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Fly right (Vipsanius Roscius brothers)


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Summer, 76 AD

Lucius was fully aware that he was in trouble. News traveled fast, even in a city as large as Rome, and the moment he'd spotted some of the family friends in their litters crossing the market, he knew he had a storm brewing over his head. By the time he got home with the Quirialis, Gaius would have worked his way through exasperation and indignation and was probably ready to go straight to lecture. 

Lucius did not think he'd done anything wrong. He had been spending a lovely early morning out and about, enjoying the hours before the heat got too bad, and taking a stroll through the markets. He was not really there for the shopping, more like the people; merchants were generally talkative, and they had a lot of interesting things to say. Lucius knew many of them by name. This morning, he was at the Forum Holiturium when a merchant whom he knew for his excellent olives and even more excellent stories about his past adventures around the East struck up a conversation. Suddenly a child showed up with some news from his home, and he was urgently needed; seeing the man was in distress, it only made sense for Lucius to offer to watch the stand for a few minutes, until the man would send someone to take over. It was fun, standing at the stall with the amphorae and bowls of all the different flavors and colors of olives. Some people even made purchases, and Lucius toyed with the idea of living a whole different life as an olive merchant.

But then the litters showed up, and he knew he was done for the day.

Lucius walked into the domus a little sheepishly, looking around to see where the ambush was going to come from.

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Rome in summer was like living in an oven, in Gaius' opinion. He had been home from Britannia for several years by now but still felt as if he was a loaf of bread being baked, in summer. He didn't think he would ever get used to the heat.

And to top it all off, his brother - his one and only brother! - had been seen playing at stallholder. His patrician brother, who ought to be making a name for himself in the Senate or with the Legions.

Gaius dealt with the affairs needing his attention but stayed in the tablinum, waiting for his brother's return home. He didn't think that Lucius would try to sneak back in through the slaves' entrance, but had ordered the slaves to tell him to come to the tablinum if his *did*. Except his brother had at least enough sense to come in through the main door, in full view of Gaius, who was standing in front of the stone table, leaning back on it somewhat.

"Lucius! Do be so good as to tell me the price olives fetch these days, won't you?"

 

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There he was. Lucius idly wondered how long he had been holding that casual position, waiting to pounce. The man had served in the military. He had stamina.

"Depends on the quality" Lucius answered the question politely, proffering a small jar to his brother. He knew a gift was not going to save him, but he also knew gestures mattered, even when Gaius did not want to admit it. "Got these for you, they are the best I have ever tried."

The olives in the jar were indeed great. Round and green and crisp, with just the right flavor. Maybe they could eat them later, once Gaius was ready to chew something other than his little brother's ears.

"You know litters are not usually the fastest way to carry news. Do we happen to have guests?"

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"We will be having guests, yes," Gaius replied evenly. He didn't understand his brother, and felt acutely that he should have been at home rather than abroad for all those years - Lucius had needed someone to steer him right and obvious slaves and freedmen just weren't the right sort of influence. If only Gaius had been here when everything had happened!

He took the jar and set it down on the table beside him. "You're not going to get around me that way, you know," he said. "I don't understand why you would want to play at being a tradesman rather than putting effort into the career you are suited for by birth. It's high time you started taking things seriously, Lucius - you're a patrician by birth, you surely have ambition to be greater than a stallholder down in the Forum?"

 

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"We will be having guests, yes," 

Well, that made sense. Gaius had found out this fast because someone in those litters was already heading to their domus. Probably sent a slave ahead with the news or something. Damn. Lucius wondered which annoying senator was going to show up to play nice and tut at his unfitting behavior behind his back.

"You're not going to get around me that way, you know,"

"Oh I know" Lucius admitted with a sheepish smile. "The olives are still good."

"I don't understand why you would want to play at being a tradesman rather than putting effort into the career you are suited for by birth. It's high time you started taking things seriously, Lucius - you're a patrician by birth, you surely have ambition to be greater than a stallholder down in the Forum?"

There it went. Lucius sighed, and leaned against the wall by the door. He'd heard all of this before.

"I did not plan on becoming a merchant. It was a favor to a man who is honest and does decent work. I don't see anything wrong with that." he pointed out. This had never convinced Gaius before, but it needed to be said anyway.

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"There is nothing wrong with it, if you were a plebiean or even an equite," Gaius returned, trying to keep his temper in check - he did not need to start shouting or anything just because his brother was being all sorts of wrong-headed. "But you're not, you're patrician, the son of a senator and brother of a senator, and you are supposed to set an example and be a leader of men. You're more than old enough to take a position as a tribune somewhere - it would give you the chance to do something worthwhile, and to get your hands dirty if you choose, and make a name for yourself. My old legate doesn't currently have a legion but I can find somewhere for you with men just as good as he is."

It felt like banging his head on the wall, or trying to get blood from a stone, yet surely, surely, Lucius would see the sense in what he was suggesting.

 

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"There is nothing wrong with it, if you were a plebiean or even an equite. But you're not, you're patrician, the son of a senator and brother of a senator, and you are supposed to set an example and be a leader of men."

Lucius tried to keep his temper in check, knowing his brother was attempting the same. This was not their first, or their tenth, round around the Circus, and much like the chariots they never went anywhere with it either. Hence, he did not point it out that an equite man selling produce on the market would have made waves as well.

"Isn't leading men entail helping them out when they need it? Otherwise, why would they follow?" he raised the purely philosophical question, knowing Gaius was already gaining momentum with the usual argument. Being a leader of men had its mandatory steps.

"You're more than old enough to take a position as a tribune somewhere - it would give you the chance to do something worthwhile, and to get your hands dirty if you choose, and make a name for yourself. My old legate doesn't currently have a legion but I can find somewhere for you with men just as good as he is."

"Dirtier than olives?" Lucius arched an eyebrow, holding up his hands. He had barely watched the stall for an hour, but somehow that was considered dirtier than the legions. He never quite understood it. "Why do I need to be shipped off to Britannia to harass some poor barbarians to prove that I would make a good senator? Instead of, I don't know, getting to know the people who actually live in Rome?"

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"Why do you need to be shipped off to... Because we're Roman, not Greek and that's the system we have, that our ruling class - that includes you and me, in case you hadn't noticed - make a name for ourselves on the battlefield and back at home as politicians. And you know as well as I do that each political position only lasts for a year and you have to progress through them all if you want to rise through the ranks. And the way to impress the populace is to be the best damn praetor or quaestor that you can while you have that title."

Gaius paused, and pinched the bridge of his nose. At least, he could concede, his brother wasn't a layabout, doing nothing with his time at all. He just wished that Lucius would spend his time in more suitable pursuits, rather than doing the sort of thing any plebeian would do - or even, gods forbid, the sorts of thing you could find a freedman doing.

Senators weren't supposed to get involved in trade, or any sort of business dealing at all; they used freedmen and slaves for that sort of thing, so to find that Lucius spent his whole day doing precisely nothing but actively getting involved in trade, and at the lowest most basic level possible...!

 

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It wasn't like Lucius was not aware how his life had been laid out for him by generations of esteemed ancestors, including his own father. And that there was really no alternative to it. That didn't mean he couldn't argue.

"Why do you need to be shipped off to... Because we're Roman, not Greek and that's the system we have, that our ruling class - that includes you and me, in case you hadn't noticed - make a name for ourselves on the battlefield and back at home as politicians."

"And if I don't want to rule?" Lucius folded his arms. 

"And you know as well as I do that each political position only lasts for a year and you have to progress through them all if you want to rise through the ranks. And the way to impress the populace is to be the best damn praetor or quaestor that you can while you have that title."

"Do I honestly look like someone who would do great in the legions?" Lucius protested, watching his brother work himself up to a headache. "Because I don't give a shit about politics. We are supposed to be the luckiest damn men in Rome, being born into this, and yet, and yet there is only one right damn way to anything in our life! In sequential order. How is that fair?"

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"Become a lawyer, then," Gaius flung back. "Use your status as a patrician to help your plebeian friends when they get dragged to court for whatever stupid reason. There's more options than the cursus honorum if that's so distasteful to you, and your olive seller and his friends might appreciate having someone speak for them who cares about actually helping rather than just ripping them off."

He was starting to get a headache. Why did Lucius always manage to do this to him? "Life isn't fair, but it's given you enough privileges, even if you don't want to admit it," he added. "Such as living here rent-free instead of trying to scrape together a few pitiful asses for a room somewhere down in the Suburra."

 

@Chevi

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"Become a lawyer, then. Use your status as a patrician to help your plebeian friends when they get dragged to court for whatever stupid reason. There's more options than the cursus honorum if that's so distasteful to you, and your olive seller and his friends might appreciate having someone speak for them who cares about actually helping rather than just ripping them off."

Lucius hated it whet Gaius started making sense. It made him feel like he would eventually get roped into living the patrician life, one way or another, and the law intrigued him exactly as much as politics did. But his brother did make a point. If he liked the people of Rome, he could use his high birth and influence to help them. Even if the help they needed was not what he particularly enjoyed - or was qualified for... - giving.

"Life isn't fair, but it's given you enough privileges, even if you don't want to admit it. Such as living here rent-free instead of trying to scrape together a few pitiful asses for a room somewhere down in the Suburra."

"Would you really settle for that? Me being a lawyer instead of a senator?" Lucius arched an eyebrow at his brother. He was the son and the brother of senators, not to mention grandson, great-grandson... And also completely lacking finesse when talking to important people. "With not doing the cursus at all? Is that even a thing?..."

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"Let's face it, Lucius, we both know I would rather you did take an interest in the cursus... and we both know you'd rather do anything else at all. Why not save us both the agony? Becoming a lawyer would be at least an honourable way for you to make a living - considering you're a patrician and all, I mean. Not that there's anything dishonourable about earning a living any other way, but there are certain expectations for people of our rank, especially if you don't want to be the subject of gossip and graffiti all over Rome."

He didn't want his brother to be miserable for the rest of his life, but nor did he want to find people talking about them - either of them - behind their backs or when they thought that Gaius couldn't hear them. Presumably Lucius didn't care either way, but he might show at least some concern.

"You can't do nothing all your life, Lucius. What do you want to do?"

 

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Lucius was a little surprised. Gaius had never really let him entertain the idea before that he had options other than the cursus. Maybe he was willing to compromise. Or maybe he was beginning to give up. Either way, lawyer was a bad option, but it was still an option. He had to give him that.

"... there are certain expectations for people of our rank, especially if you don't want to be the subject of gossip and graffiti all over Rome."

"I think we are a bit late for that." Lucius smirked. "I am pretty sure I have seen some graffiti up since your questor year... You're very eligible."

When it came to graffiti, that was a nice way of putting it.

"You can't do nothing all your life, Lucius. What do you want to do?"

"I really don't know..." Lucius shrugged "Put in a day of decent work and feel like I have done something useful?" That was not much to go on, really. He'd have to do better than that if he decided to be a lawyer... "Isn't it a bit late to make up my mind anyway? Lawyers start training earlier than their twenties, I think..."

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"Late is better than never, and you're twenty-three. It's not like starting a career at thirty-three," Gaius pointed out, though if Lucius kept on stalling, they'd be in this same position in twenty years' time. "Or the legions, if you prefer actually doing something - you can't say marching twenty-five miles in a day isn't active, and there's plenty of ways to be useful as a tribune?"

He was beginning to feel that he had lost his brother somehow; he would have to visit Longinus and ask for advice - he felt that somehow Lucius and Longinus might have something in common. If only he had some actual suitable concrete suggestion that his brother might accept! Or even simply just think about instead of dismissing out of hand

Well. He hadn't completely dismissed entering a legal career, so that was something, at least.

 

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"Late is better than never, and you're twenty-three. It's not like starting a career at thirty-three,"  

Lucius winced. He was late to start the cursus, by Roman standards, but just enough for it to start feeling uncomfortable. If he waited a few more years, Gaius was going to lose the rest of his mind.

"Or the legions, if you prefer actually doing something - you can't say marching twenty-five miles in a day isn't active, and there's plenty of ways to be useful as a tribune?"

"I wonder why that doesn't sound inspiring". Lucius found war stories generally boring. He was attracted to the camaraderie between veterans, but the marching and digging and freezing was not exactly inspirational. "So I get to pick between spending a few years on the frontier, or getting down to some serious studying" he summarized with a smirk.

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"Basically. People are beginning to talk, Lucius, and when someone of our standing begins to be gossiped about for doing the sort of things you've been doing... it's not good. gens Vipsania is a good one, a solid patrician line, and you should be making a name for yourself doing proper patrician things." Gaius sighed. What was it going to take to steer his brother into more acceptable channels? He was too active for this thing and not active enough. A solid follower, perhaps, but people born into the Vipsanius Roscius line were born to lead.

He massaged his temple; he always seemed to come away from these conversations with a headache, and wished that he could have proper conversations with his brother, discussions about inconsequential things, debated about this bill or that court case, or even the latest ideas in viticulture or something, rather than having this same butting of heads over the same question of Lucius' future.

 

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"Basically. People are beginning to talk..." 

Oh boy. People were talking people always talked. Gaius' worries boiled down to this, especially since he has been getting closer and closer to higher ranking positions, and also advantegous marriage. He worried what other patricians would say. 

"I know, I know." Lucius sighed. "Bur do you ever get the feeling us Romans put way too much stock into what other people are saying...? I mean. I know you worry about my future, and I know why. But deep down, do you honestly think the things I do are so wrong?"

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Gaius sighed. "It's not just gossip, it's mos maiorum - you can't just set aside centuries of tradition and expectation just because you don't like them. Like it or not, there are certain expectations that people have of people in our position in society. Clodius Pulcher may have been adopted into a plebeian family but that was because he wanted to serve as tribune of the people, and you don't have an ambitious bone in your body."

He scrubbed at his face before looking back at his brother. "The issue is, that you can't do anything else, as a patrician - believe it or not, there are laws against it. You and I might think it's completely ridiculous, but I can't do anything about it. I am trying to think of something that you might be good at, that you might like just as much as selling your friends' olives at over-inflated prices - and you wouldn't enjoy that for more than maybe two weeks at the outside. And you're not helping. I don't like butting heads with you, but that's all we ever seem to do any more."

 

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 "It's not just gossip, it's mos maiorum - you can't just set aside centuries of tradition and expectation just because you don't like them. Like it or not, there are certain expectations that people have of people in our position in society."

"Didn't we depose the kings because we didn't like them?" Lucius pointed out, knowing full well he was throwing oil on fire.

"Clodius Pulcher may have been adopted into a plebeian family but that was because he wanted to serve as tribune of the people, and you don't have an ambitious bone in your body."

Lucius frowned. Gaius as not wrong. Annoying, yes, trying to make up for a decade of parenting in one go, but he was not entirely mistaken. Lucius often wondered why he had no ambition at all. He suspected he would have, if he found something to be ambitious for...

"The issue is, that you can't do anything else, as a patrician - believe it or not, there are laws against it. You and I might think it's completely ridiculous, but I can't do anything about it. I am trying to think of something that you might be good at, that you might like just as much as selling your friends' olives at over-inflated prices - and you wouldn't enjoy that for more than maybe two weeks at the outside. And you're not helping. I don't like butting heads with you, but that's all we ever seem to do any more."

"I know" Lucius sighed. "I don't like it either."

His brother was a good man, and he was trying. Lucius did not enjoy being the black sheep of the family. He was just not sure he was ready to be sacrificed for it either.

"I'll try." he promised. "I... just need a bit more time, to figure it out. Give me... until the end of the year? If I don't figure it out by then, it's tribune, or lawyer. I'll pick."

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"Didn't we depose the kings because we didn't like them?"

Gaius ground his teeth together. That was a completely different thing, altogether, and Lucius knew it. He was just trying to rile Gaius up, and it was working, dammit.

He supposed it was good practise for when he eventually had a teenaged son to deal with.

The end of the year... Lucius really would be pushing it if he didn't start his cursus before then but in the interests of fairness, and because he truly didn't want to alienate him any further, Gaius nodded and acquiesced. "All right, the end of the year."

Failing that, he would see whether any of his clients would be willing to adopt Lucius, if he truly didn't want to do what was expected of him as a patrician. As even an equite, he might find something more to his liking, though Gaius couldn't see him even as a merchant  - even that seemed too far removed for Lucius' tastes. Of course, there was always the possibility that Lucius would find a sense of responsibility somewhere and astonish them all.

He could only pray to Jupiter that he would. A trip to the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus suddenly seemed in order...

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