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Late August, 76AD

Summer was drifting to a close and Horatia was grateful. There was a breeze through the domus that she sorely needed as she hesitated for a moment in the gardens, letting it blow the edge of her palla and the hem of her stola. She'd been out that morning and hadn't bothered to undress again into something more informal now she was back home. She fluttered her eyes shut and took an inhale deep in through her nose, filling out her lungs until she couldn't take in another gasp and then she exhaled, trying to straighten her thoughts, trying to make this work. She had always been a woman of great composure, and even now she found that she couldn't cry - she attributed that to the shock more than anything else. She did another long, languid breath to try and draw in some of the serenity from the gardens and then when it did nothing to help the beating of her heart against her ribs, she turned on her heel and strode through to the open side of Aulus' tablinum. 

She lingered on the edge, choosing to lean against one of the pillars. "Do you have a moment?" It was rare he was in at this time of day - usually he was at the senate, or seeing clients or otherwise engaged with their new Caesar at the consilium. She chose to see that as a fortuitous sign from the Gods, rather than the coincidence it was. 

She had been unwell for weeks. It had started with a tiredness that she couldn't shake; she'd wake up in the mornings and be so exhausted she had to return to her bed by noon. It was unlike her, but she'd convinced herself and her family that it was just some ague going around that she doubtless picked up from some of the women she saw at her book club, or the new charitable endeavour she was researching with one of Tiberius' clients - a man who ran a slew of boarding houses (which Horatia had a mind to turn into something solely for women). Then, of course, the nausea had started. Foods she had used to enjoy turned her stomach but again - she had pushed aside concerns from her slaves and instead insisted that it was a consequence of the tiredness. It was only when she fainted because she'd not eaten anything until cena, that Aulus had insisted she see a medicus. The news had torn through her like an arrow to the gut. 

'And your menses? Regular?'

'No,' She'd replied - because the silphium she religiously took made them erratic. 

'When was the last time you bled?' 

'Two...perhaps three months ago.' 

'And nothing since then?' 

Nothing. Usually there was...something, but for close to three months there had been nothing. And the kindly old man with his gentle smile had tapped her on her hand and chuckled. Exhaustion, nausea, tenderness of the abdomen, no bleeding. She was pregnant. She was thirty-three years old, with a Consul for a husband, two teenage children, a lifetime supply of silphium stashed in her bedroom and she was pregnant. She had thrown up in the middle of his office. He'd merely laughed. She felt like she would wretch forever. 

Despite the precautions she'd taken, and every single fibre of her being being filled with dread at the prospect of another birth, it was happening. There was nothing for her to do. Besides tell her husband. She offered a wan smile and spoke again; "I can come back, if you're in the middle of something." 

 

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Horatia would not be amused if she discovered precisely how worried her husband had been, Aulus thought. Worried enough that he had insisted she see a medicus, practically ordering her slave to take her to the one they usually saw and threatening dire things if she didn't. He had cut his morning short and was in his tablinum, ostensibly working but in reality merely rearranging things and trying not to fret about his wife.

He had discarded his toga but hadn't changed out of the white tunic with its broad purple laticlavus.

"Of course I have a moment for you, my dove," he said, looking up and hoping his worry wasn't too obvious to her. She looked... Well, she looked well. As well as anyone would if they hadn't been eating properly or sleeping well, anyway - not that he was sure of either of those things, but he had his suspicions.

He closed the wax tablet (he hadn't been writing anything much, simply declining Greek nouns in extremely messy handwriting) and set it aside, misjudging its position on his marble desk so that it clattered to the floor behind him as he crossed to his wife.

"Is everything all right?"

 

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She hadn't expected him to stand and blinked as he crossed to her. She nodded, and slipped beside him - leaving a soft squeeze on his forearm and moved to sit in one of the chairs usually reserved for his guests, opposite from the big stone, imposing desk. 

"Where are Titus and Calpurnia?" She was stalling, even though she'd rehearsed this conversation in her head on the journey back and knew exactly what to say and how she would plaster lovely, fake grin on her face and feign happiness. Her children - her current children, she corrected herself - would have to be told as well, but that could wait. Aulus could not.

She was supposed to be happy at this news - she remembered finding out about her first pregnancy - how she'd practically sprinted through their little rented house in Greece, skidding to a stop in his office and bumbling out the words before he'd even had a chance to greet her - grin stretching from ear to ear and voice breathless with joy. But then she'd found out about Calpurnia alone in the villa in Baiae - terrified she'd get word any day that her husband had been killed and her left a widow. She'd written a letter to him, telling him the news and remembered that she hadn't known where to address it. She'd prayed it would find him. So in the scheme of things, this admission wasn't the worst but it certainly wasn't the best. Still, she needed to pretend it was.

She cleared her throat and plastered on a small smile for now; "Everything is fine, you can stop your worrying." She knew he had been tense, even if he wouldn't admit it out loud, "I..." She hesitated although it wasn't part of her rehearsed lines, she found admitting it now, out loud, so much harder - it would be real if she said it. "I'm pregnant. The medicus called in a midwife to confirm it. She thinks three or so months." She let out a breathless, soft laugh and smiled so hard her cheeks ached. 

 

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"Titus is with his tutor, declaiming Cicero's first speech against Catiline and doing rather well at it -much better and I'd be out of a job, I think. Calpurnia has gone to see a friend." He stepped aside so that she could sit down, which left him leaning against his desk, trying not to look as worried as he felt.

Apparently it wasn't working because she had to reassure him. After a marriage as long as theirs, they knew each other almost too well!

He blinked. "Pregnant? You're pregnant?" A smile appeared on his face. "Juno be praised!"

He took his winecup, tipping out a libation to the Queen of Heaven herself before offering the rest of the wine to Horatia, coming to kneel beside her and wrap his arms around her. "You're pregnant!"

 

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Horatia wordlessly took the cup of wine and downed a gulp of it as Aulus manoeuvred himself to hug her. This was as expected; she knew he delighted in being a father, he'd doted on Titus after his birth and those long years of absence had been difficult for him to reconcile when he'd returned home, she knew that. She let out a forced laugh of faux-surprise and laid a hand on the back of his neck, nodding and repeating his words; "I'm pregnant." and utterly, utterly terrified. 

"I know it's been thirteen years since Calpurnia," Although that hadn't been her last pregnancy - there had been the loss in Raetia which she had never admitted to him but suspected he knew of anyway, "But I don't know why I didn't think this could be the cause. I remember being exhausted at first, with her and Titus." The cravings, she was sure, would start in earnest as well soon. Fortunately figs and honey weren't difficult to come by. 

Gently prising his arms off of her waist, she ran her fingers over his face, looking at him deeply; "You're happy?" I wish I was. 

 

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"I'm happy," he said, looking up into her face. "I missed so much with Titus and Calpurnia, after all."

But Horatia was older now than when she had borne Calpurnia, and pregnancy was not something to be taken lightly, not by anyone. But she had borne two healthy children - it had been so many years since Calpurnia's birth that he suspected there might have been a third that had not gone to term but it was only a suspicion and he would not ask if she would not say.

He would do anything for her to bear this child safely.

"I know..." He laced his fingers with hers. "If there is anything I can do, you only have to say."

 

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"You shall have to be my errand boy, when I start to get too big to move and have all the unreasonable demands I had with the first two." She vividly remembered when she was pregnant with Titus, requesting all sorts of peculiar food combinations in the middle of the night, or freezing cold baths in the height of winter. 

She swallowed and shrugged her shoulders - straight back to practicalities and planning, as rehearsed: "I'll still be with child, Juno willing, when your term ends." If she was three or so months now, then the child would be due in February or thereabouts. "I suppose we shall see what plans the new Caesar has for you and your Governorship about whether it is sensible for me to join you somewhere, if he intends to send you off immediately." That would make it easier, she thought to herself, if he wasn't here at the birth. She had endured the horrors of what had happened with Calpurnia alone and only informed her parents-in-law afterwards some watered down truth. It would be easier for her to manage; if she knew he wasn't waiting outside the door, if the worst should happen again.

 

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"If the new Caesar intends for me to have a Proconsulship anywhere, it may not be immediately my term in office is over," he pointed out soberly. He did not know the new Caesar the way he knew the previous one, after all, so what position he would have afterwards was a mystery.

"I have promised to take his brother as a Tribune, if I do end up with such an appointment," he said. That was something to be discussed at another time, though, of course.

"Three months," he said thoughtfully. "That will make it February - surely that is early enough in the year that I could ask for a delay in being posted anywhere." At least until the child was born and Horatia recovered enough to make the journey to - wherever.

He didn't want her to be alone again going through things. Not that he planned to be in the room, of course. But somewhere within the house, at least, where she would know he was at hand.

Oh, the sacrifices he would make to Juno and any other deity who had even the slightest interest in childbirth and motherhood!

 

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Horatia sighed and traced soft patterns on the side of his face, across his jaw and then sweeping up to his forehead. "You shouldn't delay on my account. If they urgently need you somewhere," Then Empire over family and that was the way it was - even for a man as steadfast and loyal to his familia as Aulus was, "But we have time to see and you have time to speak to Caesar, gauge what he may do with you next." 

The hand that played across his face dropped to her stomach, not yet showing any hint of pregnancy but if history with Calpurnia or Titus had taught her anything, it wouldn't be long before a bump appeared. She tried to keep the smile on her face, even as she sighed. She had rattled through the positives of this; if it went well (which to her - was a big, enormous if), then she'd have ius trium liberorum and would no longer be under the hand of her father. But that was a weak positive for her; she didn't mind the protection being under his hand afforded her, and had no ambitions otherwise. She cleared her mind of such thoughts, lest they show on her face. 

"Are you hoping for a son or a daughter this time around?" They had one of each, after all.

 

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"We will see what happens when the time comes, there's no point crossing the bridge before we reach it, my sweet," Aulus told her. He would only ask Caesar when it drew closer to the time.

Horatia did not look as happy as she pretended to be; there was something in her eyes and the tightness of her mouth that hinted at her true feelings. If she didn't want to speak of them, Aulus wouldn't push - well, not too hard, anyway.

"I don't mind, we have one of each and I will be happy with whatever the gods send," he told her, resting his hand on top of hers. "What is troubling you - if there's anything I can do, you only have to say."

And if there was nothing that he could do for her except listen, well, he would listen.

 

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She sighed and cast her eyes to the side. They'd been married for so long and Aulus had an observant nature anyway, that she knew he'd pick up on some clue she'd missed in her attempt to pretend she was joyous. Shrugging deeply, she shifted in her chair until she was facing him and moved her eyes back to his face. She'd practiced for this, rehearsed it in her head on the off-chance he had queried her reaction. 

"It's just a surprise, that's all." She managed a tight smile. "It's been eight years since you came home and we haven't been blessed with another. I suppose I thought the Gods had decided two was enough, and...I had come to terms with that." That was plausible, wasn't it? The reason for her muted reaction? She had been foolish that day in Baiae when she'd bared her soul and the trauma on the road. She'd had a stern word with herself that evening that she wouldn't do it twice. The assault was one thing to admit; she had been blameless. Secretly taking contraception to prevent giving  her husband a third child was a whole other situation. 

"But we will manage it." She squeezed his hand firmly, "Together." 

 

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He stroked her hand with his thumb. Her reason made sense - eight years was a long time, and it meant that she was that much older now (he was not going to think what that might mean for this pregnancy, his wife, or the child).

"Together," he affirmed, repeating her statement and returning the squeeze she had given his hand. This time they would be together, too - he would not be separated from her during this period if he could help it; they had been separated shortly after Titus' birth and again before Calpurnia's and he did not want his wife to feel alone or abandoned again.

It would mean her third child, too, and under the Lex Julia, that meant her emancipation from her father - though Aulus suspected that meant rather less to Horatia than it would to many other women. She had not needed her father to intervene between them or protect her from her husband in any way, and she knew that Aulus would go to the ends of the earth, take on any challenge at all, to protect his wife.

He found himself thinking what to call the child - Quintus Calpurnius Praetextatus, maybe, after the previous Emperor and his patron. Quinta, perhaps Quintilla, if it was a girl.

 

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She sighed. Well...he'd bought that. Good. She knew keeping this from him was for the best, she just hoped she maintain the facade the closer the birth came. She knew she'd be anxious, and was more likely to let something slip. Perhaps retiring to the villa might be prudent, and he could meet her closer to the birth...she shook the thoughts from her head. There was time to  plan for it, and think on the practicalities later. Well...most practicalities; some couldn't wait. 

"You should write to your father, and let him know. I'll need to write to mine." Marcus would undoubtedly be delighted, given how he doted on his grandchildren. The midwife had suggested she was out of the most dangerous part, or would be soon enough. Memories from her loss in Raetia surfaced, it had been earlier than this though. It didn't seem like she'd suffer the same fate this time around. She squeezed his hand. "And we could invite them to dinner?" 

 

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"I will - I am sure my father will be thrilled," he replied. Perhaps more thrilled that Aulus would be around and Horatia would not appear bedraggled and unkempt to dump a baby on him and declare it to be his son's.

"I am sure your father would appreciate a dinner invitation," he added, recalling the recent meeting he had had with his father-in-law. He had drunk rather too much and grown somewhat morose. Was Horatia aware of that tendency in her father? News of an impending birth would certainly distract Marcus Horatius from trying to find a suitable husband for Calpurnia (or at least from providing Aulus with a growing list of names to consider - not all of them were suitable, of course, not for someone of Calpurnia's sensitivities).

"I don't think your sister is likely to be pleased," he said quietly, knowing there was some sort of tension between Horatia and her sister and only able to attribute it to Horatia's having two children while Livia had none - of course, it could be due to almost anything, he was not privy to the details and had no wish to be other than to be a reassuring presence for his wife when she needed him to be.

 

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"I'm sure he would." She sighed. She knew her father could be difficult, and whilst she loved him and honoured him as she should, there was always a small part of her that wished he would be proud of her as he was her sister. But nobody could come close to his little Livia, in terms of affection. Publius suffered much the same...the perils of being the oldest children. 

"And I'm sure you're right on that as well." She offered an uncharacteristic eye roll. Things with Livia had been more sour than ever, and their once frequent letters had dropped to practically naught as of late. She was half-minded not to tell her at all, but she knew it would get back to her little sister eventually and then she'd suffer through the inquisition of 'why didn't you tell me!'. She wondered if that was worse than putting up with her moods once she knew. If only her husband would do his duty and get her with child...she knew her sister had been pregnant before, so if there was a fault, Horatia had a suspicion it was not on her part. Then again, for all Horatia knew that could very well have been the reason for the silence. Imagine that...Livia finally with child...she resolved to write again. 

"You'll have to let the children know as well." She mused with a sly smile. "I'm not doing it." The pair of them fought like all teenaged siblings, but she'd bet anything they'd be unified in their disgust that their aged mother was giving them another sibling...

 

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"I have to tell the children?" Aulus said. "Coward - you're the ruler of the domestic sphere, my dove." He grinned up at her. "I shall wear my toga and do it in the full majesty of their father, and have you sit there in stola and palla, having to be silent and bear it while I praise you to the heaven and pretend not to see everyone rolling their eyes at me. Including the slaves."

He was teasing her, of course - she still seemed a little out of sorts for whatever reason (probably dwelling on her difficult relationships with her relatives) and hoped the light-hearted teasing would break her moodiness.

He would not call for a family assembly for it, there would be no need and he wasn't that sort of man anyway, throwing his familial authority around just because he wanted to impress people with his potestas.

Everyone in the household was aware of the authority he had, after all, he was not so unsure of himself that he needed to throw his weight around and get everyone's backs up.

 

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Horatia, despite the heavy cloud that still lingered over her, laughed, genuinely. To look at Aulus one wouldn't presume he had a particularly good sense of humour but she knew him better than that. She also knew the foolish side of him that others rarely saw; the man that fumbled over his words in a garden in Greece, and forgot most of the rights and honours at their wedding. 

"Is that how you like your wife?" She teased, with a sly smile on her lips, "Silent and bearing your oafishness?" She was joking of course. He'd come to know her forthrightness, but it rarely made an appearance - primarily because she rarely disagreed with him. When it did, she did so in the shadows of their home, not in public. "I'll tell them." She said with an eyeroll, "But you should make plans for Titus to take his toga so we can announce that at the same time. Soften the blow a little, as it were." She was sure, in time, her children would dote on a sibling but for now it would be a shock...as it was for them all.

 

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He had made her laugh, achieving his goal. "If that was how I wanted my wife to be, I married the wrong woman - and I promise that I don't intend to seek a divorce. You are perfect just the way you are."

Over a decade of marriage was testament enough to that, after all. For a couple of their status to only marry once was to be envied - even Augustus' wife Livia, that paragon of womanly virtue, had been married to someone else before divorcing him to marry the Emperor.

He gave her hand another squeeze. "We shall tell them, together. And I will - I think it rather fitting that our son should come of age while I'm Consul, but don't you think Calpurnia will feel... slighted?"

He would try to do something for his daughter, too, but wasn't sure what he could do that would help her feel included. The teenage years were tricky for everyone and as a man he did sometimes feel a disconnect with his only daughter.

 

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The prospect of divorce hadn't crossed her mind since those long winters without him, and for that she was glad. It had never been a serious thought - merely an unhelpful suggestion from her aggrieved family, concerned that she should be left alone for six or so years. She'd had patience though, and after a brief period of fraught reacquaintance with her husband, was supremely glad of it. 

She smiled, "It's an honour he will treasure." She had no real first hand notion of the importance of the ceremony - having never had one herself, but she understand theoretically its significance. To have such a treasured moment between father and son during his year was...well, it was undoubtedly what men and boys dreamed of. His concern for their daughter, however,r touched her and she gave him an impish smile. "You know Calpurnia, I suspect she'd be glad she's not been singled out. Besides, what could we give her?" She arched a brow, "I think any mention of a marriage would worry rather than thrill her," She was a cut different to other girls her age, "And she has enough trinkets and such. Any suggestions are warmly welcomed..." She teased, completely understanding the disconnect her husband must feel from his teenaged daughter, and deciding to pick at it...just a little. 

 

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Aulus was growing uncomfortable kneeling on the mosaic floor and reluctantly stood, relocating another chair to sit beside his wife, close enough that his knee was nearly touching hers, and took her hand again. "I think he will be as nervous as any young man on the day, though. It's more than a little nerve-wracking to take those first steps into manhood, even with the support of friends and family."

He would have to find some time to talk with Calpurnia, to reassure her, he thought. Girls - young women - so often played second fiddle to their brothers; their whole society was set up that way. It did not mean that he thought any less of her, though he wasn't sure she really realised that.

"There's no rush to find her a husband just yet," he said. "I mentioned the new Emperor's brother a moment ago, Tiberius Claudius Sabucius - I think he would make a good husband for her." He couldn't help the slightly amused smile that came to his face. "I have said that I will take him as my Tribune should I be sent anywhere as Proconsul - and that would give them time to get to know one another. There's no rush."

 

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Horatia smiled. Titus was the more outgoing of her children - Calpurnia seemed to have inherited her more reserved nature - but she still knew her son had a sentimental side. He was probably terrified and joyous about the ceremony at the same time. "The only thing I can relate it to is when we women get married. And I wasn't so nervous about that." She gave him a soft smile. That was a lie, she had been nervous - but not at her choice or the man she was marrying. Even back then she was confident she'd made the correct choice.

With an arched brow she surveyed her husband. She'd not had the pleasure of meeting Claudius Sabucius, but she'd heard complimentary things. That Aulus had him in mind, likewise, spoke to his favour. "Devious." She chuckled. Then again, she'd gotten to know him whilst he was serving as Tribune...but she hadn't been the daughter of the Governor of Achaia, much as her father probably imagined himself that important. "But you're right, no rush. I was eighteen when we were married." Although she had a failed engagement before that, "And Calpurnia's only recently thirteen." Squeezing his hand, she offered him a light smile although a heaviness still sat around her. "Perhaps we have a dinner, to celebrate Titus and his taking of the toga, and...this news," Her smile grew a fraction tighter, "And we could ask Calpurnia to help organise it? It would be good practice for her, and I think she'd rather the honour of that responsibility than a new necklace or such." 

 

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"Devious? That's a new one," Aulus said. "I've heard all sorts of epithets, a great many of them vastly uncomplimentary, but I can't say I've heard anyone call me 'devious' before. Anyway, it's entirely possible that they won't get along. I'll only really start worrying if she's still not married in ten years' time." And if that timespan didn't help settle her nerves - and Horatia's - there was very little else Aulus could do.

His wife's suggestion was a good one. "I don't know how Titus will feel about it, but yes, I think that is a good idea. If you oversee it and veto any truly outrageous ideas - although I don't think Calpurnia is likely to come up with anything truly outrageous, she isn't that sort of girl." He turned serious again. "I wonder if Tiberius would like to come to dinner sometime - if not for this celebration, perhaps a more intimate convivium, maybe with his sister?"

 

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"You clearly haven't been reading the graffiti around the city closely enough." She chuckled, teasing. She paid it no mind; there were seemingly an equal number of those lauding him as those criticising him, but she suspected many of the latter had no idea why they didn't like her husband, only that they thought they should make a statement against some seeming injustice. 

"It's not up to Titus." She remarked with a shrug. She knew her son would one day be an important man, but for now - despite teenage petulance - he was still under the authority of his father and grandfather, and her, when she so chose to wield her (limited) power. "And of course," She said amused, "I won't handover complete control." Organising events was very much the bread and butter of her life, or part of it anyway. She was sure at this point she could recall and produce a list of who's who in Rome and vendors for events in her sleep, if required. His suggestion intrigued her though and she arched a brow. "You're fond of him?" Aulus must have met a great many young men in his line of work, and few were invited to dinner. "For any particular reason?" It wasn't a no, but did suggest she'd want more information before she agreed. 

 

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"Such a voracious reader that you even read the graffiti on the walls around the city, scurrilous though it may be," Aulus said, amused. "I did see the piece declaring that I'm apparently the worst consul Rome has ever had, but I think you could replace my name with that of any other consul Rome has ever had. People write things like that because they have some paint, a little time and a grasp of basic writing skills. I notice the author didn't attempt to spell my nomen or cognomen, probably because they are beyond his limited level of literacy."

He crossed his legs, getting more comfortable. "Honestly? I don't know him that well, but he strikes me as a very thoughtful young man, who knows he lacks experience and is willing to learn. I'm not sure if he reminds me most of myself at that age, or of you - and I think he would be a good role model for our son. And if I do end up being posted somewhere next year, surely it would be good if he is already familiar with my family?"

 

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"I've read all the scrolls and codices' in my library twice over now, I need something new to pick up. The walls of our city have a great many secrets on them." Including a particularly flattering reference to her own figure accompanied by a drawing so crude she thought she might choke, which she chose not to bring up now. "And pay it no mind," She laughed - "I suspect next year they'll merely scrub your name out and add in the next Consul." 

She listened to his rationale with an inquiring mind. This was good - it was the perfect distraction from her current state and the worries associated with it. She didn't believe she'd be able to effectively ignore her pregnancy for the remaining six months, but if she could ignore it for now then she'd be pleased. "You should have become a lawyer, Aulus. It's a good argument." She chuckled and adjusted her position on the chair, her back aching, "I suppose it's a good idea. Is he in Caesar's consilium?" She'd be surprised if he was, given his age, but you never knew with the imperials. "And I'm taking your suggestion he might remind you of me as flattery, rather than a denigration of my womanhood, my love." 

 

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