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November, 76AD

Longinus strained against the lead looped around Ragum's neck. The dog was only eight months old and already up to his thigh, he had no idea how big it was supposed to be but as he loitered at the Portico, he regretted bringing his birthday gift. Titus had really outdone himself with this one, and despite the fact that Celsus had said women liked pets, he wasn't convinced Sergia would like this one. He glanced over his shoulder to the brawny Dacian and gave him a look. He should have brought Attis, he would have talked him out of this. 

Negotiations had been going on for months now but he hadn't had a chance to see the lady alone. She'd attended the dinner with her Uncles but he couldn't quite get the measure of the young woman and if he was going to press ahead with a marriage, he needed to know it would work and wouldn't end in disaster as it had done with Antonia, and with Sestia. The thought of both women made a lump form in his throat which he swallowed down. 

He shook off the thought as Celsus cleared his throat, gesturing with a jerked head to a woman and small entourage approaching from the left - naturally, for her honours sake, she couldn't come completely alone. Ragum let out a bark of glee and Longinus was glad he prioritised his fitness and health so he could actually manage to pull the dog back. He grinned at Sergia and inclined his head. "Salve Sergia Auletia," Ragum barked again and Longinus chuckled, "Ragum also says hello." 

 

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So it was finally happening. It is not often that a living person's absence is felt more strongly than their physical presence, but this was certainly the case now. Freedom to move unimpeded without the constant tug of the leash her uncles' constant observation bound to her. But now was not the time to indulge her inner frolicking puppy. Sergia was here to play the good matron, to convince this man, older than her and practically a stranger, that she was worthy of becoming his wife. She didn't really feel like any of those things. But now was the time to become a woman, though she felt she was little more than a girl. Don't worry so much, Sergia. This is what you've always dreamed of. So why all of a sudden do I want to go running back to my uncles?

She stopped short of the Portico as the party approached, her eyes scanning the figures strolling beneath the columns as her maids fluttered about her, pinning up curls that had fallen loose and adjusting the brooches at her shoulders. Eventually the hands retreated, darting back only to make a few final adjustments. "That's enough," said Sergia firmly. "It's time." Chin high, shoulders back. Walk slowly and confidently.

She clocked Longinus' presence immediately upon entering the Portico. Neither Longinus nor his slave companion was of particularly weedy constitution, but their stature was rendered somewhat less imposing by the presence of the huge, slavering hound straining at its rope, forcing Longinus to lean backwards with his whole bodyweight to counter its massive pull. Sergia had been trying to make a steady and dignified approach, but she couldn't help faltering at the sight of the dog. Whether Longinus intended to intimidate her or not, she did not know - the animal didn't seem particularly aggressive, at least, just enthusiastic - but she couldn't help but feel rather ill at ease.

Eventually her suitor succeeded in dragging the animal back to his side. Sergia forced herself to turn her attention to him instead of his pet as he flashed her one of those rather alluring grins. Little creases appeared at the corners of his eyes as he smiled.

"Salve, Sergia Auletia. Ragum also says hello."

"Salve, Senator Longinus,"  - she brushed a strand of hair out of her flushed face and gave a shaky smile - "and, er, pleased to meet you, Ragum. What a handsome dog. I have always liked animals."

She gave Ragum her best effort at an appreciative glance, not quite mustering the courage to reach out and pet the thing. She wasn't lying when she said she liked the company of animals, it was just that she preferred ones that didn't look like they'd have your fingers off if you got within five paces.

@Sara

 

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He saw her face and immediately wanted to swipe Celsus over the head for suggesting he bring the dog. He glanced between her and Rugam and could see precisely why that light frown of worry was on her forehead. He'd lived with the dog for over half a year and knew it was about as vicious as a butterfly, but to look at its wrinkly face and enormous frame, it didn't exactly appear so. He cleared his throat. "You don't have to lie," He chuckled with an easy grin, "He's ugly as b-" balls"Anything, but he's a gentle giant really. A gift from Senator Sulpicius Rufus, a joke gift I think." He held out the lead to his right and Celsus begrudgingly stepped forward to take it. Rugam let out an almighty bark and if dogs could smile, that's exactly what he was doing. 

"Do you want to walk a bit?" He gestured with his head through the portico. He had boundless energy for a man only a few years off forty, and that energy was only exacerbated when he was nervous. He shouldn't be nervous, he was a very decent prospect for a patrician maiden, although nonetheless he was. His history with one deceased wife and one failed engagement didn't exactly make him feel confident that he'd fare any better in the future. "You look lovely by the way." He smiled at her, trying to relax a little. 

 

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Sergia pressed her lips together and looked away to disguise her amusement at Longinus' almost-slip-of-the-tongue. She could understand why he checked himself - that wasn't the kind of language that patrician girls were used to - but the 'prim and proper' behaviour that had been drilled into her didn't interest Sergia. Nonetheless she held her tongue and disguised her relief (was it relief that she was feeling? That this man wasn't the dry humourless senatorial type?). Even if Longinus came to appreciate her attitude later, it suited her now to play the sensible, well-brought-up maiden. That was the kind of girl men liked to think they were marrying.

Despite his reassurances as to Ragum's benign nature, Sergia couldn't help but feel relieved as the animal was handed over to a slave.

She inclined her head graciously when Longinus suggested they take a stroll, falling into a slow pace beside him, her eyes fixed modestly on the floor in front of her. I wonder what he's thinking. Is he looking at me? I can't tell. Her entourage flocked around her as they walked, barely an arm's length away from her, ready to perceive ever gesture, drink in every word, report back every movement to her uncle. Untrustworthy, insidious little creatures, scurrying under her feet.

"Oh back off, by Hercules, or I'll..."

It slipped out before she could stop herself, her hand flicking out to bid the slaves retreat. She was perfectly right to admonish them - a slave should aim to blend into the background, not become a pest to their mistress - but she didn't want to give the impression of potentially being one of those nightmare matronae barking orders at resentful slaves and making the whole house a misery. And it really wasn't her practice to be so short with slaves - her relationship with her cousin Teutus came to mind - but these girls' loyalty was to Uncle Secundus, and she wasn't going to let him ruin this occassion. By the gods, she hoped Longinus wasn't thinking all these things!

"You look lovely by the way."

Sergia allowed herself to smile. Of course. His mind was on the moment, on simpler things. On her. He spoke steadily and masterfully, but there was also something strangely bashful about his demeanour. Perhaps he too was nervous, though why she did not know; she was the one who had to impress.

She bit her lip and turned to look him in the eyes, her smile showing now.

"That's kind of you to say. And kind of you to notice:" she raised her eyebrows, "I've had my maids poking and patting me for hours. But you also look..."

Was she supposed to compliment him back? The Roman male didn't pride himself on perfectly coiffed hair or lavender-scents, and she was worried he'd take it the wrong way. He was, after all, naturally, ruggedly, Romanly handsome, with those twinkling eyes and those creases when he smiled, not some perfumed Greek pretty-boy.

She faltered: "I mean... you are looking in rude health, with a very nice colour on you." Gods, Sergia, shut up! She wanted to blush and turn away, but her anxiety to see his reaction kept her eyes locked dangerously on his face.

@Sara

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Longinus stifled a snort of amusement as she shoed her slaves further back, and managed to disguise it as a cough, pretending to clear his throat and take in the view. From the corner of his eye he saw one of her girls give a little pout and slow her pace, straining to hear their conversation. He glanced at Celsus - his big, hulking Dacian who gave him a grin and started, in his accented Latin, very obviously chatting the women up. Judging by the blushes on their cheeks, it was working.

Longinus grinned and inclined his head. Before he'd married the first time, the rituals of women were an enigma to him. Antonia had educated him, however, on the art of hair styling and make-up and why it took her almost three hours to dress for dinner or an engagement. He suspected Sergia had been likewise tortured by the ministrations of her women, although she looked good for it. Her compliment, however, set him genuinely laughing - a wide, beaming grin sitting on his lips as it settled. "It's the running." He tossed his hair - in desperate need of a cut - dramatically, with a grin, trying to make her feel more at ease. "Up before dawn and then out through the Campus Martius to the Porta Flaminia, and then back to my domus in Regio XII. Gives me that nice wind-swept look." He chuckled. He preferred to take his exercise on the streets than at the thermae, but at least had the sense to do so when few others could see him and pass judgement. 

"You don't have to be nervous you know," Although he supposed asking her not to be nervous wasn't going to help much. "I'm not that frightening...ask my slaves, they'll say I'm an idiot really." Or Attis would, at least.

 

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Thanks the gods, Longinus didn't seem to judge her - far from it, he was now chuckling gently. She wasn't quite sure what had amused him, but she was glad. Perhaps he could come to love her eventually, if she kept this up and didn't let her guard down. That was if he even decided he would marry her.

She herself took to grinning as he proudly gave the details of his exercise routine. "I see."

"You don't have to be nervous, you know."

Damn. So he had noticed. She appreciated his comments though, more than she'd admit, but found herself saying, "Ah, but that's where you're wrong, Senator, with respect. I'm here, pretending that this is simply a casual conversation, when we both know full well that a large part of my future rests on your impression of me. If you decide I will not make a suitable wife, then you can simply tell Uncle as such and seek another woman. You also already have children, and a successful career. I, on the other hand, am twenty-two years of age and as yet unmarried, which for a woman is a great deal more serious than it is for a man." It suddenly struck Sergia that she had been speaking for rather a long time. Her brain was begging her to stop, but she'd already gone this far. She made sure to smile at Longinus, to show her tone was still light. "It's not you that I am frightened of, but rather of your rejection."

Oh gods. She'd really done it now.

@Sara

 

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Longinus was startled to an almost stop, but had the sense to keep walking after a brief hesitation as she spoke. He did not mind forthright women, in fact he rather liked them; Antonia had thrown plenty of pots and plates and cups at his head throughout their years married and Sestia had been well...Sestia. But he was supposed to be avoiding that now; he was supposed to be aiming for a nice, sweet, pliable young woman who could give him a son and not give him any bother. A small voice piped up in his head though; where is the fun in that? He tried to shut it down as best he could but as he gave her a sidelong glance and met her smile, his grin widened. 

"You place too much importance on what think Sergia." He offered with his grin still stretching across his face and an amused twinkle in his eyes. "You are twenty two," He offered, "But that's not the end of the world, and your uncle, Praetor Varus, has influence. I'm just a man." He chuckled again, "With a poor track record when it comes to wives and weddings and an even poorer track record of staying in Italia." If she was being honest  then he'd do likewise. "My successful career means I'm in my late thirties without an heir or a prospect of one, and no mother for my daughter. It also means I've spent so long in the wilds of Britannia that I don't really know what I'm doing now I'm back in Rome." That wasn't completely fair - he knew what to do, he just didn't enjoy the politicking. 

If she were a man and not a proper unmarried woman he would have nudged her to impress that he really wasn't that important and his rejection shouldn't matter. He was blind to the woes of her life thus far. "But I'm not in a mind for rejections, and this is only the first time we've actually spoken without one of your uncles breathing down my neck, so...He cast her a conspiratorial look, "What do you really enjoy doing? And if you say weaving your wool I'm sorry but I just won't believe you because how any woman can actually enjoy that is beyond me..." 

 

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By the time Longinus had stopped speaking, Sergia found herself rather short of breath. Had her girls cinched her stola more tightly today, or was it just the excitement from the fact that she'd made a gamble that had yielded spectacularly promising results? It was her turn to be taken aback by his honesty. And if she was to be honest with herself, it made her feel rather giddy. Men, she'd found, were seldom entirely honest, and even less frequently were they self-deprecating. When she had first met Longinus, she'd noticed a sort of glint in his eye that shone through the mask of cordial indifference that men adopted when doing business. It was that which she'd latched onto over the months afterwards to give herself some hope that this marriage could be more than a transaction, perhaps even a friendship. Before she'd had to content herself with stolen glances across the table. Now they were free to communicate, and he was showing through his words and actions that spark of humanity that had given her romantic side the promise of happiness she craved.

"That's nice of you to say," Sergia said.

"This is only the first time we've actually spoken without one of your uncles breathing down my neck."

It was strange to hear someone else say it out loud like that. Strangers' acknowledgement of her uncles' domineering ways was always tacit and smacked of respect for the status quo. But Longinus... he told it like it was. He took the power out of it. All the men she'd met until now had been controlling, violent egomaniacs. She'd always believed that another type of man really did exist, and perhaps, just perhaps, Longinus was one of them. If her belief was correct, that is. The last thing she wanted to do was trust him too easily and be proven horribly wrong.

"What do you really enjoy doing? And if you say weaving your wool I'm sorry but I just won't believe you because how any woman can actually enjoy that is beyond me..." 

Sergia cracked a smile. "Well, there isn't much to do at home, and it's nice to just have some peaceful girl time from time to time," she admitted, "but you're right, it can get rather tedious. What do I like? Well, lots of things I suppose: variety stops me getting bored. I like the outdoors - walking barefoot, swimming in lakes - and I dip into books now and then. Poetry mostly." Anything to escape, really. But she couldn't say that. Anyone would laugh at her silly girlish fantasies, even if that's all she really had to herself. Gods, I bet I sound frightfully dull.

@Sara

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Her smile illuminated her face and made his even wider. She really was pretty; not necessarily as drop dead stunning as some of her contemporaries but beautiful in her own way. That suited him fine. He'd gone for the most attractive woman when he was younger and had been burned with a terrible - if passionate - marriage. 

His eyebrows rose as she talked through her hobbies. "Recite me some?" He wanted to nudge her, teasingly, but decided against it and restrained himself at the last moment. Not all women were familiar with men, and this one certainly wouldn't be. "I enjoy the outdoors." He commented, rowing back, "I actually think I'd rather live anywhere than Rome if truth were told - even the countryside in Italia but such is life." He shrugged. "I suppose you've not travelled much in the Empire?" He asked and then frowned, "Although you surely didn't stay in Rome during the Civil War?" He cast his eyes, worrying, over her face. Maybe she had? Maybe the Vari were on the right side of the Emperor(s) moods back in the day but nonetheless it would have been a risky place to be. 

 

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"Recite me some?"

His eyes were kindly and sparkling, his smile could only be genuine. But what to recite? Not some of the saucier stuff - not everyone liked Ovid, though she suspected Longinus wasn't exactly a prude - but something more high-brow. Come on, Sergia. Just choose something. Her mind alighted immediately on those lines that had so enchanted her in girlhood.

"And when the infant feet
their first firm steps had taken, the small palms
were armed with a keen javelin; her sire
a bow and quiver from her shoulder slung.
Instead of golden combs and flowing pall,
she wore, from her girl-forehead backward thrown,
the whole skin of a tigress; with soft hands
she made her plaything of a whirling spear,
or, swinging round her head the polished thong
of her good sling, she fetched from distant sky
Strymonian cranes or swans of spotless wing.
From Tuscan towns proud matrons oft in vain
sought her in marriage for their sons; but she
to Dian only turned her stainless heart,
her virgin freedom and her huntress' arms
with faithful passion serving." *

Sergia realised she'd been reciting for a while in her nervousness, the words tumbling out of her memory without fault or hesitation. She faltered to a stop, smiling apologetically. "I read that often, as you can tell."

She was somewhat glad when Longinus' conversation returned to her comments on the outdoors. She was glad to hear he shared her passion for nature. Perhaps, if all went well, they'd end up living out of Rome together, somewhere with fields and vineyards and iugera of land all to themselves...?

"I too have always dreamt of leaving this city, to tell the truth," she replied, as if to express these thoughts. "My uncle's estate in Tibur is lovely sometimes, just to lose yourself in. Of course it's much nicer to lose yourself with someone else. I have no siblings, but my cousin Teutus comes with me from time to time."

"I suppose you've not travelled much in the Empire? Although you surely didn't stay in Rome during the Civil War?"

Ah. The civil war. Such matters had rather gone over Sergia's head, truth be told. Politics was of little interest to her - the Senate wall little more than a bull ring into which her Uncles and all the other egos of Rome threw themselves to clash horns. And sometimes the scrapping got a bit out of hand, meaning she and her family had had to leave Rome for a bit.

"Well, we were here and there, in and out. My uncles felt they needed some... time away from things. We spent our time at various estates in various parts of Italy. I don't pretend to understand it all," she said simply. This was a sore topic for a lot of people, but Longinus had brought it up, and so though she didn't much care whose side he was on, she chanced returning the question. Sergia knew it was always valuable to know how someone had suffered.

"And what was the war like for you?"

 

@Sara

 

* Translation by T.C. Williams as found on Perseus. Aeneid, book 11, P. Vergilius Maro.

 

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Longinus grinned, beaming at ehr recitation. "Beautiful." He commented, and meant it sincerely. "And certainly better than my tutor when I was a boy and he used to drill it into me. Although I prefer...

But you, Roman, remember, rule with all your power
the peoples of the earth—these will be your arts:
to put your stamp on the works and ways of peace,
to spare the defeated, break the proud in war.

But...I'm not always the best at following my own advice." He chuckled with a shake of his head. He was not a particularly voracious reader but had endured the schooling of all men of his class, and found a love of the classics in his own way. Nobody who had been with him in Britannia, however, could practically say he had been as merciful as Anchises willed the Romans though.

He listened to her with a flutter in his chest and a smile on his lips and nodded along; it was rare to find somebody that enjoyed the country and the landscape as much as he did. Most people he knew, and certainly young women he'd encountered, couldn't imagine a life outside of the city with his endless activities and entertainments. He felt refreshed by her company which was...promising. 

"I was hundreds of miles away in Britannia," He chuckled with a shake of his head, "Gods I was only twenty-two...twenty-three," He scratched his chin, trying to draw back the memories, "I didn't hear much but threw my weight behind Cotta," He winced, shaking his head, "In my defence this was before he kidnapped the vestal...which changed my mind, when the news reached me. I met with Quintus Caesar when he landed a couple of years later and all was forgiven." He grinned, "But yes...didn't touch me much, my mother was in Greece so was out of the worst of it." He glanced sidelong at her, "Why do you ask? Want to test my allegiances, Sergia Auletia?" He was joking, and hoped she'd recognise that.

 

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Sergia listened, rather subdued, to Aulus' account of his activities during the Civil War.

"Why do you ask? Want to test my allegiances, Sergia Auletia?"

"Gods, no, sir! I hope I didn't..." then she caught the twinkle in his eye. "Oh. Well, as I said, I don't know much about politics and war."

But something about his recitation and his comments afterwards piqued her attention. "'To spare the defeated' ... I'm not always the best at following my own advice." His readiness to admit fault was an admirable quality, no doubt about it, but Sergia's heart lay in peacetime and in the gentle country life. Yes, men behave differently in times of war, and she didn't pretend to understand what it was like. But she so desperately needed Longinus to be different from that type of man that was all too common in Rome - donning civilities along with their spotless togas while in Rome, but quite prepared to cast all that aside when in the provinces, becoming just as brutal as the raging barbarian hordes they claimed to be subduing for the greater good. But were there really any men just as honourable wherever they were in the Empire? Or was violence simply in their natures?

Sergia realised she had fallen awkwardly silent.

"Your recitation... it is a sentiment I also value greatly," she faltered, in an attempt to flog the rapidly dying conversation back to life.

@Sara

 

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"If history is anything to go by, neither do I...on politics at least." he chuckled, shaking his head. It wasn't that he was bad at the politics and the games Senators in Rome played, he just had such little interest in it. War was a different animal, and whilst no (sane) man could say that he enjoyed the prospect of death and destruction in war, Longinus could admit there was a...thrill to it, along with his natural aptitude for the martial arts. 

But Sergia was silent, clearly wrestling with something in her mind. He studied her, discretely out of the corner of his eye. He was somewhat baffled when she brought the limping conversation back to his poor, school-child's recitation and he frowned, confused. Was she saying she valued mercy greatly in war? Or something more...metaphorical than that? He was bemused and shook his head; "I think we all do. Diplomacy is a virtuous endeavour," He offered with a wince, "But we can't always win Rome's wars through talking." it was a fact of life...but perhaps not the conversation he should be having on this first proper meeting with a prospective bride. He was an idiot, sometimes. 

Clearing his throat he flashed her a smile, "I hope I've not offended you. I'm not used to talking to women," He shook his head. Not Patrician women anyway, and not recently, "Perhaps you could lead?" He offered with a sly grin, "Your mother must have given you a list of polite conversation topics we should cover?" 

 

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