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(Takes place in the evening of Ave Imperator! and Into the lion's den)

Aulus returned to his home feeling far more light-hearted than when he had left it that morning. He had almost not needed to head to the Castra Praetoria, not with Caesar's reassurance ringing in his ears, but some part of him had needed to meet the man who had unnerved his wife and threatened his children and slaves. After that meeting, he had no compunction whatsoever about leaving him to Caesar to deal with. He was still none the wiser as to why he had turned on Aulus' family, but the threat had gone and it felt as if a sweet breeze had blown through the house.

One of the house slaves offered him a cup of wine and, when questioned, the information that the mistress was in her own private study. Aulus dismissed the boy and turned to find Horatia.

He paused quietly at the door of her room, not wishing to disturb her if she was in the middle of something that could not easily be set aside. He smiled, the fond expression coming easily to his face as he watched her before knocking, the private pattern used just between the two of them.

 

@Sara

(Title: The situation as it was before the war)

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Horatia sat at the table in her study, scanning between two documents, looking for spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. Her daughter hadn't shown interest in the written word to quite the same degree as her mother, and Horatia spent her early evenings and her days helping her daughter after her tutors had departed. It was no great chore for somebody like Horatia, and she had no concerns over her daughters ability; she was bright, and articulate at the spoken word, including in Greek, and her interests lay elsewhere in the arts (woe betide anybody who tried to drag her daughter away from a beautifully painted fresco or ornate sculpture). Besides, she could use the distraction and monotony that correcting work provided her. 

She glanced up at the knock, recognising the pattern immediately and saw her husband. She let out a breath she didn't know she'd been holding and a slight smile flickered on her lips. "You're home." She said and tried to affect a light tone. She had been worried over his meeting with Caesar, of course she had. How could she not worry? 

She drew the palla which she had draped over her shoulders, tighter around herself. After his clients had left for the day and she was in the privacy of her rooms, she tended to just wear a tunica, but now a chill came over her. She didn't know whether it was at the conversation they would inevitably have, or her own nerves. She didn't move to stand or join him on one of the couches in the room, and stayed behind the desk. She swallowed the lump in her throat. Guilt had been gnawing away at her ever since the chaos of poor Felix and Callista's detention in the Castra. She hadn't been avoiding her husband, but she hadn't exactly sought him out (at least not since that night). She felt so terrible; as if it was all her fault, and uncomfortable. 

Still, not wishing to delay the inevitable, she gently pressed; "How did it go?" 

 

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Aulus smiled; his wife looked as if she belonged behind her desk, ruler of all that she surveyed - he could imagine the slaves quaking in their sandals were any of them summoned here before the mistress to give an account of themselves. He found a couch and settled on it, tucking a bolster comfortably under his left arm.

"Well, I had two meetings today and one of them went about as well as expected. The other went far better than I could have hoped - and I will not tease you and make you guess at which one went which way. The Praetorian was exactly as I had expected him to be, attempting to threaten to besmirch my reputation to ruin my chance of that consulship next year." He held a hand up. "He was persuaded to leave off if I would promote his own interests with the Emperor - he particularly wants the Praetorship of Aegyptus, and I need not tell you of the importance of that particular province." He swallowed a mouthful of wine; walking across the city and back was thirsty work for anyone, even if they were not swathed in the dozens of yards of wool that constituted a Senatorial toga.

"My meeting with Quintus Augustus was far more productive - we do not have to worry about that Praetorian any more." He kept his eyes on Horatia's face to see her reaction to that pronouncement.

 

@Sara

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Horatia leant back in her chair to try and force herself to relax (not that it did much good). She thanked the Gods she had perfected the art of controlling her emotions and her face so as not to show them. The Praetorian? She had harboured a suspicion that her husband would do something foolish like storming in to see the man himself, but had counted on his intellect staying him. So much for that. She kept her face and reaction perfectly measured although her lips pressed into a slightly thinner line and her eyes flickered with irritation. She nonetheless listened to him, and didn't interrupt - even as he paused to sip his wine. 

"Good." She managed to get out and she let out a deep breath before shaking her head and dropping her shoulders a touch. "I'm pleased he was understanding, Quintus I mean," She swallowed and then let out a deep sigh. "But I wish you hadn't gone to the Castra." She flicked her bright blue eyes up at him, "You told me yourself that the man was dangerous, dangerous enough that none of us have left the domus, Aulus. What did you wish to achieve by seeing him?" She queried with an uncharacteristically stern glance at his face. Male egos, she had found in her life, were a fragile thing - and could be the downfall of even the brightest and the best. Her husband, it seemed, was similarly afflicted with such a thing. 

But perhaps she wasn't actually irritated at him. Perhaps she was merely embarrassed that he'd had to intervene so much in a mess that was her fault. She swallowed the thought away, finding an uncomfortable amount of truth in the idea.

 

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"Well, I'm not much good at cloak and dagger stuff," Aulus confessed. "I think he was counting on me paying a visit at some point - and I made sure that people would notice me going into the Castra, so they would expect me to come back out again." It had been a risk, he knew it had been, but he was a soldier and a career politician and nobody succeeded in either field without taking some risks.

The only reason he had left the house himself was to pay those visits today, and he had been as unsubtle about it as he could without hiring a troupe of musicians and dancing girls to precede him. Maybe he should try that in the future - they'd be far more entertaining than the lictors he would be entitled to as a Consul.

"I wanted him to know that he hadn't been anywhere near as subtle as he had thought, and that I was aware of what he was doing, though I didn't ask him why." He set the goblet down. "Don't you wish to know what Quintus Augustus had to say?"

 

@Sara

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Horatia swallowed her annoyance and watched him with unconcealed worry as he spoke of what he had done. She merely nodded along with what he said, a little relieved that he'd taken some precaution such as alerting the Castra of his presence - and double booking himself with Caesar today, so his absence would be called into question. She still felt that great sinking feeling in her abdomen though, tugging away at her until the noise of him placing the goblet down made her look up and back at his face. 

"Of course, of course I do." She answered neutrally, disguising the anxiety in her voice. "What did he say?" She knew her husband and the Emperor went years back, longer than the entire time she had known her husband, and they'd been friends and comrades before citizen and Emperor (although how the purple had changed Quintus, she didn't know). 

She leant forward in her chair and placed her jaw in her palm, studying him and urging him to speak with a soft glance in his direction. Her annoyance that he'd do something as foolish as walk into the lion's den was slightly offset by the dawning realisation that she was more annoyed at herself, and his own good mood.

 

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"Well, I told him as much about it all as I know, and he offered to have the man dealt with. And he reassured me that he knows of my loyalty to him, and offered his support in my bid for the Consulship." Aulus picked his goblet back up and took a deep mouthful, lowering it a moment later to reveal the deeply satisfied expression on his face.

"You see, there is nothing at all to worry about any more, columbina mea," he added, softly, not entirely liking the expression on his wife's face. She looked... he was not sure he could put into words how she looked but he got to his feet and crossed to her, putting his arms around her.

 

@Sara

columbina mea - my dove

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She relaxed as he spoke, and even allowed a smile onto her lips as he affirmed the news about his Consulship. "That's..." She let out a deeply held breath, "That's wonderful, you have every right to be thrilled." About both facts, of course, although the latter was obviously more impressive from a political standpoint. The former was just a pesky Tribune that had gotten too big for his sandals. 

As he stood, she blinked up at him, attempting to protest that he needn't, that she didn't need comforting, but as he came around to her side of the desk she blinked up at him and sighed - sinking into his touch a little. "If you say so." She admitted, although it didn't sound entirely convincing. "I just..." She bit the inside of her lip, "I wish we could have resolved this...well, that's not true," She admitted, "I wish I'd never spoken with him or caused this, but if I had to, I wish we cold have made this go away without you involving the Caesar of all people." She prided herself on being honest with Aulus (her two, deepest held secrets aside), and muttered, "I'm just so...embarrassed." 

 

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"There's nothing to be embarrassed about," he said soothingly, relieved that she hadn't burst into tears as he'd thought for one moment that she might. "I told him that you'd sprained your ankle, that the litter bearers were nowhere to be found - really, I should have them whipped!" He tightened his arms around her just a fraction. "Everything that happened after that was his choice, not yours, you are not to blame for any of it - you'd never leave the house if you begin thinking that every conversation you have will end up like this. And Caesar said that he has reservations about some of the Praetorians anyway, though that knowledge is not to leave this room."

He would have had to have got the Emperor involved anyway in order to pass on the man's request - the Egyptian Praetorship was in Caesar's gift, to go to someone of impeccable credentials and unshakeable loyalty.

"You're not crying, are you?" he added, looking down at the back of her head. He wouldn't be surprised if she was, what with everything that had happened.

 

@Sara

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She managed a slight, hoarse laugh at his mention of Caesar’s secret misgivings about the Praetorians. That did not surprise her, given their reputation for duplicity and the various plots and schemes they’d been embroiled in over the years. “I won’t tell a soul.” She affirmed and glanced up at him, affecting a smile - although it didn’t quite reach her eyes and she turned her face downward again. 

It must have been that action that prompted his question and she actually chuckled this time, shaking her head as she spoke; “You don’t have to sound so horrified by the idea, but no, I’m not.” She glanced up at him with those cool blue eyes of hers, “You’ll find it takes a great deal more than an upstart Tribune to make me cry.” or at least...cry in front of her husband, who always appeared a great bastion of strength. 

She reached out to tug his hand from her back, and interlaced her fingers through this - giving his palm a squeeze. “I...am, beyond relieved it is over, and without effect on your career I just...wish I could feel better about it. But I will, I promise.” She leant down to leave a soft kiss on the back of his hand. “And now I’m over my irritation that you didn’t consult me before swanning into the Castra,” She arched a brow up at him, her look suggesting she might not be completely over it, “You can tell me in more detail what happened, and what Quintus said after.”

 

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"I've spent far more time around men in the legions than around women apt to burst into tears," he told her, and dropped a kiss on her head. "Would it be any wonder if I was horrified at the thought?" He didn't think that anything could make Horatia cry - he amended his thoughts. Nothing short of absolute catastrophe would bring her to that point.

"What else did Quintus say?" He wound a strand of Horatia's hair around his finger. "Well, he asked what projects I had in mind for the coming year and I mentioned my thermae - I need to make an appointment to speak to Octavius about that, actually. And I mentioned your reading circle. And there is the Augusta's idea for a charity for those orphaned in the civil war - maybe you might be interested in that?"

He was angling to get thumped, he was sure of it, especially after the tension of the past few weeks. "I told him about what happened, with the house being watched and Felix and Callista being picked up. I said I was afraid that he might have heard suggestions my loyalty was in doubt, and assured him nothing could be further from the truth, and he told me that he has no reason to doubt my loyalty to him, or to Rome." He smiled down at his wife. "He asked if I would like him to look into the matter personally. A favour for a faithful supporter, he called it."

 

@Sara - sorry it's taken me so long!!!

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Horatia smiled a little but said nothing to his comment on crying women. Her husband had many strengths, understanding feminine fragility was not one of them. It was a pity, really, given that his daughter was on the cusp of becoming a woman and she was sure there'd be plenty of tears and trauma to come for him to have to navigate. 

She tilted her head towards him as he unpicked a strand of hair from her loose up-do and wound an auburn strand around his finger. She moved her hand from his to support her she studied him with cool blue eyes. A slight smile played on her lips, "Yes, I would - it sounds a noble cause - although I can't imagine he was terribly interested in my reading club." She chuckled and shook her head. But the smile dropped from her face and she listened intently as he talked her through the more serious aspects of their conversation. 

She let out a deeply held breath, exhaling loudly through her lips. "And," She sighed and glanced away back to her pile of reading material and household lists and inventories for the slaves, "And you're confident it wasn't a ruse? That he was trying to palm you off, assuage your worries, whilst simultaneously facilitating the praetorian's investigation?" She turned her face back up to his again and met his eyes. "You are sure we can relax now?" 

 

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"I am sure," Aulus told her. "He has offered his support for the next year, in my bid for consul, and I have no reason to doubt his word. He has always been an honourable man, it's why he's had my support since that night - before it, even." Horatia would know exactly which 'that night' he meant; his fleeing under the cover of darkness was a night neither of them was likely to forget.

"It would be good to be cautious, of course, but that is different from being fearful." He moved around her chair, so that he could see her face without her straining to look up at him, and giving them both an upside-down view of each other, then shrugged and pulled over a chair, sitting to put them on more of a level. "If anything was to happen, I would have sent you and Calpurnia to the Vestals, along with Felix and Callista, and I would put Titus under the Augustus' protection directly. It would have split the family up, but hopefully only temporarily. My will is Felix' manumission, too, but the Vestals could declare him free, which would put him outside the Praetorian's threats. Or the sort of threats he was employing, at least. Callista is yours, but I would concur with anything you decide as regards her, and if it needs anything to be set in place legally, I will do that for you."

Because of course Horatia couldn't set up anything legal herself, of course. The legal system didn't allow for that, regardless of the fact that women were known to be a force to be reckoned with.

 

@Sara

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Horatia nodded. If he was sure, that was all the certainty she needed (at least for now). She trusted Aulus' judgement, he wasn't a man (unlike some of his friends or her own family) who was prone to rushed judgement or naivety, and she suspected he'd thought about the consequences of taking Caesar at his word. As it turned out, that was precisely what he had done as he continued to talk and discuss his back-up options - a little speech which brought a gentle smile to her face. 

She quirked an eyebrow as he pulled one of her spare chairs over, and quipped quietly; "If you scratch the floor doing that, you can scrub the scuffs out later." But her gaze softened as he sat down and talked of their slaves. She nodded, "I had thought about it. Although, selfish as it is, If I free her I suspect she'd leave." Whilst of course manumitted slaves remained part of the familia, she didn't doubt (especially after all the trouble recently) Callista would jump at the chance of a quieter life somewhere. "But I could ask the Vestals, if it came to it." 

She rarely needed Aulus' influence given she was hardly inundated with legal matters. When she was, during his absence in particular all those years ago she went to her father who still to this day oversaw her rather than her husband. As was the way of their style of marriage. She reached out a hand to stroke his own, her thumb trailing over the back of his hand and catching on the signet ring - glinting in the late afternoon light. "And that he supports your run for Consulship is good. It's almost a certainty although..." She smiled slyly, "I suppose now he's confirmed you should run, it means we're going to have to host the most cantankerous, awful old Senators for dinners here to get their support." She chuckled.

 

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"I agree that Titus Sulpicius Rufus can be cantankerous, but he's hardly old," he informed her with a straight face. "A dinner is hardly an onerous thing, either, especially if they have some good entertainment. If we do have to host some unutterably dull Senators and their equally asinine wives, I promise I'll make it up to you!"

He'd invite his friends, of course - they could always be relied on to lighten things up, though they would probably prefer a private dinner rather than something large and with the dull Senators that Horatia was envisioning.

"Not all Senators are ancient and cantankerous - I'm not, am I?" He leaned his elbow on her desk and his chin on his hand, looking up into her face with a miscievous glint in his eye.

 

@Sara

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Horatia tried not to smile at his joke, and succeeded for the most part; just one corner of her lips rose. Poor Titus Sulpicius Rufus, so often the butt of her husband and their friend Longinus’ jokes. At least he had Valeria.

“And they’re not onerous to you, my love, because you simply swan in and sit down and eat.” She arched a brow, “I don’t claim that organising a dinner or a party is as complex or taxing as going to war, but if you’re not polite, I might leave the details and seating arrangements to you, and simply sit back and watch you flounder.” She said all of this with a straight face with no hint of amusement until the very end when she broke out into a mischievous grin - one which was most unlike the sad, withdrawn woman she’d been throughout this whole mess with the praetorians. 

She watched him lean on her desk and felt that familiar flutter somewhere in her chest. After all these years, he could still produce the same reaction. “You are a decade older than me, or close enough,” She countered with a deadpan look, “And you have your moments of the latter. Like when you’ve had a drop too much wine the night before and the slaves get your breakfast wrong.” She smirked and moved a hand, her fingers lightly sweeping over his cheek. “But, if I had to weigh you up...” She narrowed her eyes on him and then glanced pointedly from his toes, slowly back up to his head, “I’d consider you one of the better specimens in the senate, I should think.

 

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"Although, it's Cassius Longinus who's been the most cantankerous recently, and for good reason," Aulus said, and tilted his head to the side. "A decade? As much as that! It doesn't seem it, I'm sure I'm only thirty-four really. And... only one of the better ones, my sweet?"

He could sit there forever, just looking at Horatia. He still had to pinch himself sometimes that he was married to a woman who was right for him in every respect.

"I hope I've set your mind at ease, anyway," he told her, though she had smiled her old smile and looked suddenly ten years younger than she had. It had obviously been weighing heavily on her - understandably so, all things considered.

 

@Sara

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"Mhmm." Horatia affirmed with a little shrug at his comment on Longinus. He wasn't her favourite of Aulus' friends - she found him too brusque and difficult to keep up with on occasion, but his heart was in the right place and she knew Aulus valued him, "Even Roman men get heartsick. He'll be fine, just give him time. Or find him a nice mistress." She chuckled and shook her head. 

"To my mind, you're still twenty-nine, and I'm still twenty." She smiled a little although it was a tense smile, "Before the Civil War. We lost so much time..." She sighed. Really, they'd lost the best years of their marriage, but it couldn't be helped and she was only pleased they'd been able to rebuild. It had been odd at first, and difficult to change one's whole routine following the return of an absent husband, but they'd gotten through it and in many respects, were much stronger for it. 

"You have." She reached out to take his hand and left a gentle kiss on his knuckles, before retreating and relaxing against the back of the chair. "Thank you. But we should do something to say thank you to Caesar as well," She glanced up at him, "Any thoughts?" 

 

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"We did. I wish things had happened differently, but we are here, and the past is the past." He managed to stroke her cheek with his knuckle before she sat back, removing her face from his reach. 

"I don't know," he said. "Unless you feel you can host a private dinner for him, and the Augusta?  I'm a man of simple ideas, mel mī, unless you wish to wage a military campaign of some description." He laughed, but oh, she would be a fierce opponent when roused, if she had the opportunity to be - there were many reasons women couldn't have military or political careers, after all. The savagery of some barbarian women was breathtaking, he wouldn't wish to come up against a Horatia so roused in defense of her children and family.

 

mel mī - my honey, my sweet

@Sara

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She arched a brow; "Do you think he'd want to come here for a dinner?" She'd happily throw a private dinner, it would certainly be easier to organise than some of the parties they no doubt would have to throw in Aulus' campaign for Consulship, but she queried whether a man such as Quintus would enjoy the comparably simple home of his friend and his wife, when compared to the palace. "I suppose I haven't spoken to him in some years, although I do recall from back in Greece he was a man of refinement. I don't wish to offend him if our house isn't up to par." She chuckled. It was a beautiful home, so that was a joke really. But it also wasn't really their home given they lived part of the year at least with Aulus' parents. 

"And tsk," She shook her head and leaned back in, placing her jaw in her palm as she leant her elbow on the desk. "You do yourself a disservice. I couldn't have married a simple man. Although I do remember that there was one I was going to," She chuckled, "My father was intent on him ad had even provisionally set a date before consulting me, and before he realised the man couldn't even speak Greek, and had as much ambition as my forefinger." She chuckled. They had never really spoken of their lives before they wed. She supposed she wasn't the only woman considered by Aulus' parents as a match for him and wondered briefly who else it might have been - their social circle was small, after all, so she probably knew the woman. 

"We should tell the children," She commented lightly as she watched him languidly, "That they can go out again. It might be worth telling Titus a little more about what happened too, he's not a boy anymore, he deserves to be brought into family matters."

 

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Aulus sat back, crossing one leg over the other. "Whereas you have as much ambition as I have, to raise a good family and leave a legacy to Rome - in your own way, anyway. And I don't see why the Augustus and his wife would like to come for dinner in a private citizen's home, especially one he has described as a friend. If he would rather not, that's different - he can say no but I'd like to ask him."

She was right about Titus, too, of course. "I'll tell Titus, he should know - it's about time we thought about giving him his toga virīlis, after all."

Surely Horatia wasn't old enough to be mother to a son on the cusp of manhood! 

"I suppose I ought to start thinking about a husband for Calpurnia, too," he added. "Though I promise I don't intend to marry her off too soon, nor do I want to marry her to someone old enough to be her grandfather."

Not his only daughter! He wanted Calpurnia to be happy in her marriage, as her mother was, but that needn't stop them thinking of suitable candidates.

 

@Sara

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"Then you should suggest, I'd be happy to organise." She said with an affirmative nod, already half thinking of entertainment and menus. She sometimes grew a little morose that her intellect and passions were wasted on planning dinners and parties, but she didn't say anything on it. It was her lot in life, as Aulus' was in politics.

"I'm not sure how it works, the process of it, I mean." She smiled back, "I was so young when Publius and Lucius got theirs, I barely remember it." She chuckled, "I've also not been thinking about it because I refuse to dwell on the fact I'm so old I have a nearly adult son." She chuckled, teasingly, "But we should be thinking of it, I suppose. Do you think he's ready?" It was a big step, and she'd trust her husbands judgement more than her own on it.

She smiled as he mentioned Calpurnia too. Gods, before she could blink they'd both be adults and out of the house. "She isn't a woman quite yet," She cautioned in the most delicate way she could - although Calpurnia had been complaining of cramps and her moods had been more changeable, she hadn't started her bleed yet but it could surely only be a few months away at most, "But it's not far away. There's a few young men Titus' age from good families, but," She sighed, "They won't be marrying for a while I suppose so it'll be somebody a little older...did you have anybody in mind?" 

 

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"There are a couple of nice young men within the Imperial family - Titus Flavius Caesar Alexander and Tiberius Claudius Sabucius. I'm not sure how old they are but they must both be closer in age to Calpurnia than you and I are to each other. Neither Lucius Cassius nor Titus Sulpicius have a son the right sort of age, though each of them has a daughter who could be considered for a wife for Titus. I doubt he will want to marry before he's held his first senatorial post, though."

And if the discussion highlighted the difference in expectations placed on the men and the women in their society, Aulus was not thinking of that. "I'm open to other suggestions for a husband for Calpurnia, of course."

 

@Sara

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Horatia’s eyebrows rose and she studied her husband. “Do you think she’d even be considered?” Aulus was held in high regard as was her own family, but the imperials? Really? “I love her, of course, and think she’d make an excellent wife but I’m sure they have others they’re considering.” She sighed and tucked a loose strand of auburn hair behind her ear.

She narrowed her eyes and leant back in her own chair. “I know my friend Atia has a son, I think eighteen or twenty or so. Secundus Lutatius Caletus‘ boy? But Calpurnia,” She sighed a little, “Is a gentle soul. Quiet, like me, she might enjoy having a say. I think she’s been spoiled as well, knowing her parents got engaged and married in such an unconventional way.” She smiled. No long, drawn out courtship before an engagement for them!

 

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"I don't see why she wouldn't be. She's patrician, born of patrician parents, my loyalty to the Augustus is without question - and they have to look somewhere for prospective wives, why not Calpurnia? They can hardly marry some foreign princess or something, it just wouldn't be - Roman."

The scions of the Imperial family had married good senatorial girls before. They weren't Egyptian, to marry their own sisters (only look what sort of a mess that had led to, in the end!)

"I'm not going to force her to marry someone she'll hate, or despise. Of course I don't want her to be unhappy - Juno willing, we'll find her someone who will treat her the way she wants to be treated, who will value her as I value you. Although I rather think our own method has given them ideas. Really, I should have held off and asked my father to ask your father, and do it all properly."

He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "She is growing up, but she is not yet a woman, unless you know something I don't - and when don't you? But talk with her - the sooner she begins to think about it and get used to the idea, the better. And if there's someone who's caught her eye, that would be good to know. Someone suitable - I don't want to hear that she's fallen for the kitchen skivvy or next door's house slave or anything of that sort."

 

@Sara

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