched the exchange with thinly concealed amusement and dark pleasure. What had happened to her, to make her enjoy other people's pain so much? Don't open that door, Vibs. She sipped at her drink as they exchanged catty retorts and Secundus feigned ignorance. At one point she snorted in amusement at a particular comment of his, and had to disguise it as a cough, interjecting with "I'm sorry, my wine went down the wrong way" - although the sly grin on her face told a different story. 

Bitch probably thinks I don't know it. Vibia grinned and inclined her head at Livia; "Of course mistress, it's one of my favourites - and I do sing." She added for good measure; "A woman should be doubly skilled; for me both lips and hands, for my singing and playing of course." Her veiled innuendos really were becoming appalling now but what did she care? Livia could hardly throw her out in the streets in the middle of a party and needling her was ever so much fun. Secundus didn't seem to want to intercede either and so instead, she flashed another pearly white grin at her hostess and winked; "I can teach you if you like? I sometimes offer lessons to my clients, and their wives." 

Before anybody could say anything, she began to pluck the strings and broke into a sweet song - although her eyes remained transfixed on Secundus and Livia as she flawlessly recited the Carmen Saeculare. 

 

TAG: @Járnviðr & @Liv

 

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Secundus smiled sharply as Livia impugned Vibia’s skill level. How condescending his wife was, and at a party, in front of the entire senate! He wondered why she thought she could get away with this kind of mockery. This had been the motivation behind tonight’s festivities, and his choice to include Vibia in them. A ‘subpar musician’? He would happily parade his wife in front of the entire room and see how she fared if asked to play. He admittedly did not know much of Vibia’s musical talents, as his appetites did not tolerate much indulgence of music when there were other, more tempting fruits on offer. While Livia insulted him with puckered lips as though she needed to judge every action he took, Vibia laughed in genuine amusement. Oh, how he regretted that the mother of his children was such a sour woman. His smile curled up as Livia made a jab about Vibia’s other skills. Yes, he would need to remind Livia which of them held the power.

Skilled with her hands? You jest, surely?

Before Secundus had a chance to provoke his wife, though, Vibia took the cue from her suggestion and decides to begin playing. Forgetting the innuendos and barbs which had flown between the two women, Secundus simply watched the performance. He did not look at or touch his wife, instead smiling lecherously at the woman as she sang and played the Carmen Saeculare. Secundus had little understanding of music, of what was virtuous or beautiful or enjoyable to listen to. He appreciated Vibia, though, and the way that she had given him exactly what he had wished for tonight. She had stirred up the hornet’s nest, and now Secundus braved the stings.

Magnificent,” he said breathlessly, surprisingly himself in how genuine the comment was. Secundus watched Vibia, wondering how a woman had learned to destroy others of her kind so effortlessly. The only reason Livia had not crumbled had been her own harshness; a gentler woman would have rushed off crying at such insults. “Isn’t she, Livia? A goddess among women.

@Liv, @Echo

Edited by Járnviðr
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