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The Curia was slowly emptying of people after the most recent session of the Senate, and Aulus found that he was one of the last to leave, having been waylaid by some ancient senator who must have been twice his age if he was a day, who only wanted to talk his ear off about taxes, the grain dole, the cost of games these days and other inconsequential things.

He turned to head from the august chamber, pausing before he emerged into the sunlight and the presence of his lictors (Horatia had a point about them, even if Aulus wouldn't admit it - they did rather get in the way when you wanted to be a private citizen... on the other hand, part of the thing about being Consul was that you weren't a private citizen for the entire time you were in office. It was rather the point, after all!)

There was someone else taking a momentary breather in the shade of the Curia's colonnade, a young man who must be just starting out on his political career. At first Aulus thought it was his son, but Titus was still a few years short of joining the Senate.

"Claudius Sabucius," he said, once he caught a better look at the other. "Good afternoon - I trust you didn't find today's session too tiresome?"

 

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Some viewed Senate sittings as boring, but to Tiberius they were an important part of the good workings of the Empire. Some of the Senators were boring certainly, those too staid or selfish in their views, but largely the Senate acted as the check and balance on the whims of the ruling class; history showed that a dictatorship could do far more damage than stodgy Senators.

But they were the exception. Most here, like Tiberius himself, were born and raised to understand their duty in governing Rome well and fairly, and that their privilege extended from that. An Empire well run benefited all, which was why he always attended the Senate where possible, and paid close attention to the proceedings.

Afterwards though, if the session were particularly heavy or detailed, he appreciated a moment to pause and collect his thoughts before moving on. He wasn't the only one taking a few minutes in the shade of the portico, and there were a few quiet conversations happening as Senators mingled in the square below. Still, when an older voice called out 'Claudius Sabucius', Tiberius froze for a moment, feeling the ghosts of his father and brothers behind him. But it was himself the man was addressing, and the words rammed home the fact that he, now, was the only one to carry that name, and thus the head of Caesar Claudius's line. It was a very strange feeling, but one to which he must become accustomed.

Adjusting his snowy white toga to cover his momentary pause, Tiberius turned to greet the man with a smile, recognising one of the Empire's most influential politicians. "Consul Calpurnius Praetextatus." He inclined his head politely in greeting. He didn't know him well personally, but Tiberius did know that the Consul had always been a staunch supporter and servant of Quintus, and was heir to his father, with whom the young Imperial shared a name. "Good day to you too. Not too tiresome, no; thank you." Despite the length of some sessions, Tiberius held them all important. "How have you been?"

Their meeting was, perhaps, an opportunity. Across the way and up a street was a small but very respectable Taverna. "The session was long however. I'm going to get something to eat. Would you care to join me?" Perhaps over a jug of watered wine and a plate of bread, fruit and olives, he might learn more about the man who was Consul.

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"Very well, thank you - and I will." Many people vied for a consul's attention, most of whom could be deflected to a more appropriate and more junior official, but other than his own family none had better claim to his time than Tiberius Claudius Sabucius, save only his brother Titus Augustus and their father. He caught the eye of his chief lictor and gave him directions in a low voice to disperse the others but for them to stay in view. Being this close to the Forum and the Curia Julia, presumably the proprietor was used to official and their entourages, but that was no need to overwhelm anyone, especially when there were several establishments where his lictors could spend his money and still be close enough to hand should anything untoward happen.

He would keep the chief lictor with him, just in case, though - the man had been a Centurion in Legio XX Valeria Victrix and could be perfectly discreet and very handy in case of any trouble.

It wasn't long before they were seated at the establishment's best table with a decent range of food spread before them, and Aulus could properly take stock of the young man. Quintus' adopted son was a serious-looking young man, young but determined - he had already taken his place among the vigintiviri, which was not a necessary step to beginning the cursus honorum, especially for a member of the Imperial family, but was a useful one.

"How are you finding political life so far?" he asked, helping himself to a sprig of grapes.

 

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"Excellent. I appreciate the company." He was hungry, and yes he could have gone back to the palace, but far more pleasant and interesting to have lunch here and talk to the Consul. An important man, if Aulus had the time for him then Tiberius definitely had the time for the Consul. Two Praetorian Guards left their places by the wall and fell in just behind them as the two men headed away from the Senate building in the direction of the discrete Taverna. One took up position outside whilst the other followed them in and settled at a corner table, out of the way but still within quick reach of his charge. There was another chair for the lictor if he wished.

The proprietor was clearly accustomed to Senatorial customers, and quickly but quietly brought out a platter of tasty morsels and a jug of watered, spiced wine for the Consul and the Prince, and a plate of fresh bread, cheese and smoked fish for those who accompanied them. Nodding in acknowledgement of the man's quiet efficiency, Tiberius settled a the table by the open window, pleasantly shaded by vine leaves, and chose an olive.

How was he finding political life? "Interesting." He replied, meeting the Consul's blue gaze squarely. "I am aware I still have much to learn, but then life is a learning experience." And he had a significant head start in that particular arena, having been trained for this role all his life. There were times when he'd wished for a more carefree childhood, but that was not the life of an Imperial, even without insurrections. "The direction of the Empire's future is not something to be taken lightly." And he did not. "And I am provided with some excellent role models." He added the last with a fleet smile, clearly meaning to include Aulus's example amongst those.

Because Aulus was a man of great political influence, his career the epitome of what a Senator aspired to. "How is the Consulship treating you?" He asked, interested to know. How was the other man managing the role, and how did he see that going?

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Aulus' estimation of the young man as a serious and thoughtful person who would give things their due consideration was borne out by his words. Everyone of his age had a lot to learn, whether or not they knew it or were willing to admit to it. That Claudius Sabucius admitted both spoke volumes.

"The direction of the Empire's future is not something to be taken lightly."

"Indeed," Aulus said, accepting the implied compliment with an incline of his head. "And not least among those role models is your adopted father - he was such to me, when I was not much older than you are now, in fact." And if he could return that by being a role model to Quintus' sons in any way, he would - he owed the previous emperor a great deal.

It seemed wrong to think of him as the 'former emperor' or anything along those lines while he still lived, but there had been wisdom in his unprecedented decision to retire. It was the sort of wisdom that characterised Quintus Flavius Alexander and coloured all his actions, the wisdom that had drawn Aulus and others to him, to offer their support in whatever way they could.

He would be very much missed as ruler - though if Titus showed anything like the same sense as his adoptive brother was currently demonstrating, the Empire would be in safe hands.

"It is a lot of work, of course, although I can imagine that it would have been more work a hundred years ago. But to achieve the pinnacle of your ambition - that is something not everyone can say they have done." He would not be hunting for anything further; his ambition was not for power in and of itself, but for power to serve Rome, and to serve Rome meant to serve the emperor. Titus Augustus could be as sure of Aulus' loyalty as Quintus Augustus had been.

"And what about you? What will you be doing once your term as vigintivir comes to an end?"

There was something about Tiberius that reminded Aulus very much of himself at a similar age. He would do everything in his power to ensure that the young man, and his own son, did not have to live through a period of turbulence and unrest such as that which had marred his own early career.

 

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Tiberius was a serious young man - too serious according to some of his peers - and perhaps a trifle reserved. Whether that was purely his character was possible, but more likely it was at least contributed to by his tumultuous childhood. He'd never wanted for care and rarely for some affection, but the all too frequent changes in parental figures had encouraged a self-reliance and a tendency to think before he spoke.

Swallowing his olive, the younger man nodded in agreement. "My father - Caesar Quintus - takes a great deal of care with our education; mine and Titus's." For Quintus wasn't out of the picture yet, even if he had retired and was currently at his estates. He referred to Quintus as father, even though he'd called his step-father Honorius the same. Even Geta had been a kind of father-figure for a while. Indeed, the one he remembered least well was his biological father, who passed when he was only very young. "But there are many opportunities to learn, if one recognises them when they present." There was an almost playful light in his eyes for a moment. Yes, he definitely saw Aulus's company as a learning opportunity.

And Aulus was the very example of success, as he pointed out achieving his ambition, and at the youngest possible age. Tiberius admired his achievement, and the determination it had no doubt required. But he also admired his dedication to his work. It was one thing to be ambitious in personal glory, another to be ambitious in service. In that Tiberius saw much to admire, for he thought along similar lines.

And himself? "It is my intention to follow the cursus honorum."  He replied, having intended such from the start. His experience as a minor magistrate had been interesting, but Rome's success was built on it's military and to understand the Empire you had to understand her armies. "I will always serve and aid Titus, of course. But unless he wishes me elsewhere, I shall hope for appointment as a tribunus militum." It was true that, being an Empire, Caesar could largely do as he wished, and often his family could too, but Tiberius considered it important that he too played by the rules. Else why have them? And one would not wish to set a poor example for others to follow. Plus he was interested in the learning opportunities - and travel opportunities - of the role.

"Did you serve your time as a tribunus militum in Rome? Or in the provinces?" He asked, curious.

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"Your father Quintus Caesar had always taken a great deal of care with everything he has turned his hand to," Aulus said in agreement, and smiled. "I spent my time as tribune in Achaea, if you can believe it - serving under your father while he was legate there. While it was not the frontier of the Empire, I spent time there too, later on, in Germania and then Britannia. The Empire has rather a lot of border and not everyone on the other side of it is friendly."

He tore off a chunk of bread to give him something to do as he thought.

"Is there anyone in particular you would wish to serve under, or anywhere you'd like to serve your time as tribune?" he asked, and smiled. "And no, I won't be offended in the least if you didn't want me - there are some extremely capable legates in Rome right now, any one of whom would be good for you career."

He wasn't entirely sure how he had ended up serving under Quintus Flavius Alexander, but it had absolutely been the making of him - he would follow Quintus into Hades itself should the need arise - as it was, the circumstances fourteen years before had been close to Hades, and Quintus had been the only chance Aulus could see for a positive outcome and a stable Rome. And here was his son, wanting to carry that legacy on.

Having seen what could easily be, without a firm hand on the helm, Aulus would do what he could in support and encouragement for the younger generation now that it was his turn to pass on his hard-won wisdom and to give advice.

 

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"The Empire does have a lot of border." Tiberius acknowledged. "Which is why understanding her military is so important for good leadership." Which was something the youth had mixed feelings about. He saw the necessity of course; as Aulus pointed out, many of their neighbours were not friendly. He preferred diplomacy where possible; it caused fewer deaths. But diplomacy could be something of an empty hand, if the military wasn't there to back it up. And to protect them.

A slice of duck breast topped a piece of bread, a drop of garum to season it, as Tiberius listened to the Consul, marveling a little at the places that he had seen, and using it's assemblage to cover his surprise at the unexpected offer, so very cleverly worded.

"And no, I won't be offended in the least if you didn't want me".

The young man wasn't one to make assumptions or presume on his station - he had refused the cognomen Caesar for that reason. So he hadn't expected Aulus's offer, especially worded as though it were automatic. He tended not to take people for granted. He took a bite from his bread whilst he considered the sudden opportunity very carefully.

"I haven't yet formed a specific preference." He admitted. "I had thought that it would be more educational if it was not a family member." Much as he loved his uncles and Octavius in particular, who had also served as Consul. But he had haunted Octavius like a dead rat in the hypocaust during his teenage years; he'd already decided that he had more to learn from others. "Personally, I would love to see more of the Empire." He admitted, almost shyly. "But it is my duty to support Titus and not put myself in too much danger, so I do not think I will be going to the frontiers yet." Maybe one day.

Swallowing the last of his morsel of bread, Tiberius made a decision. Had he not spoken, moments before, on the importance of recognising learning opportunities when they presented? One set of blue eyes met the other. "If you are willing, Consul, I would be honoured to serve you and learn from you, during my time as military tribune."

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"Indeed," Aulus replied. The man who had the hearts, and therefore the backing, of the Legions was the man most likely to prosper as Emperor. He could only hope Titus would be able to win the men over as his father had done before him.

"I would be willing to have you as Tribune, although where I will end up being posted is on the lap of the gods, and with your cousin Titus," Aulus replied. If he could, he would take his friend Longinus as Legate, too, if he was not going to get his own political posting elsewhere (did the man have a scrap of ambition that way? Aulus hadn't seen any such thing - but he had seen how capable he was in a military capacity). "Even a border province does not mean that you will be thrown into skirmishes with any barbarians, after all, and there are several places where the problems are with those within the province rather than with those outside it."

He washed his bread down with a mouthful of wine.

"I think the one thing we can all agree on is that we want Titus Augustus to flourish in this new role. It must be quite daunting for him, and for you - your father was older when he came to it, and he only took the purple reluctantly, because there wasn't anyone else who could forge a unified Rome out of what was left from the civil war."

Aulus was sure that it could not be long at all before people started talking about Quintus as 'a second Augustus' - and really, the comparison was quite apt in some ways, and totally missed the mark in many others. Watching the young man seated before him, one of the generation on whose shoulders the stability and security of Rome now rested, Aulus suddenly felt old. Would Titus, and Tiberius and those other young men, be up to the task?

Had Quintus and Aulus been up to the task at that same age?

At least this time there weren't jealous Praetorian prefects or passed-over Legates vying for the purple, and the threat of proscriptions and purges. Aulus very much felt the full weight of his current responsibility - if the Consuls and the rest of the Senate were behind Titus, the transfer of loyalty and power from Quintus to Titus would be smooth and easy.

He didn't even need to wonder whether Quintus had foreseen this day - the man had plans and contingency plans and who knew what. He had been assured of Aulus' loyalty and had accepted him and ratified him as Consul knowing he might be handing the Empire over to his son during Aulus' Consulship. He had always played the long game, after all.

 

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Tiberius smiled as Aulus confirmed that he'd be willing to have the young Imperial as a Military Tribune, nodding his understanding as Aulus clarified that there was no guarantee as to where he would be posted next. "I know, and I would have no objection to serving you in the provinces." He assured the Consul. "I am simply sensitive to my brother's needs and requirements. But I trust that he will make it known if he requires something else of me." They would need to be willing to be flexible, if Titus called on him. Or on Aulus for that matter. "But we all serve Caesar, do we not? And go where he deems us of greatest service." And Tiberius would do the same. He was also aware of his own future, and if Titus didn't have immediate need of him then he would follow the Cursus Honorum and Aulus Calpurnius Praetextatus.

That smile turned to a more serious moue as Aulus spoke of the weight of the role that Titus shouldered so young. His biological father had been an old man as Caesar, his adoptive fathers younger, but neither so young as Titus. "I can't see how it can be anything but daunting - and it is - but we were raised for this path, so if we care at all for Rome we must walk it. And I would not do otherwise." Their fates had been written even younger, and Tiberius was dedicated to the welfare of the Empire. "But we do not walk it alone, and it is far less daunting knowing that we have those who supported our father with us." Hopefully anyway. He didn't doubt that there would be those within the Senate that would require wooing, but that was politics. It would be done. It must be done, for the future of the Empire.

"May I ask after your family, Consul? Are they well?" He enquired, changing the subject. That was something else that he'd been thinking of lately. As a man grown he should start to mind his own household. He had two sisters who needed husbands, and though he'd lived at the palace most of his life, there was no reason he couldn't have a domus of his own. His beloved uncle Octavius had a home and family. And if their line was to continue, there would need to be heirs. All of which was a lot of responsibility for a young man of nineteen. But Aulus managed a family along with his career.

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"Indeed we do - and your adoptive brother may be just as assured of my loyalty as your father was, whether in service here in Rome or in the furthest corner of the Empire," Aulus said, reaching for some olives. "I think it was just as daunting for your father when he first took the purple. He was older than you are now, certainly, but had to steer Rome out of what had been a very nasty civil war - at least your brother doesn't have to face that. I don't think anyone who remembers the civil war will want another such conflict, which will hopefully make this transition a little easier for all of us."

He wondered what sort of role Tiberius himself would play in this new season - an advisor, certainly, when he grew into that. Possibly a capable military commander or able politician - he would have the example of his uncles to look to for himself, where Titus would have the example of his father.

"My family are very well, thank you - my son will be taking his toga soon, and will embark on his own career in a few short years." And Calpurnia would likely marry in a similar space of time. Both things that were more ageing to a man than talk of a career with a young man he wasn't related to. "We have spoken of your brother, of course, but how is your sister, and the rest of your family?"

 

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It warmed and comforted Tiberius to hear Aulus assure him that Titus could be assured of his loyalty, as their father was. He was also immensely glad that the Empire was not in the state of turmoil it had been when Quintus became Caesar; he intended to work to ensure that it would never see such times again. Too many of his own immediate family had died in the purges and the years following.

"I cannot see how anyone could wish such a war." He agreed quietly, and for a moment the scared young boy he had been peeked through. How many of his family might still be alive? He barely remembered his real father, but he did recall his brothers, Junus and Darius, and missed them intensely along with his older sister, all taken by other mens' greed and lust for power. Then he took a deep breath and straightened slightly, meeting Aulus's gaze.  "And it is our duty to ensure that it does not happen." He said firmly. "My father has given us the best start; we will continue." Both in their duties and in their guidance of the Empire.

So it was settled. When Tiberius became a military tribune - and the assumption that he would be appointed one in his first year went unsaid - then he would serve Aulus and learn from him, both military dealings and politics. It was an ideal arrangement, and Tiberius considered how fortunate he had been, that the Consul approached him outside the Senate.

Aulus's children were younger than Tiberius, but his son was already soon to take the toga and be recognised as passing the first major milestone to full adulthood. The young Imperial didn't know the Consul's exact age but did a quick mental estimate and calculation, supposing that his son would have been born in his mid to late twenties. Family was a subject that had been on Tiberius's mind, not just the past but the future. Most would say that he was still very young, which was true, but he was also the last of his line, save for his sister.

"Claudia is well. Strong and opinionated, with an excellent head for politics, but I think you must expect that." He smirked slightly. Claudia really should be wed by now but everyone had other things on their minds and clearly it hadn't been on hers. He supposed it was his duty now to find her a husband; that would be an interesting conversation. He was more interested in her other plans. "She would be a valuable ally to a would-be Senator." In more than just her bloodline. "Rutiliana is just come of age, and Drusus is still young and very much like his father, but both are well." They were his cousins by blood of course, siblings by adoption.

"Titus is busy, of course. I have not heard recently from Quintus or Drusilla; I intend to write to them." And that was the immediate family. He knew that there was little expectation that Quintus would recover fully, but he still held hope. At least he'd had the sense to abdicate, rather than waste away in the position. But that was his adoptive father through and through, full of good sense and pragmatism.

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"Indeed," Aulus said in agreement. Tiberius was two or three years older than his own son, who had been about a year old when Aulus had taken Felix and slipped out of the house under cover of darkness to escape the madness that had seized Clemens. Which mean that Tiberius would have been three or four - old enough to for the worry and fear to have made an impression, young enough to not remember all the details of it.

"Your father has always been a wise man," he reiterated. He did not know of any other emperor who had retired, abdicated, in favour of an heir while he was still alive - dictators were expected to resign their imperium at the close of their elected term or the end of the emergency, yet most had seemed to cling to their power until forced by the Fates to relinquish it, usually at their death (Cincinnatus was perhaps the exception and was rightly held up as an example). He had never heard of an emperor following Cincinnatus' example until now.

"It sounds as though your sister and my wife would get on very well - I don't know if Claudia Caesaris has been to Horatia's book club?" Aulus' unconscious smile was that of a proud husband. "She has been running a book club, so-called, for ladies of a high standing in society. I think it's really just an excuse for them to gossip as women are wont to do, but it does encourage them to meet people of a similar standing who they perhaps wouldn't otherwise have an acquaintance with."

He pulled some grapes off the sprig. "I speak from long experience, a wife who has a keen mind is a valuable ally to have. Augustus had Livia, your father has Drusilla, I have Horatia. You are young yet, there's no hurry."

At Tiberius' declaration that he would write to his father, Aulus nodded. Of course he worried about the man who had brought him up - pater patriae Quintus might very well be, but he was pater familias first and foremost, and that was not a role Aulus could fulfil, although he could offer a friendly ear and advice from an older man if and when it was needed. "Titus has his advisors, of course - he will need all the wisdom they can offer, I think. But for you yourself - if you need any advice, or just to have someone to listen, you can talk to me, if you can't talk with your uncles."

 

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Tiberius smiled when Aulus said that his sister and the Consul's wife would likely get along well, and asked whether Claudia had been to his wife's book club. "I don't know, but I'll mention it to her. I imagine that she would enjoy both the company and the conversation." The company of like-minded women of similar standing and from political families. Though goodness knew what plots they might hatch together. Then again, Drusilla's orphanages had, he understood, come out of similar conversations, and they were a cause for which Tiberius had spoken in favour in the Senate.

It was interesting to hear Aulus speak of his wife and others, particularly the point that a wife with a keen mind was a strong ally in the arena in which they moved. It was good advice, and the examples the Consul gave were undeniable. "I understand that my mother - my birth mother, Lucilla Augusta - was considered quite the political power in her own right as well." Not that he remembered much more than the fond, blurry memories of a small child; warm cuddles and bright eyes, a voice raised in song. He'd been oblivious to her other world.

He appreciated Aulus's offer of someone to talk to, even just a listening ear. He could talk to his uncles, the Consul was right, but sometimes it was good to have a point of view from outside the family. Tiberius believed that it was possible to become to insular.

"Thank you. Marriage is something that has played on my mind." He admitted. "I am young, as you say, but I am also the last of the Claudian line. It's a responsibility, not something to ignore, but also not something to rush." Which was why he'd decided it was time to pay more attention to the young Patrician women who moved in the same circles he did. Not necessarily to seek a bride tomorrow, but to be aware of who was there, and how they might suit such a role. "I appreciate your point on the value of a wife with a keen mind." He added with a small smile. It gave him a criteria to consider.

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"Indeed she was," Aulus agreed. "And you are quite right - it might be a responsibility, but that is no reason to rush. Most men have established their careers before they think about marriage, after all. You have at least ten years or so before you really need to think about taking a wife."

Aulus had married at twenty-nine, but he was rather exceptional - he'd still been a Tribune and probably should have waited until returning to Rome, except he'd been in post in Greece and Horatia had been there and her father had not objected (nor had Aulus' parents, although he'd barely waited for them to receive the news and reply to his letter).

"It is hard, when our society means that men and women live very different lives, but I would recommend finding someone you could consider to be a friend." He was not sure Horatia would appreciate him sharing any of her own slight eccentricities, and therefore refrained; she was very formal and aware of her position in society, and while he appreciated the keenness of her mind that didn't shy away from reading somewhat more unusual texts (in what world could a woman studying military texts be considered usual, after all?), he was not about to share a secret that wasn't his to share.

He considered it a disservice that women were dissuaded from learning even theoretical things about the military and politics - but then, would they be content with just the theory? If that was allowed to all women, the exceptional women would then press for political and military careers of their own, and Rome could never withstand that.

 

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Aulus's advice was sound, and Tiberius knew that he was too young to wed by Roman standards. The logical thing to do was establish his career first, sort out his own Domus and get his incomes in order, then seek a suitable woman to be his wife when his term in the military was over. Life would be far more stable and he could then offer that stability to her. That would be sensible.

But the worry that their line could end with him was still there in the back of his mind, coupled with the fact that he was becoming aware that there really were some very attractive young woman of the right age and appropriate class around now. If he waited ten years they'd all be wed, and somehow the fact that there would be more young woman, likely equally as attractive, coming of age in the future didn't seem as obvious. It was difficult being nineteen.

Find someone who was a friend, the Consul counselled. "I imagine that it would be more challenging to build a working marriage with a stranger." He agreed. Not impossible of course, people did it all the time, but friendship seemed a good foundation on which to build a life and hopefully a family. Aulus was full of good advice. Tiberius smiled somewhat self-consciously.

"Thank you for entertaining the concerns of a young man." The Consul would have many important calls on his time of course. Choosing a ripe fig, Tiberius tore it in half. "But what of the concerns of the Consul?" He asked in turn. "I'm sure Titus Augustus will wish to speak with you, but if I can assist, or convey anything on your behalf, you have but to say." The fig was sweet and ripe, and the man before him carried much of the weight of Rome on his shoulders.

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"I imagine that it would be," Aulus agreed dryly. There were plenty of good strong marriages that had been built on nothing more than an arrangement between the parents of the happy couple, but equally there were plenty of arranged marriages that had ended in divorce when one partner or the other grew unhappy with the arrangement - or found that they had rather stronger feelings than they should for someone not their husband or wife.

He studied the young man before him with growing respect. "The recent issues in Britannia and along the border with Germania seem to have been solved, but I am not altogether happy with the situation that seems to be developing along our border with Parthia. After all, they have an empire similar in size and power to ours, being the successor to Alexander, and where two such powers meet, there are often tensions. I think it would be well to keep a close eye on what is going on there."

It would likely simmer for a while, of course, but there needed to be a quick and decisive response when - if! - things did come to a head.

 

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"It has been fifteen years since the non-aggression pact." Tiberius observed on the subject of the Parthian Empire. Fifteen years of peace that his adoptive father had negotiated whilst Consul. "Let us hope that we can continue my father's good work." There was always a risk, where two Empires rubbed shoulders, that one might decide it needed a little more room. War with the Parthians would be costly, they were no small kingdom to be easily overwhelmed by organised Roman legions. Previous wars with them had last years, most over the disputed territory of Armenia, which acted as a buffer zone.

But now the Consul had concerns, and where a man so experienced in both military and politics had concerns, they were to be taken seriously. "What are the developments on the Armenian border?" He asked, interested. The nature of the unrest might give them some idea as to how things might progress, and even what they could do to stop them doing so.

Could they stop the situation, before it boiled over? Diplomacy was always preferable to war, in Tiberius's mind. It cost far fewer lives.

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"It may come to nothing, of course, but there have been incursions of one sort or another along the border for a while, despite best efforts otherwise." He rested his forearms on the table's edge, and steepled his fingers. "Lightly-armed bands of raiders can easily evade our more heavily-armed troops, after all, and there are only so many cavalry auxiliaries with a legion. And building fortifications takes both time and money, though that may be a much lesser cost in the long run. And of course, they control a vast amount of trade on the Silk Road to the east, for things such as silk and spices."

It was a pretty puzzle, of course - and those incursions might not come to anything in the end. Equally, they might be the precursor of another war, which he was not sure Rome could win. Even a few generations before, some of their greatest generals had been hard-pressed to win against the Parthians, for whom the 'Parthian shot' was named, and even a technical victory against the Parthian general Pyrrhus had been very nearly as costly as an outright defeat.

 

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Tiberius listened with interest as Aulus described the situation along their Parthian border. "Do we know whether these are local raiders operating independently, or state sanctioned incursions?" He asked, thinking about the implications of both. The latter was serious of course. Few states appreciated their citizens operating outside the law, even if it was against a neighbour they didn't like. Who knew what they got up to within Parthian borders as well?

"The Parthians are famous for their cavalry." Just as the Romans were famous for the number and discipline of their infantry. The Parthian skill on horseback made their military quick and light, able to undertake lightning strike incursions. "Fortifications are an investment, as you say, which may or may not pay off." A big investment, and not a movable one, so depending on where the incursions were ocuring, they might have to be extensive to be effective.

Was there some other way to manage the Parthian incursions? "Could we target the horses?" He asked, almost rhetorically. "They are the Parthian strength." And without them they were no match for the Roman military, surely.

@Sharpie

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"I don't believe we know for certain either way," Aulus admitted. "I suspect that they are local raiders who would probably steer clear but they have been prompted to do so in order for the government to see what our response is likely to be, which will give the Parthian government plausible deniability and make it look as if we're the aggressors if we respond. And in the meanwhile, innocent people living along the border are being needled little by little."

And compared to Parthian cavalry - or even irregular local raiders on horseback - Roman infantry was slow and lumbering. Good when in place and able to respond, but slow to get somewhere - even at the vaunted marching pace of twenty-five miles in a day, they could not respond quick enough to the lightning-fast raids that Aulus understood were taking place in various places along the border. Set the troops up in one place, a raid would occur a few miles away and the perpetrators would be long gone by the time help arrived.

Cavalry would be a good deterrent, but they just did not have enough mounted soldiers to be able to protect the entire border.

"They are. Horses are highly prized among the peoples of that area, and are unlikely to be left unprotected."

Diplomacy would be much the best solution, of course - it always was - but if these raids were done by locals, with or without official sanction from above, Aulus was not convinced diplomacy would be much help.

He popped an olive into his mouth. A moment later he said, "And in the meantime, until it is stopped by whatever means, it is the locals who suffer - it may be designed to turn them against Rome as much as anything else. 'If the Romans can't protect you, we can...'"

 

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"Certainly it is plain that the Parthian government is not attempting to stop the raiders, if they are not directly supplying them." Which made a difference politically since there was such a think as plausible deniability, but none at all to the poor people being raided. And whilst Rome did not need to goad it's nearest neighbour, nor provide an excuse for war, it had a duty to protect it's citizens.

It was complicated. Roman infantry, whilst incredibly well organised and efficient, could not move as fast as cavalry. Rome didn't have the number of horses needed to compete with the Parthians at their own game. Archers were effective but the Parthians were archers too, and the way that the Romans would normally gain the advantage would be to build fortifications, which as Aulus pointed out took time and cost money. And this was a problem now.

Tiberius suggested targetting the horses, and Aulus pointed out that they would usually be well guarded. But Tiberius hadn't meant when they weren't in use. He paused, popping a date into his mouth as he thought about how to put into words what he was trying to say. What was he trying to say exactly? "I mean when they're in use." He said eventually, with care. "Can we equip the vulnerable settlements along the border with something to help turn the horses?" He worked the idea through in his mind. "When I was riding one day, my horse shied at a piece of clothing on a line, flapping in the breeze. Banners might scare them." He suggested, thinking aloud. Then what he'd been searching for became clear. "Or.. what about dogs? We have hunting dogs, and a few hunters with dogs can move quickly. Train the dogs to attack horses."

Hunting dogs would attack boars, which were far more dangerous. Why not horses? If the raiders lost precious horses every attack, they might not be so keen to venture out. Especially if they weren't getting direct support from their government. "Send one of the dogs to the King of Parthia as a gift." He added with a small smirk.

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