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The birth of something wonderful


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August 61AD

It had been nine days since the birth of his son. Nine days since he'd spent half the day pacing the atrium - to the lararium, turn, back to the tablinum, turn...

Of course he hadn't set eyes on his son in those intervening days. They'd needed to be sure he'd live, and it was bad luck (or something) for the father to see the child before the formal presentation. He adjusted the green tunic he was wearing, and then the brooch that fastened his pallium at his shoulder. The brooch had been a gift from his wife, a sturdy masculine thing with a carnelian carved with the head of Minerva. He chose it the most frequently of all the various fibulae he owned, touched by the thoughtfulness of the gift.

Eventually he became aware of the slave waiting to draw his attention.

"Domine, everything is ready...?"

He nodded. "Let your mistress know."

The slave nodded and retreated and Aulus made his way to the atrium to wait for his wife, refusing to give in to the urge to begin pacing again until she appeared.

 

@Sara

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The preceding nine days had been some sort of heaven for Horatia, she was sure. The birth - whilst long (apparently not uncommon for young, first time mothers according to the tutting midwife), had been relatively simple. There had been no heart-stopping moments or worries of bleeding or fevers or anything of the sort and her son had come squalling into the world, red-faced and vibrant some two days after her pains had began. And then she had been cocooned, for want of a better word, in her own little private bliss. She hadn't nursed him, they'd hired a wet-nurse for the job, but she had held him at every waking opportunity, counting  his fingers and toes, delighting in the gurgles and sniffs and scrunching of his face as he adjusted to the world around them. She slept well and relaxed into the luxury of the room so that when the morning of the ninth day filtered through the house, the thought of leaving her rooms and the private joy she'd found in them with her newborn son was less than enthusing, even if it meant the opportunity to see her husband. 

She had dressed and prepared herself languorously, taking a bath in the rooms, washing her hair with rosewater and having the girl style it in a simple style of braids and twists. She'd likewise lovingly bathed the boy, although she should have really let the slaves do it, fussing over him as he squalled at the tepid water. When it was done she was dressed in a fine blue stola and a matching palla, the boy dressed in swaddling of a similar colour. To match his eyes, she thought. Apparently all children are born with blue eyes before some turn dark, but she had a feeling his would stick. She dropped a soft finger down his cheek and he sniffled in response before scooping him up from the cradle and stepping out into the quietness of the domus. 

Aulus' parents were in Baiae, she knew that, but the place was oddly silent. When she drew to the atrium she saw why - the slaves were gathered with grins and expectant eyes and in the middle of them was Aulus. She felt something flutter in her chest and gave him a beaming, broad smile - unlike most of the shy, composed looks she usually gave. She took a few paces towards him and then inclined her head. She knew the ritual and so after a moment, set down the bundle in her arms on the floor of the atrium. "Your son." 

 

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Aulus only had eyes for his wife as she entered the atrium, followed by her girls and the wet-nurse and carrying a bundle that was the most precious thing in the world. Just before reaching him, though, she quietly bent to set the bundle down, swiftly drawing back the wrappings that matched her own blue stola, the mark of a married woman.

"Your son."

He looked down and then bent, carefully picking him up, surprised at the weight of such a little thing. He was utterly entranced by the tiny human, with soft downy blond hair (though not much of it at all) on a head that was surely too big, and such tiny tiny fingers and toes. How did such a perfectly tiny human come from just a few moments of pleasure between a man and woman?

"Titus Calpurnius Praetextatus." He glanced up, only just long enough to meet Horatia's eyes, before looking back down. "Such a big name for such a little baby."

If he looked awkward holding the baby, it was because he'd never done so before, though he'd cornered the wet-nurse when she had a moment away from the mother and child to ask her what he should do. The baby was small enough to rest in the crook of Aulus' arm as he fumbled to rearrange the wrappings around him.

 

@Sara

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She felt something in her chest shift as she watched her husbands hands scoop up the baby deftly. It was if something opened inside of her and she swallowed, breathless, watching him with a look on her face that was utterly inscrutable. Love. Love for her son, love for her husband, love for her life. She had liked Aulus dearly in the months they'd been married but this felt different; like a reckoning coming home, like the final sentence in one of her treasured scrolls. She loved him. It was so obvious. 

"Titus." She breathed with a startled smile and nodded, meeting his eyes, her face still bearing an expression that couldn't really be read. "Titus..." She said again. It was him. He was Titus. The slaves nodded and grinned, passing around hushed congratulations and nods of approval both at the little boy nestled in the crook of Aulus' arm and smiles to her. She met them with one of her own and then took a few paces forward until she was stood next to Aulus. She raised her finger to stroke the boy's cheek, whispering to her husband. "He's so perfect. Thank you." Perhaps an odd thing to say to a man who hadn't birthed the boy, but Aulus had given her motherhood, something she had always wanted, and so her gratitude was genuine and overwhelming.

 

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"Thank you," Aulus replied, giving his wife and the mother of his son (his son!!) a smile - he didn't think he would ever be able to stop smiling now that he'd started, and he looked back down to the baby he was holding, utterly entranced by the snub nose and blue eyes. He was only vaguely aware of the slaves' murmured congratulations and shifted a little to give them a better look.

"There's a bulla for him, of course," he added, addressing Horatia. No freeborn, well-to-do son of a Senator would go through childhood without one, of course - it was there to ward away evil as much as to proclaim his free status.

That tiny face scrunched up and there was a piercing wail - apparently his son didn't appreciate the mention of a bulla, or perhaps he was just fed up of being held by his father, or any one of a dozen other things that were mysteries to good Roman men.

Aulus had no clue what to do and it was only instinct that tightened rather than loosened his grip as Titus began squalling in earnest.

 

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She gave him a small smile and a one shouldered shrug at his thanks. He would never understand what it was like to carry or birth a child, and the pain and endurance one had to have to do it, but she also knew it was her job and role in life to do so. She had grown up with the expectation of it, so considered that thanks were unnecessary. 

"Of course." She smiled softly and dropped her hand from her son's cheek before he let out a wail. She blinked and glanced round. The wet-nurse, an older woman with red cheeks and limited patience gave her a look which suggested 'you should know what to do'. But Horatia was only eighteen, only returned from Greece eight weeks before, and utterly out of her depth even if she was utterly in love with her life. As he screamed more, she gently rested her hand on Aulus' arm that cradled him, "Let me take him. And maybe we should move into the gardens?" Which was her way of saying she felt overwhelmed by the masses of slaves currently peering at them curiously. 

 

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Aulus found himself reluctant to hand over even a screaming baby to his own wife - but then, he'd never felt anything like the depth of love that had washed over him when Horatia had set his son down. It had been the more powerful for being so totally unexpected.

He transferred Titus to Horatia's waiting arms and then grew aware of the slaves around them. "All right, you'll see enough of him over the next few months - you've got work to do."

He wound his arm around Horatia's waist. "We'll have some refreshments out in the garden," he said, the direction addressed to nobody in particular but enough to set the wheels in motion to ensure that somebody would bring them something soon. The garden was Horatia's retreat; he would always associate her with gardens in his thoughts.

"I can't believe I'm a father," he confided, taking Horatia through the tablinum to the quiet serenity of the garden's green space.

 

@Sara

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She sank into Aulus' touch in the habitual way they had come to be and rocked Titus gently against her chest, trying to soothe him. He'd nursed a few moments before they'd stepped into the atrium, so that wasn't it, and soon enough (mercifully, for her eardrums!) his screams began to settle into muffled sniffles. 

She walked with him through the tablinum and tilted her head with an amused, adoring look on her face. "I suppose that's natural. I've been a mother for nine days, I've had time to adjust, you've only been a father for a few moments." Titus was now settled against her chest and as they walked into the gardens she let out a contented sigh. She hadn't quite realised how much she'd missed fresh air. "He's been so good," She intoned as she took a seat in the shade under an orange tree that smelled so fragrant she could almost taste it, "For the last few days. Sleeping well and really no bother at all to the slaves." 

 

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"He probably didn't like what was going on, or the strange face looking at him." He gently reached to stroke his son's cheek with a finger, marvelling at the tiny features and soft skin.

"He's a marvel, Horatia." If he looked awestruck, he didn't know it. He had eyes for nothing except his son and his wife. "I didn't know being a father would feel like this," he confessed, finding seats already set in the shade - the slaves knew Horatia's favourite spots as well as Aulus did.

If the truth were known, Aulus wouldn't have cared if his son had bothered the slaves, they were there to be bothered and this was his son and, hopefully one day, his heir. Such a heavy responsibility for such a precious tiny thing - with, apparently, a huge toothless yawn.

 

@Sara

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He was a marvel, and Aulus' awestruck expression was matched on her own as she peered down at the little boy in her arms. "What does it feel like?" She pressed gently, a soft smile on her lips. 

A quiet, dutiful slave was soon upon them laying out plates of light foods and heavily watered, sweetened wine on a side table they had also brought. She managed to rearrange Titus in one of her arms, and reached with her spare hand for his own, fingers brushing against his palm, the signet ring he wore, before she threaded her fingers through his. The words bubbled up and she breathed them with no hesitation; the birdsong, the smell of the oranges, the feeling of her son in her arm and her hand on her husbands; "I love you." 

 

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"Like... my heart is not big enough for how much love is in it," Aulus murmured, squeezing her hand as she linked her slender fingers with his larger ones. "Like I would take on an army single-handed if I had to, to protect you. Both of you."

I love you.

The words seemed unconsciously spoken, unforced, and completely natural for perhaps the first time - or maybe it was the first time Horatia had ever spoken the words aloud and he hadn't realised it.

"I love you too, my dove," he told her, stroking her thumb with his own. "My own precious one, the mother of my son." There was an added nuance and depth there because of the addition of Titus to their small intimate circle, but she was not precious and beloved only because of Titus.

"It's strange. I have more love for you, both... I thought, somehow, that I'd divide the love I already had, but it's just grown." He gave her a rueful roll of the eyes. "I am no poet, my sweet - I am truly glad you've never wanted me to be, I'd be terrible at it!"

 

@Sara

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Horatia nodded. That was exactly how she felt, upon seeing her husband hold her son. The ache in her chest was almost painful from where it felt as if her heart had doubled in capacity. 

She let out a soft noise at his own admission of love. She couldn't help the little thrill that warmed her. Mother of my son. She was a mother. She was a wife and a mother which was really all she had wanted since she was a girl. Now she had the reality and the joy of it was so much sweeter. Not only did she have a husband but she had a wonderful, kind, funny, doting husband. And a healthy, perfect son"You are an excellent poet," she said with a rueful smile and shook her head, reaching for a cup of wine, "And I know exactly what you mean. It doesn't feel real though," She gave an embarrassed chuckle, "That I have all of this. It...feels too good." It was a somewhat embarrassing thing to say, but it was true. It felt almost as if this happiness wasn't meant for her.

"I should take him to meet my father, at some point. The midwives said I am recovered enough now for short trips." 

 

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"I am sure he will be thrilled to meet him - and so will your mother be, too, I'm sure." He reached to tear a piece of bread from the loaf for her, and then some for himself too, dipping it into the olive oil that had been provided.

"You are a flatterer, I am a terrible poet! But you are the dearest of women to suggest otherwise. And it is real - he is real." His expression was soft as he looked at his wife and son. "Motherhood looks very good on you, my dove."

 

@Sara

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"She will." Horatia smiled warmly, imagining her mother fussing over the little bundle in her arms as she had done over herself and her siblings when they were children. "And my grandfather on her side was called Titus," She chuckled, "So she will be delighted." She made no comment on when Aulus' own parents would meet her son, their grandson, knowing they had been kept at Baiae and were likely to remain for some time. 

At his compliment, she flushed and shrugged thin shoulders, unspeakably delighted. "You know it's all I wanted, I just..." She gave him a wince, "Can't believe it happened so soon." She must have conceived Titus within the first four weeks of their marriage giving herself and Aulus very little time to enjoy their newly wedded bliss before the nausea had started, alongside the bump. She supposed, though, it might be flattering to him - a mark of his virility that he'd wedded and bedded and produced an heir all within ten months. "Ten months ago I was just a young woman who thought she'd never find a man or have a family, and look at me know." She smiled fondly down at Titus who produced another toothless yawn, evidently he wanted to doze. 

 

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