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Thessala
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July, 76AD

There was a commotion at the gates of the ludus. Thessala looked up from when she had been lounging on a bench in the courtyard. She had done some training, but she still had a few injuries from her previous fight, so decided to take it easy, at least today. The sun was bright and the heat was already getting stifling by mid-morning. She sat up, keeping to the shade, and watched as the rumor literally ran through the ludus.

Someone was back.

She watched him as he walked back to the ludus, wondering what it was like, leaving this place and then returning. Some had done it, but usually not the ones that got a more cushy gig. Wasn't this man bought as a bodyguard?... Thessala got curious. She filled another cup with wine from the pitcher cooling behind the bench, and stood up to walk over to him, offering him a drink.

"Aeneas, right? Back for a visit?"

@Sarah

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He was in a foul mood. It might have helped if he'd actually done something, or at least done it deliberately. He still wasn't entirely certain what had gotten his Domina, Claudia Corinthia, into such a mood, but him being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and making the mistake of trying to calm her down, had meant that he'd born the brunt of it. Which meant that whatever had pissed her off must have been truly spectacular because she often tolerated his efforts more than others. But not this time.

And just like that, he found himself banished from her presence, back to the ludus, where she'd originally sent him. Such were her whims. He'd actually been a gift from her mother, the much more even keeled Claudia Gaia, when he was at the slave markets fresh from Britannia, and Corinthia had apparently taken an interest in him. She'd decided to send him to the ludus so that he could die gloriously for her as a gladiator; except he hadn't died. Instead he'd garnered enough minor acclaim that she'd decided to use him as jewellery a bodyguard instead. And in serving her more closely he'd come to know her better. Or so he'd thought.

But not well enough. He'd gotten used to life in that domus, and could only hope that at some point in the future his mistress would change her mind yet again and summon him back. It certainly wasn't impossible.

Aeneas, right? Back for a visit?

He looked over at the woman walking towards him, cup in hand. The most welcome thing he'd seen on his walk of shame. He grinned.

"I wish. Back untae Madam cranky-pants changes her mind agin." He replied, gratefully accepting the cup. "Thanks. And aye, t'is Aeneas." He at least spoke Latin now, reasonably fluently, but likely only Thanatos himself could make him lose that accent. "Thessala, right?"

@Chevi

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Well, at least he was smiling. Or grinning. Either was better than sulking back into the ludus with his tail between his legs. That would have hurt him in the next fights. Thessala handed him the wine. Small gesture, but small gestures went a long way.

"I wish. Back untae Madam cranky-pants changes her mind agin."

So, he was back for the foreseeable future. "I've got more wine" she nodded towards the bench in the shade.

"Thanks. And aye, t'is Aeneas. Thessala, right?"

"The one and only" she smiled, walking ahead of him. "So, what have you done that sent you back here? Old lady couldn't keep up in bed or something?"

@Sarah

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"Yer generous, but I'd be a richt fool tae let ye dose me up wi' wine afore we spar." He replied with a wink, tossing back the last of the cup she'd given him. It was enough to clear the dust from his throat but not enough to put dust in his head. "'Less yer goin' to match me." Which would be fine by him. Sitting in the shade, drinking and bitching about Romans would suit him well right now.

He'd remembered her name right, and he remembered her spirit. They'd not known each other well but she was the kind of woman who made an impression.

He chuckled at her suggestion. "I wish. From whit I hear th'auld lady kin keep up; tis the young 'un whit owns me." Not that Gaia was old, she was in the fullness of her life and womanhood, and quite beautiful. Corinthia was beautiful too, but a young woman who had yet to appreciate - or perhaps even discover - those particular joys. "She haes a temper." He shrugged.

"So whit's new?" He asked, settling into the shade of the tree alongside Thessala.

@Chevi

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"Yer generous, but I'd be a richt fool tae let ye dose me up wi' wine afore we spar. 'Less yer goin' to match me." 

"I can" she drank some of her own wine as they walked over to take a seat. "But it is terribly hot to spar. Maybe later?" She wouldn't say no, she always enjoyed the challenge of sparring with the male gladiators. In the meantime, they could talk.

"I wish. From whit I hear th'auld lady kin keep up; tis the young 'un whit owns me. She haes a temper."

So, he was not a lover that someone got bored of. Interesting. 

"So whit's new?" 

"Not much, really. I'm still the best fighter at the ludus" she grinned at him, refilling the wine. "Haven't had big games in a while, though. I think everyone is trying to come up with something new..."

@Sarah

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Maybe later? So Thessala wasn't immediately looking to size him up and see how much he'd forgotten. Which was probably a good thing for him. He would need to get back into practice, before the next round of games. "Later works fer me." He acquiesed, and took a seat on the bench next to her, tossing back some more of the rather cheap wine. Nothing like what was served in Gaia's household, but better than nothing.

His laughter rang out, bright and mirthful, at her declaration that she was still the best fighter in the ludus. "Acourse ye are; I wuid expect nocht less." He grinned. Weren't they all the best? But the lack of big games was surprising. Could she be right about the cause?

"Is there ocht new on the Gods' earth?" He asked rhetorically, wondering - and dreading just a little - what novelty Romans might take to next. They seemed particularly appreciative of blood and gore in the arena, and he had no wish that any of it be his.

@Chevi

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"There is, if the Romans are involved. There is no end to their creativity when it comes to fucking or killing." Thessala noted. It was nice to hear the man laugh, and not contest her statement of fighting prowess. If he had, they would have had to spar sooner. But now they were in agreement about wondering what the next big thing was going to be in the arena.

"At one point, they had me fight Alexius, out of all people" she agreed with a grin. It had been a memorable night, between a gladiatrix and a former legend. "It ended up being a game of stripping. He won. But barely."

@Sarah

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He hadn't experienced much of Romans' creativity in fucking - more's the pity - but he'd certainly seen their creativity in killing. He endeavoured not to be another example of it, or at least hold it off for as long as possible. One had to die of something eventually, but personally he'd rather die in bed. Preferably someone else's bed. Someone hot and horny and... OK Aeneas focus.

"Alexius?" He echoed, recalling the man he'd met briefly in Claudia Gaia's company. The two had spoken in a way that suggested they knew each other very well, and he'd felt like something of a third wheel. But a strip tournament sounded like much more fun than a fight to the death. "Tis a shame I wasnae there tae see it." He grinned, trying to imagine what it would have been like.

Still... Thessala vs Alexis must have been something to see. After a moment the northerner cocked his head to one sight and turned to look at his companion thoughtfully, something bubbling at the back of his brain as that image was shuffled around mentally. How to explain it? "Whit aboot..." the term 'mixed doubles' wouldn't come into popular use for nearly two thousand years. "Whit aboot twa teams fichtin'." He said, after a moment, accent broadening because he wasn't paying attention to how he spoke. "Each team is a man an' a woman."

Romans always seemed to get excited about women who fought, for some strange reason.

@Chevi

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Thessala could see the amusement in the man's eyes as she mentioned her fight with Alexius. It had been all staged, obviously; they worked together, as much as against each other, to entertain the crowds. Giving a good show took two people, who pretended to be enemies.

"Alexius? Tis a shame I wasnae there tae see it." 

"We put on a good show" she admitted with a grin.

"Whit aboot... Whit aboot twa teams fichtin'. Each team is a man an' a woman."

Thessala's eyes lit up as she tilted her head.

"That... that could actually be fun" she grinned, considering the idea. "You should bring that to the lanista. It would need... whole new tactics..."

@Sarah

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We put on a good show.

And that was what it was all about, wasn't it? Romans just wanted entertaining. Death was apparently entertaining, especially if it was gruesome, but they'd accept other forms as well. Novelty and things that challenged the social norms - like women fighting - were acceptable alternatives, providing that they didn't challenge those norms in ways that could extend into the rest of their carefully ordered society. Discrete patches of disorder, like their Saturnalia festival, and rigid order the rest of the time. Strange people.

As he pondered the fight Thessala had described, his mind shifted the two opponents to one side, and matched them. Then he tried to describe what he saw there to her. She seemed to like the idea. "Do ye think the lanista wuid try it?" There was always a risk in drawning attention to one's self like that. It was how one stood out of course, but one could gain reward or punishment for doing so. He'd not been a gladiator long enough before Claudia decided he should be her bodyguard to earn much of a name for himself. Perhaps this would be an opportunity to change that.

"I'll hae a word wi' him." He decided. It was a calculated risk, especially if there was a lull in the season and an opening for something new. But she was right that they'd need new tactics for that kind of combat. "T'wuid be interestin', fer sure." He mused. "Less o' the 'one best fichter' an' more teamwork." Which would mean more training.

"If tis popular, a guid mixed team cuid be verra valuable." He pointed out, glancing across at her.

The best gladiators were extremely popular, some achieved almost cult status, and some won their freedom. The more valued a fighter was, the better they were treated. And like the best charioteers and their horses, a really good mixed team would be rare and prized. Which would mean better treatment, if it was them.

@Chevi

Edited by Sarah
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"Do ye think the lanista wuid try it?" 

"He would try anything at least once. Especially if it gets us more attention at the next games." Thessala nodded. The games always had to present something new and exciting. The next big idea was bound to make waves, if it was executed well.

"I'll hae a word wi' him. T'wuid be interestin', fer sure. Less o' the 'one best fichter' an' more teamwork... If tis popular, a guid mixed team cuid be verra valuable." 

He glanced at her, and Thessala smirked knowingly back at him. She never considered herself a team player - gladiatrices didn't usually get put on as teams. But being a two-person team with a male gladiator... maybe that would be more fun than just being the usual light entertainment. The next step up... she weighed her options. She didn't know much about Aeneas' fighting style. But it was worth a try.

"It does sound something that would be worth a try. Equal parts skill and show... the crowds would eat it up."

@Sarah

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It was true. The lanista would probably try anything once, if it had novelty and the chance of catching people's attention. And if the mixed teams did prove to be the next popular thing, that could go very well for them. It could be an opportunity for some of the gladiatrices to gain more prestige. The were generally seen as a novelty, not taken seriously, but as part of a team they'd be taken more seriously, especially when they proved they could hold their own. Aeneas had no illusions about women who could fight. And any man who could work well in such a team would not be worth risking in poor odds combat. It would work very well for both of them.

"Tis settled thain. I'll speak wi' the lanista, if yer'll work wi' me tae form a team tae show him whit I mean." Give some form of demonstration. They'd need at least one more team, of course. Cynane served as a bodyguard now, but he wondered whether her mistress might be persuaded to allow her back for something special. She was the only other gladiatrix he knew more than passingly.

"So whit else haes been happenin' 'round here?" He asked, considering that matter settled for the moment. "Ocht I shuid ken?" Then he blinked, ran his words back through his mind, and cursed under his breath in Gaelic. "Anythin' I shuid knoo?" He tried again.

@Chevi

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"Tis settled thain. I'll speak wi' the lanista, if yer'll work wi' me tae form a team tae show him whit I mean."

"Oh, I absolutely will" Thessala grinned. She'd leave pitching the idea up to Aeneas, but she was more than happy to do something new. Boredom was an ever-creeping presence, and she was always happy when she did not get written off as 'just a gladiatri.' "If you can keep up..."

"So whit else haes been happenin' 'round here? Ocht I shuid ken?... Anythin' I shuid knoo?"

"Not much out of the ordinary..." she shrugged. "We... are almost rebuilt now, I guess. The aftermath of the earthquake was pure shit, back then."

@Sarah

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Aeneas grinned at Thessala's enthusiastic agreement; the idea of working with the fierce gladiatrice to develop this new form of team combat spurred his enthusiasm for what had initially been an idle idea. He knew she was particularly popular with the crowds for her flamboyant style and dual wielding abilities, and he himself was left handed; together they could make quite the unexpected combination. And if it was his fate to return to the ludus for now, he might as well hitch his chariot to her rising star. Assuming, as she pointed out, he could keep up.

"We weel hae tae see, hmm?" He replied cheekily. "I weel try tae gie ye a run fer yer money." He added with a wiink. Unlike some men, Aeneas didn't scoff at the idea of woman fighting; plenty of women did in his own clan and he'd grown up with the concept. But Romans were a bit funny about women; they seemed to assume they could only keep a house and have babies. Those were things women did, of course, but not the only things. Certainly not in the ludus.

Oh yes, the earthquake. That had been a nasty piece of business, felt throughout Rome. Aeneas sucked a breath in through his teeth. "T'wasnae guid up on the hill, but I kin imagine it wuid hae been much worse doon here." He commisserated. " Much as I wuid like the Gods tae gie the Romans their just rewards," he murmured quietly, "I wuid rather they didnae take the rest o' us doon as weel." Had the Gods been angry? Were they still?

@Chevi

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"T'wasnae guid up on the hill, but I kin imagine it wuid hae been much worse doon here."

"It was" Thessala frowned, hiding behind her cup and looking away. It was still painful to remember that day. And she'd drowned out most of the days after.

" Much as I wuid like the Gods tae gie the Romans their just rewards. I wuid rather they didnae take the rest o' us doon as weel."

"I don't think the gods had anything to do with it" Thessala frowned. "Or if they did, they heavily favor the patricians." Most victims had been people living in the insulae, after all. And people not rescued in time. "We lost people here too. Some of the rooms were locked for the night." She muttered, drinking deeper from her cup.

@Sarah

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Thessala's face said it all. Down here, where the insulae were often poorly built and the stone buildings old, the damage - and death toll - would have been significant. Hearing that made him feel like a bit of a class traitor for a moment, not being here when his fellow gladiators had faced such a terrible event. But then surely they'd all take the opportunity to be slaves in good houses over fighting for their lives and the entertainment of the masses on the sands. Who knew how one's fortunes might rise, or fall? After all, here he was again.

I don't think the gods had anything to do with it. Or if they did, they heavily favor the patricians.

"I think the Patricians favour thaimselves." He muttered in turn, matching her drink for drink. Better built buildings, better education, better ways of making money. And of course they arranged things amongst themselves to make sure it stayed that way. It wasn't as though there weren't benefits to being chieftain amongst his own people, but there was also a duty to guide and care for those people. He saw none of that amongst the Romans. Only the rich getting richer, and slaves dying locked in cells. He muttered something unprintable in Gaelic at the thought.

Still, it felt good, drinking in Thessala's company. For better or for worse, he was back.

@Chevi

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