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September, 76AD

It was only practice, not a true competition, and whilst practice battles drew a few spectators - often owners of the gladiators - it was usually only a few loiterers or those who enjoyed watching half-naked men sweat who would attend. Tiberius was neither, but he was only half watching; the young Imperial was deep in thought, otherwise relaxing beneath a canopy. The Ludus was simply a place to be. Sometimes it helped to get out of the palace when he wanted to think. Oddly enough he was less likely to be disturbed here. And he was thinking, very seriously. Titus was Caesar now, suddenly, at a young age, and Tiberius - who admitedly was no older and his relative level of wisdom was debateable - saw it as his duty to support Titus in guiding and guarding the Empire. He also wanted to guide and guard Titus so that he was able to do so, not least because he was his brother, but also because if anything affected Titus, it could potentially lead to a period of instability in the Empire, which it could ill afford.

The Empire seemed to burn through Caesar's at an uncomfortable rate, and the pool of potential heirs was reducing. This was one of the many things that preyed on Tiberius's mind as he half watched a bout end. One of the combatants had been injured by a blow from his opponent's weapon, and lay on the sand, shifting in pain. Whilst gladiators were generally looked down on as the slaves most were, they still had value. Sure enough, within a few moments the medicus of the Ludus appeared, working quickly to stabilise his patient. Tiberius couldn't see much, but it was only minutes before the man was moved by two attendants, under the direction of the medicus.

Hmm. The beginnings of an idea began to form.

Tiberius turned to one of his attendants and asked the man to find out the name of the medicus, and ask that when - and only when - he had treated his patient to his satisfaction, he come and speak with the young Imperial.

The medici who usually attended the Imperials had no answers. But sometimes those who sat outside the arena saw more of the combat.

@Chevi

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Theo was more than a bit surprised when he was summoned. By a member of the imperial family, no less. He was aware that nobility was watching the games today, but he had been too busy with the gladiators to gawk. It was a rare, but not unusual occurrence on training days. 

The gladiator that had gone down with a deep cut on his leg. Theo bandaged up the wound and then had the man transferred to his workshop, where the wound was sealed and stitched up properly. The messenger found him deep in this work, and confirmed that he could finish before he had to make an appearance. Good. Theo would not have left a patient half-stitched. He finished up the job, adding copious amounts of spiced wine and herbs for the pain. The servants transferred the gladiator to his quarters. Theo cleaned up the best he could, washing off blood and sand and running a comb through his hair before he hurried up to the spectators' seats.

The imperial in question turned out to be a prince. Tiberius? Theo only vaguely knew the imperial family, but he knew enough to recognize important people.

"Greetings, dominus" he bowed his head politely to the young man, wondering why he had been summoned. Did he want information on the gladiators for the next games?... "I'm Quintus Flavius Theodorus, medicus to the Ludus Magnus. How can I be of service?"

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The medicus, when he arrived, had the sunworn look of a man who had seen either hard work or a lot of the Empire. Or both. Dark eyes had a shrewdness about them, and Tiberius suppressed the momentary feeling of being a boy again, faced with one of the medici who served the Imperial family. But those men had become less superhuman as he had grown, though he still greatly respected their skills. Except that sometimes, they didn't have answers. Which was why, unusually for one so methodical, he was acting on something of a hunch.

"Salve, medicus." He greeted the man evenly, acknowledging his bow with a slight nod of the head. "I appreciate your time. Will you sit?" He asked, and gestured. There was space under the awning and a jug of cool, watered wine with ornate glass cups. "I am Tiberius Claudius Sabucius." Though the other man had probably worked that out.

Interesting. His cognomen wasn't Roman, but the format of his name was. "Theodorus. You are Achaean, or Aetolian?" The younger man asked. If so he was in luck, the best medici were Greek. Or perhaps his family was of that descent, which would amount to the same thing. Like any trade it was generally kept within the family.

Regardless, the Ludus Magnus was the foremost of the gladiatorial ludii, and would not employ less than the best medicus they could manage for their often very valuable gladiators. Perhaps Minerva, Goddess of medicine amongst other things, was guiding him in the right direction. "I would assume, from your role at the ludus, that you have considerable expertise with injuries. However, I am interested in your knowledge of illness." He said, watching the other man for his reaction. Was he all sword wounds and bruises, or was his expertise more rounded as Tiberius hoped.

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"Salve, medicus. I appreciate your time. Will you sit? I am Tiberius Claudius Sabucius.

"A pleasure to meet you" Theo took a seat politelty, waiting to learn the reason why he had been summoned. By the emperor's brother no less.

"Theodorus. You are Achaean, or Aetolian?" 

"Corinthian" Theo smiled a little. It still sounded strange, referring to his home by the name of the province, not the city, so he usually introduced himself as such.

 "I would assume, from your role at the ludus, that you have considerable expertise with injuries. However, I am interested in your knowledge of illness."

Oh. Interesting. Theo nodded slowly. 

"My father worked at the Asclepeion in Corinth as a healer. I trained with him before I joined the legions. My mother worked alongside him as maia. I don't claim I'm an expert, but I try to learn as much as I can. One... sees a lot of things along the limes."

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Corinthian. Tiberius had to think for a moment, but spend hours being tutored on the geography of the Empire, and after a moment that portion of the map resolved in his mind. Achaean then. But the city was important to him, whether for cultural reasons or personal. He would remember that. And it brought to mind Claudia Corinthia, his cousin, daughter of Manius Caesar and Claudia Gaia who had been a slave from the same region.

He had first wondered whether Theodorus might have been a freed slave, but the man himself offered correction without even realising it had been needed. He'd served in the legions, and presumably earned full citizenship that way.

"A philosophy we share then." The young Imperial mused, pleased with the discovery. "Learning is a life long pursuit. I imagine that you would have seen much on the frontiers" Somewhere he had yet to go. Oh he'd been to the provinces, but it wasn't the same thing. And he did like to hear about others' experiences, much like he'd pestered his uncle Octavius for stories of the provinces as a teen. "How long did you serve?"

@Chevi

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The young imperial sounded mature for his age. Most of the nobility Theo observed in the reserved seats of the arena was boastful, drunk, or generally loud... but this young prince seemed genuinely interested in other matters. Theo gave him a smile. Maybe this would be a good conversation.

"I imagine that you would have seen much on the frontiers. How long did you serve?"

"The full twenty-five years. First on the eastern frontier, and then..." due to the revolt in Achaea, but that did not need to be brought up "in Germania, for the last ten or so. It was definitely a long journey. I learned a lot. As a medicus." He added. He had learned a lot as a Greek person in the Roman legions, and a lot as a man in a war, but once again, those topics did not make for very polite conversation.

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The full twenty-five years. Which meant that he had earned not only full citizenship but the rank of equite and land to go with it. Yet there was no narrow purple stripe on his tunica, no gold ring on his left hand, and he was working at the ludus. Admitedly in a valued position, and given the nature of his work it would be reasonable not to wear his finery, but still... Tiberius had taken him for a Pleb. He felt a little guilty at having judged the scroll by it's label.

I learned a lot. As a medicus.

"I imagine that you did, and more besides," likely not all of it pleasant, "in the course of your considerable service to the Empire." Something didn't seem quite right, but Tiberius was being schooled in politics, so knew better than to simply blurt out what was on his mind. Blue eyes met brown thoughtfully. Perhaps he would find out in time.

"I am interested in the science of avoiding illness, and maintaining health." He revealed at last, pleasantries completed. "I anticipate that, as well as treating injuries, you would be responsible for keeping both Legionnaires and gladiators healthy." He suggested. Did they get sick? What made them get sick? How did one prevent it? Clean water and surroundings were obvious, but what else.

What was it, with the finest foods and accomodations in the Empire, that kept striking down Imperials?

@Chevi

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"I imagine that you did, and more besides, in the course of your considerable service to the Empire."

This kid was good. Theo had to admit that. He already had the makings of a formidable politician, choosing his words carefully, and biding his time in the conversation to learn more. Theo smiled a little at the mention of considerable service. Anyone spending 25 of their best years in the frontier legions did more than a service. But Theo also knew when to choose his words..

"I am interested in the science of avoiding illness, and maintaining health. I anticipate that, as well as treating injuries, you would be responsible for keeping both Legionnaires and gladiators healthy." 

There it was. Theo tilted his head. Health was the question. Was the young man worried about getting ill? Some people were, a few to an unhealthy degree. Ironically. Theo considered his answer.

"There are... many books on that subject." he answered cautiously. "Some of it has to do with eating, good air, exercise... My father taught me that a healthy body is one well take care off, avoiding excess of any kind. But... you probably already knew that." Any physician at the palace could have told him the same. "Is there any particular... health issue you wish to avoid?"

Please don't let it be venereal diseases.

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The corner of Tiberius's mouth quirked upwards at Theodorus's diffident question. Here he was occupying the poor man's time when he likely had injured gladiators to see to, and because he was whom he was, the medicus was being very careful about humouring him, whilst obviously hoping he'd get to the point soon. It suggested a patience that many men lacked. The young prince found himself liking the man, a good impression on first meeting. And the question was a valid one. A moment after it appeared the half-smile faded, and Tiberius looked out over the area at the training gladiators as he chose his words.

"I don't doubt you follow basic politics; suffice to say that Caesar Quintus abdicated due to failing health." He said, by way of preamble. Perhaps Theodorus already knew that. "What concerns me is that he is not the only Caesar who's health has failed him. My brother Caesar Darius, and my father Caesar Claudius, both had much the same, and they declined even to death." Though the young man couldn't know that there were other circumstances surrounding his father's decline. "It is this trend which concerns me. I am the last male Claudian, and there are fewer of the Flavii-Alexandrii than there were." Though they hadn't run out of them yet. But Tiberius didn't want to see his family wither away under the pressure of the Empire.

"Rome would suffer, if the Caesarship were to be called into question again, and I would not see her do so. And so I search for some way to prevent my brother Titus from suffering the same fate." He gave the medicus a direct look from wide blue eyes, and for a moment looked very much the worried young man, for all his fancy toga and attendants. Then there was a blink and an indrawn breath, and the moment passed. "Your words agree with your compatriots at the Palace, at least. Healthy eating, fresh air, time outdoors. All things in moderation and nothing in excess." Which was sensible enough, but surely their family was already taking such advice.

Again that glance away, aware that he'd spilled his concerns to a man he didn't really know, on a moment's rare impulse. So comfortable was the man's company. "I simply wish I knew what excess might cause such conditions." He said quietly, then looked back again, again that half-smile, this time apologetic. "But I fear that I have wasted your time, medicus."

@Chevi

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Had the wrong brother as having the illness
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Theo waited to see if the young imperial would tell him more about his concerns. Maybe they were of a personal nature.

"I don't doubt you follow basic politics; suffice to say that Caesar Quintus abdicated due to failing health."

The medicus nodded, listening intently.

"What concerns me is that he is not the only Caesar who's health has failed him. My brother Caesar Junus, and my father Caesar Claudius, both had much the same, and they declined even to death. It is this trend which concerns me. I am the last male Claudian, and there are fewer of the Flavii-Alexandrii than there were. Rome would suffer, if the Caesarship were to be called into question again, and I would not see her do so. And so I search for some way to prevent my brother Titus from suffering the same fate.

Theo's face took on a more somber look as it started to dawn on him what issue they will be talking about. This was not just basic politics. This was high politics. The highest in all the land, actually. A literal matter of life or death, and not just for the imperial family, but possibly for thousands of people, of things played out wrong.

"Your words agree with your compatriots at the Palace, at least. Healthy eating, fresh air, time outdoors. All things in moderation and nothing in excess. I simply wish I knew what excess might cause such conditions... But I fear that I have wasted your time, medicus."

"No time spent seeking the truth is wasted." Theo quoted quietly "... my father used to say that. And you are seeking truth for a worth cause, dominus."

He was young, and already with such dire responsibilities on his shoulder. Theo thought for a moment. Not about the possibilities - about how to word them.

"Some conditions can affect families, passed down through generations." he said finally "As we inherit our nature from our parents so can we inherit their ailments." he paused "And then there are other possibilities, if people decline despite living a healthy life." he gave Tiberius a searching look. "You suspect there might be another cause?"

Theodorus, ludus medicus, suddenly in the middle of imperial intrigue. Gods, help me. Venereal diseases would have been better.

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"No time spent seeking the truth is wasted."

That drew a momentary ghost of a smile from Tiberius. "Words worth remembering. Your father was a wise man." And wisdom could come from many directions. Not just Caesars and Consuls, but medici and even the average man on the street. Tiberius was no gormless innocent, but he was open to learning from many directions. One would be foolish to ignore the wisdom offered.

Did he suspect another cause? Maybe. "There are some who say that my father was poisoned." He acknowledged quietly. "I do not know about Darius, but virtually all those who had a motive were killed either in the purge, or in the aftermath." So he didn't think that would explain Caesar Quintus, unless there was another poisoner, which was possible. "Then again, there are many who see the Caesarship as a seat of power rather than responsibility, so it would not have to be the same person." It was something that worried him; at the same time, all three over such a period of time seemed less likely. But never impossible.

But Theodorus had made a point about families. Again that thoughtful look crossed the younger man's face as he traced the familial lines in his mind. "Quintus Caesar is my mother's brother, and my mother also died of an unexplained illness." He acknowledged thoughtfully. Though there was some doubt; she'd updated her will when she fell ill and some whispered it might have been some form of suicide. "Darius was her son with her first husband Honorius." So there was that connection. Junus was assassinated so they would never know whether he might have been affected. "So that theory holds weight, until my father Claudius, who was unrelated to my mother's side except through myself and my sisters." But what if Claudius had been poisoned, but the Flavii-Alexandrii carried some illness?

"One supposes that it could be a combination of both causes." The young man acknowledged quietly. But if his mother's family - also his brother Titus's family - carried an illness, what could they do about it? "Is there anything that one can do to mitigate an illness, if it travels within a family?" He asked, voice steady as he tried to hide any hint of desperation. This was something that he had not heard of before, and it gave him hope for a cure.

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Theo had not really been paying too much attention to politics, beyond what he heard on the streets and from the announcers. He had been an equestrian nobleman for a hot minute, but that had all gone before he ever got to the city of Rome, so he had no connections in high places to speak of. He didn't mind, really. The view from up where young Tiberius was sitting must have been quite daunting.

"There are some who say that my father was poisoned. I do not know about Darius, but virtually all those who had a motive were killed either in the purge, or in the aftermath... Then again, there are many who see the Caesarship as a seat of power rather than responsibility, so it would not have to be the same person." 

Theo nodded. Rome would have been so lucky, to only have one poisoner with ambition in a city of millions.

"Quintus Caesar is my mother's brother, and my mother also died of an unexplained illness. Darius was her son with her first husband Honorius... So that theory holds weight, until my father Claudius, who was unrelated to my mother's side except through myself and my sisters. One supposes that it could be a combination of both causes." 

Theo nodded again, for lack of a better thing to do. When unrelated causes began to combine, then one was facing a near impossible task.

"Is there anything that one can do to mitigate an illness, if it travels within a family?"

"That is a hard question for any medicus to answer." Theo said honestly. "I feel that a combination of different causes would be quite a challenge to untangle. And... forgive me, dominus, but in my opinion it might be an easier first step to rule out poison, than to prove inherited conditions." One was a lot less mysterious than the other, after all. Theo lowered his voice, even though everyone else was keeping a polite distance. "May I ask... are you experiencing any symptoms yourself?"

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It had indeed proven a hard question for a medicus to answer; any medicus, so far. Fortunately Tiberius was reasonably patient, else his search for answers would have already frustrated him no end. But Theodorus's father had said it best, and he kept telling himself that he'd find an answer eventually.

"I do not think that either would be easy to prove, alas." He admitted to the other man. "How would one prove or disprove poison, save by trial?" He asked. He was no alchemist or medicus himself, nor a priest, but the idea was fascinating if macabre. Could the remains of the dead tell their story? "Their ashes are in the Imperial mausoleum, of course." And he had been there a few times, to make offerings to his ancestors and seek wisdom in quiet thought. But he expected no direct answers to the questions he carried with him.

Theodorus's quietly spoken question caught his attention back from thoughts of the dead. Ultimately it was the living who mattered now. The young man shook his head slightly. "No, nor any of our generation who remain." But Darius had been younger than Tiberius when he fell ill. "I only hope that it is not simply a matter of time." He too kept his voice low. Whilst the medicus had no direct answers for him, he had given the young Imperial some things to think about. The idea of a familial illness was a new one, even if poison was not. "Perhaps I shall find some key to prevention. Or perhaps I concern myself needlessly." But it was in his nature to knaw and worry at problems.

"Come now, Medicus Theodorus, you've humoured me most kindly, and for that I thank you. Permit me to return your kindness. You have the Imperial ear; what concerns you most?" The man who, on gaining his citizenship, had apparently chosen his name for Quintus Caesar, now had the attention of his adopted son.

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"I do not think that either would be easy to prove, alas. How would one prove or disprove poison, save by trial? Their ashes are in the Imperial mausoleum, of course." 

Theo shook his head. "Poison can be proven on the dead by examination... and on the living by trial and error." he noted, the blinked. "I don't mean poisoning by trial. I mean more like... safety measures." If someone had symptoms that could be illness or poison, one could experiment with cures and safer circumstances. But that all hinged upon whether they were feeling ill at all, so that was what he asked next.

"No, nor any of our generation who remain. I only hope that it is not simply a matter of time... Perhaps I shall find some key to prevention. Or perhaps I concern myself needlessly." 

"I don't think being concerned for the family's health is ever quite needless" Theo noted with a reassuring look. Maybe the young imperial was worried without a reason. But that was still better than having a reason and dismissing it.

"Come now, Medicus Theodorus, you've humoured me most kindly, and for that I thank you. Permit me to return your kindness. You have the Imperial ear; what concerns you most?" 

Theo blinked. The question came as a surprise. A lot of people in Rome would have given a whole lot to hear those words from a member of the imperial family. And yet, here he was, and he had absolutely no idea what to say. He flushed a little, clearing his throat.

"That... is very kind of you, dominus." he said finally, and he meant it too. "...I am very happy with my work... I like to learn new things. I have been exploring Rome's libraries in m free time." he blinked. "I am sorry I'm rambling. I was not prepared for that question at all."

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He hoped that the medicus was right. Being concerned for family was not an improper sentiment, and he supposed that it was better to worry needlessly than to have his fears prove to be well founded. The man was wise. "I suppose what is important is to be careful, but not live in fear." Paranoia served no one.

So no easy answers, but some information worth thinking about, and the young Imperial valued that, perhaps more than Theodorus could know. After all, it wasn't just his personal family he was concerned for, but the future of Rome. So he expressed that gratitude in the best way that he could think of to the man. The gesture seemed to surprise him.

...I am very happy with my work... I like to learn new things. I have been exploring Rome's libraries in m free time... I am sorry I'm rambling. I was not prepared for that question at all...

"A contented citizen is the satisfaction of the Empire." He assured the man mildly, amused. He'd put the man on the spot, and miracle of miracles, he had nothing to complain of. "Here." Tiberius pulled a slim, gold ring from his finger. It was wrought like an eagle, symbol of the Empire, the body being the gem and the wings forming the band. "I don't see your gold ring, so have this one. Keep it, wear it if you will. And if one day you decide you want my ear, send it to the Palace with a message, and I will send for you." As a medicus the man should be able to read and write, or he might simply send a slave.

He held the ring out for Theo to take.

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"A contented citizen is the satisfaction of the Empire."

Theo smiled a little. He was contented in his own life. Sure, there was much to be done to improve the lives of many others in the empire, but right there on the spot he did not feel entitled to come up with any of the solutions. He worried for a moment that Tiberius might take offense, but he seemed satisfied, and offered a ring instead.

"Here. I don't see your gold ring, so have this one. Keep it, wear it if you will. And if one day you decide you want my ear, send it to the Palace with a message, and I will send for you."

Theo hesitated for a moment in surprise before he accepted the ring.

"I... am deeply honored." It was a gift with much more weight to it than gold. "I... don't have my ring, because I am not an equite anymore. But I appreciate your kindness. I will hold onto this until I have something worthy to tell you, dominus."

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So the man wasn't an equite any more. Perhaps his medical skills were better than his land management. Or perhaps he'd simply preferred life in Rome; it wouldn't be polite to pry. He declared contentment, so presumably it wasn't through foul play. Well, not everyone was cut out for the upper echelons of society, nor needed to be. Still, Tiberius decided that he'd have someone check the legion records, see what they might reveal about him.

He smiled at the older man. "You do that." He replied. "You are clearly a man of wisdom and careful thought; should you decide you have something worthy, I shall be most interested to hear it." He assured Theo. Caesar's advisers were generally either Senatores and Patricians, or astute politicians from other classes. Sometimes Tiberius wondered whether this created something of an echo chamber.

"Rome is all her people, across all classes, and I would see them all as content as yourself." He said quietly, glancing out over the grounds below. "But I have no doubt kept you from your work long enough. Thank you for your time and words; Gods' blessings." He would remember Theodorus the ludus medicus, and perhaps they would meet again.

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