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Sergia slipped her hand into her covered basket as if searching for something inside. Really, though, her attention was focused on the flash of white cloth in the corner of her vision as a toga-clad figure swept out of the house she was lingering beside, leaning nonchalantly on a column and minding her own business. A glance upwards when it was safe to do so confirmed his identity: yes, Longinus had left for the Senate. Sergia inhaled. Part of her resented the opportunity to do what she was about to do. It simply wasn't proper for a young lady to to snooping round her suitor's house, inciting his slaves to betray his confidence in small ways. It wasn't even like she had any reason to doubt Longinus; he'd been entirely good to her, but perhaps that's why she felt this compulsion to investigate him. To make sure that he was just as pleasant behind closed doors as he was in public. Whatever the reason, she was here now.

Thankfully, her maidservant (because of course her uncle would hardly allow her to leave the house unaccompanied) was still acting as dozily as Sergia had hoped she would when she chose her for her companion on this little escapade. The girl was new, so not so deep under Secundus' control as the others, and was rather fond of her drink when she could get away with it. Sergia had to elbow her to get her to follow her up to the house; the girl seemed more interested in her fingernails than in keeping an eye on her mistress.

Here goes nothing.

"Salve. I am Sergia Auletia, niece of Secundus Quinctilius Varus. I was just passing and thought I would drop in to pay my compliments to the master. I hope he's not too busy?"

@Chevi

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The entire house was getting ready for Saturnalia. Which meant no one wanted to work and everybody needed to work at the same time. Metella was all over the place; Cassia was out for the day with an appropriate entourage, which meant she stayed at the household and took her time bossing Attis and everyone else around.

The doorkeeper slave disappeared to only the gods knew where. And obviously, someone chose just this time to come calling. Metella hurried to the door to greet the good-looking young woman, accompanied by a slave girl.

"Salve. I am Sergia Auletia, niece of Secundus Quinctilius Varus. I was just passing and thought I would drop in to pay my compliments to the master. I hope he's not too busy?"

Metella did not have the foggiest about who Secundus Quinctilius Varus was, but she sure as hell knew who Sergia was. Mostly from Attis. This was the woman the dominus had his eyes on, then. Metella flashed her a blinding smile.

"Welcome. I am terribly sorry, but the dominus has just stepped out. Do come in, though, domina. May I pour you a drink?"

@locutus-sum

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Sergia put on an endearingly girlish pout and did her best to feign disappointment.

"Oh no, and I only just missed him! What a shame. Well, I suppose it wouldn't hurt to stay for one drink, since I came all this way specially."

Sergia took a good look at the redheaded slave-girl as she followed her through the atrium and into the more private area of the house. Ordinarily she would not have given a mere maid a second glance, but something about her shockingly ginger hair with its little ringlets that bounced as she walked caught Sergia's attention. Slaves were not supposed to catch people's attention. The fact that this one did spelt trouble.

Gods, Sergia! Suspicion and jealousy do not become you. But that was exactly why she was here. That doubtful, bitter part of herself needed to be convinced that Longinus was the man she thought he was.

Still, she was flooded with a wave of shame as the girl gave her a friendly, unassuming smile and hurried off to give orders to the kitchen slaves to bring wine.

@Chevi

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Metella led Sergia to the atrium, where it was nice and comfortable. There were benches set up for guests, a couch to lounge on, and a small table in the shade of some citrus trees that was there for serving drinks and food. She sent one of the house slaves to bring those fresh from the kitchen, and offered Sergia a seat, fluffing up the pillows for the couch. As she did everything in an easy manner, she kept smiling, and kept her eyes on the young woman. The famous Sergia.

She looked a bit younger than Metella, and a whole lot more naive. Which was not necessarily a problem. After bad luck in love, and an atrocious first choice of a wife, the dominus deserved someone who was good to him, even if in a simple way. Simple dominas were less complicated. And even Longinus could handle one.

The slaves returned with plates of olives, grapes, and cheese, and a jug of light wine with a cup. Metella stepped back. It might have been the beginning Saturnalia, but she still knew how she was expected to treat a guest like Sergia. "Please let me know if you wish for anything else, domina."

@locutus-sum

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Sergia sat down and smoothed her skirts, smiling politely at the woman. "No, that'll be fine, thank you," she said, but as the woman nodded and turned to leave, she added, "but I wouldn't mind some company for a bit. I... well, it wouldn't hurt to get to know the kind of people Senator Longinus has in his household. While I'm here. You know?"

Play it cool, Sergia, for the gods' sakes. "Your name, first, so I can let the dominus know how hospitable you have been to me." She patted the bench beside her, inviting the woman to sit.

@Chevi

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"No, that'll be fine, thank you,"

Metella nodded, and turned to leave. The household slaves could fulfill any requests Sergia had. But before she could walk away, the young woman spoke up again.

"but I wouldn't mind some company for a bit. I... well, it wouldn't hurt to get to know the kind of people Senator Longinus has in his household. While I'm here. You know?"

Metella smiled a little as she turned back to her. So, she was not the only one curious around here. And if she played the game right, this conversation could go both ways. "Sure, domina."

"Your name, first, so I can let the dominus know how hospitable you have been to me." 

"Metella, domina. I am Cassia Antonillia's nurse." The girl was growing up with alarming speed; soon she would be a body slave, rather than a nurse.

@locutus-sum

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"Metella, domina. I am Cassia Antonillia's nurse."

So, if anyone could tell her about what her (hopefully) future stepdaughter would be like, it would be Metella. She was curious about the child: on the one hand, Sergia did love children; on the other, she was slightly concerned about being accepted as a stepmother.

"Aha, is that so? I'm sure Senator Longinus is ever so fond of his daughter. How old is she now? And what does she like? I have a lot of my old things from when I was young - some lovely dolls, some jewellery - which I would be more than happy to gift to her."

@Chevi

 

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Well, Sergia had questions. A lot of them. Metella waited patiently until she listed the most pressing ones. Tactfully avoiding the question of how fond Longinus was of his daughter (he was fond, just not good at showing it), she gave Sergia a smile.

"She is almost eleven now. She is a very bright, cheerful child. She likes to play and talk." It was clear from her smile that Metella was indeed very fond of Cassia. She had been her nurse since before she lost her mother, and their bond had become even stronger since. "She... misses her mother. But so far, she has been friendly to everyone she's met." She knew why Sergia was asking. Becoming a wife was one thing... becoming a stepmother was quite another.

@locutus-sum

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Well, a slave would never talk badly of the master's child, but Sergia could see genuine affection on Metella's face as she described the girl. She'd nursed Cassia, of course, so naturally she would be fond of her. But even allowing for exaggeration, if the girl was indeed as vibrant as Metella claimed, she'd probably get on fine with Sergia. For Sergia herself still had a kind of girlish enthusiasm and sense of wonder which hadn't left her even though it had been a decade since she was eleven.

She clearly wasn't going to get a proper picture of Cassia until she'd met her. But she could see Metella understood perfectly well why she was asking. So much for subtlety. Well, no matter. If Sergia was going to be joining the household, Metella would surely want to assess her too. "She's been friendly to everyone she's met."  Sergia hoped it would be the same for her. Life wouldn't be much fun if her stepdaughter resented her. Stepdaughter! What an odd idea. Sergia didn't think she was quite ready to be a mother figure to anyone yet. Perhaps that was for the best - Cassia would surely prefer a friend to a replacement parent.

"Well, I hope to meet her someday," said Sergia with a smile, to keep the conversation going while she collected her thoughts. "And I am sure she's as dear to you as she is to her father. I mean, my mother nursed me, but lots of my girl friends had nurses, and they are all very dear to them. And I am sure Senator Longinus appreciates your obvious affection for her." She paused, considering her next words. "But then, I may be wrong, but I imagine your master is generally more appreciative of you all that some people can be."

@Chevi

 

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"Well, I hope to meet her someday. And I am sure she's as dear to you as she is to her father. I mean, my mother nursed me, but lots of my girl friends had nurses, and they are all very dear to them. And I am sure Senator Longinus appreciates your obvious affection for her."

Longinus was soft on the inside when it came to his daughter. Metella was not going to point that out. She liked Sergia at first look, but she was too loyal to give out the dominus' weaknesses before she'd know more. The young woman was clearly paying attention to all details, and thinking quick on her feet. Metella understood her need to glean any informations that could help her make a decision.

"But then, I may be wrong, but I imagine your master is generally more appreciative of you all that some people can be."

Oooh. Diplomatic wording. Was she fishing to see if Longinus was bedding his slaves? Or to see if he was cruel?

"He is very kind to us" she nodded with a small smile. It was true. "I have been in his household since I was twelve... I have never seen him cruel. The worst he has done was send Attis... his body slave away for a few weeks to another household to learn respect. He likes order, and things running smoothly, but he gives no reason for complaint."

@locutus-sum

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