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April, 77AD

Three months after Quintus was born and Horatia was feeling more like herself. Of course, even in a domus as large as theirs the fact that their new child didn't grasp the concept of sleep was inescapable and she stifled a yawn on the back of her hand as she sat with the boy in the gardens. The spring sun was warm and mottled the grass beneath the blanket on which the gurgling infant was laying, Horatia sat alongside him.

They had adapted to a new rhythm fairly regularly in the house; her elder children were keenly aware of their newest sibling but let him be for the most part, tended to by his wet-nurse, nurse maid and mother whilst they busied themselves with teenage pursuits. Aulus was as doting as she could remember from Titus' infancy, but he was busy as always which left Horatia and their newest addition alone more often than not. Not that she complained. And not that she was truly alone. A shadow blotted out the sun and she turned her face up, squinting with a familiar smile as she saw her company.

"I know we should be preserving our patrician, pristine white skin but with sun this beautiful, it seems a shame to sit in the shade." Although Quintus was led in his basket in the shadow of one of the trees. "Aulus has gone to the Temple of Juno," She said with an amused smile playing on her lips to her sister in law, "I imagine to make amends." 

 

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Calpurnia enjoyed sharing a home with her brother's family; it was comfortable and lively, and she liked having family around. She did her best not to disrupt the day to day goings on in the domus, but came and went as freely as she wished. And now, they had a new baby, whom Calpurnia absolutely doted on. She had missed most of the childhood of the other two, so with Quintus, she was determined to be a good aunt and make up for it.

Today Aulus was away, so Calpurnia went looking for her sister-in-law. She found Horatia in the garden, along with the baby.

"I know we should be preserving our patrician, pristine white skin but with sun this beautiful, it seems a shame to sit in the shade."

"Fair skin is overrated" Calpurnia chuckled, folding her legs to sit next to Horatia. "And you are a mother of three, you can afford anything you wish."

"Aulus has gone to the Temple of Juno. I imagine to make amends." 

"Amends?" Calpurnia quirked an eyebrow. "I was under the impression that they failed to help you..."

@Sara

 

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She chuckled. The freedom that came with having a third child sat uneasily on her shoulders. She hadn't done anything with it yet, and had no need to. She had married Aulus but had remained under her fathers dominion even after that. Both men had provided for her in every way that was necessary so now being given the opportunity to do as she liked well...it was peculiar. And unnecessary, in her eyes. 

"I don't think that's fair," she said with an amused smirk as she sipped her wine and stretched back on the blanket so her face was in the sun, letting her eyes drift shut. "I can't imagine what I'd do if a pregnant woman started giving birth in my home with no warning. I can't imagine that ever happened at the Atrium Vestae?" 

 

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"No, not that I remember" Calpurnia grinned, pouring herself a cup of wine as well. The liquid sparkled in the spring sunshine. Such a perfect day was a gift from the gods. "Then again, Vesta's temple is the opposite of Juno Lucina's. The latter... well, as a priestess of the goddess of childbirth, at least I'd expect some women to seek help there..." Calpurnia liked helping people; if a woman in labor would have wandered into the Vestl House, she would have done her best. But that was an unexpected occurrence. With Juno Lucina... "Did they really not offer any?"

@Sara

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"That's true." She said with an amused huff. She couldn't imagine many pregnant women schlepping to the Temple of Vesta for support during pregnancy...unless it was to wish that the Goddess take it away and return them to their virginal states. She could understand that logic, having suffered through the trials of childbirth thrice now.

"They..." She squinted at her sister-in-law as she opened her eyes, "Fetched me a room that I could use to labour in. Much of the rest is a bit of a blur," She shrugged limply, "But I remember Cassius Longinus' girl barking orders at them which they then ignored." She chuckled. "Can you imagine a flame-haired, pregnant, British slavegirl ordering you around as a Patrician lies bleeding and in agony on your floor? No wonder they didn't help, I'm surprised they didn't have heart attacks." she said, amused as she pulled herself to sit up properly and peer down at her son, fighting sleep in his little basket. "But he was worth it, in the end." 

 

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"Now that is quite the image" Calpurnia laughed. The red haired girl sounded like a fun person to know. "Juno bless them. That girl had a good head on her shoulders. I... like to believe the goddess appreciates that." Many people thought of the gods with the utmost fear and reverence, but Calpurnia... had her own understanding of them.

Horatia looked into the basket at the fussing baby, and Calprunia's smile softened. "May I hold him?"

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"She does." Horatia nodded in contemplative silence, "I wish there was more I could do for her in thanks, but I wrote to Cassius Longinus to inform him of what she did for me and that she can count on a favour, whenever she should need it, from Aulus and myself." She'd quite like to free the girl, and so much was implied in her letter to Longinus but that was his decision to make, she knew that.

Blinking at Calpurnia's request, she smiled and then plucked out the squirming boy from his basket. He was smaller than Titus was, a product of being born early, but healthy and red-cheeked. She moved to pass him over to her sister-in-law. "He takes after your side of the family again." 

 

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"Good. She deserves it." Calpurnia nodded. The slave girl had really outdone herself. "I don't claim to know much about childbirth... and I doubt I'll ever experience it now, but I understand it is no simple business." She admired women who went through it multiple times. Many did not live. She had been praying for Horatia, and this time, the gods had been kind.

Horatia handed her the squirming bundle and Calpurnia smiled a bright smile, carefully wrapping her arms around the little one and cradling him. He was tiny, even after three months, but healthy and strong.

"Well then he has a lot of growing in his future" she chuckled, admiring the baby's chubby cheeks. "He will learn the most important things from you, though. No wonder he was in a hurry to be born."

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Horatia's heart lurched at Calpurnia's proclamation. She wanted to say 'there's still time' and 'you never know', but she knew her sister-in-law was forty and unwed and understanding her exacting standards, was likely to remain so until just the right man could be procured. that did not lend itself well to a speedy conception now she was out from the Atrium Vestae. Instead of reminding her of that fact, Horatia resolved to encourage the bond between nephew and Aunt and looked at the pair of them with a beaming smile. 

"I thought was tall. Then my son outgrew me. And now my daughter." She rolled her eyes. Calpurnia Horatia was already a hair above her mother and she was only thirteen. Gods only knew how tall the trio of her children would get. She sat back with a contented sigh as she watched the little boy with Calpurnia, love and affection in her gaze. "I still can't believe he's here." She commented with a little sigh. "I still can't believe I fell pregnant." She shook her head. She was thirty-four and hadn't had a child for thirteen years, or a pregnancy that has lasted. Of course, nobody else knew that it was because of the silphium. The shock was the same no matter though. 

 

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"I thought I was tall. Then my son outgrew me. And now my daughter."

"Runs in the family" Calpurnia smiled, gently swaying with the baby in her arms. He was snuggly and he smelled good, and he slowly quieted down.

"I still can't believe he's here. I still can't believe I fell pregnant."

"Well... that's Juno's mystery." Calpurnia chuckled, glancing up at her sister-in-law. She knew Aulus was very fond of Horatia; no wonder they still managed to make a baby after thirteen years. "You know... I have been thinking about putting my time into a project."

@Sara

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"Mhmm." She agreed with a small smile and watched her son being swayed in Calpurnia's arms. She softened at the image and lamented, not for the first time, why Vesta had to choose women who could offer so much more than just their service to her. Calpurnia would have, or might still one day, make a wonderful mother, she had no doubt. 

"Oh?" She said as she leant back into the sun, picking up her wine again and stretching out her legs on the neatly trimmed grass. Slaves busied around them, she paid them them no heed. "Tell me more." Horatia herself had long been lamenting to Aulus that she needed a project or a charity. She'd just never settled on one idea.

 

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"Well... I was talking to Aulus about finding some charity work. Until the princeps finds me potential suitors, I don't really have much else to do. Granted, I am enjoying life just as it is... but it would be good to feel useful" she admitted. As a woman who had spent three decades of her life carrying important responsibilities, she did not like to sit idly around for long, as nice as it felt to indulge in the finer things. "So... I have been considering what cause would be best to pay attention to. Aulus told me you had similar thoughts."

@Sara

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Horatia smiled in commiseration. "I imagine that him taking his time is no bad thing," She chuckled, "There's precious few good bachelors at present...unless you want to be lumped with some young boy barely out of his Tribuneship." She wrinkled her nose and laughed at the thought.

But she listened intently as her sister-in-law, one eye on her son, and then the other flitting up to the regal face of the ex-Vestal. "I have." She chuckled, "I was thinking something literary...a school for girls or young women to learn to read. Plebs, potentially. Enough of them lose their husbands or fathers and have businesses left to run with no help and no ability to read or write or communicate." She huffed, shaking her head and taking a thoughtful sip of wine. "Or something for women in any case. Have you hade any thoughts?" She flicked cool blue eyes up to Calpurnia's face.

 

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"I have the luxury of making a choice. I'll leave the young ones to younger women" Calpurnia chuckled. She was not sure what she'd do with a young man who didn't yet now much about life. Even with being inexperienced in matters of a relationship, she doubted they could hold their own against her.

"I liked the idea" she nodded at Horatia's words. A school for plebeian girls and women. Patrician girls usually learn to read and write, if not to educate themselves then at least to read letters. But plebeians often did not get that far. "I was thinking along the same lines... honestly, the temple of Juno made me think. It would... feel good to support women who are pregnant, and... in need of help. Odd choice for a former Vestal, I know." she added with a smirk.

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Horatia arched a brow and leant back on her forearms, considering the idea. "Were you think a sort of...home for pregnant girls?" She arched a brow. She was very much of the opinion that one should only fall into childbearing through marriage...but that didn't often reflect the reality of Rome, nor the fact that many women lost their husbands or partners before childbirth. 

"A place for pregnant young women with no real other support...to help them with the pregnancy...but also to teach them life skills...reading, writing, weaving...other skills, so they are not left destitute when the child comes, perhaps?" She posed, curiously.

 

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"That... sounds right, yes." Calprunia nodded. She had been thinking along the same lines. Not many people were more powerless and abandoned in Rome than plebeian women who fell with child out of wedlock. "It's bound to raise eyebrows, and some will crow about the decline of Roman morals... but that doesn't change the fact that women like that are still out there. Along with their children." She glanced up from the baby, who was slowly falling asleep and making contented snorting sounds, to Horatia. She was one of the most prominent women in Rome. Would she be able to handle the controversy of something like that?...

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Horatia cautioned a look at her sleeping son and the woman cradling it. She felt a discomfort well in the pit of her stomach. She wouldn't have countenanced such an idea seriously when she was still under her fathers control, but now an emancipated woman...she had nobody to claim her or control her. It still sat uncomfortably on her shoulders though. 

"I should think if any Senators or their wives  take issue with it, then we can face them as an ex-vestal, and the wife of an ex-Consul who has his full support." Her lips twitched. There was unlikely to be a match as prominent as them for quite some time. "But we need to explain its value to the state," She commiserated with an eye-roll. she claimed she had no interest in politics, but that wasn't true. She just knew in most days of her life she shouldn't think of it but now...now she needed to. "To fend off most of the criticism. We will need to explain that we'll be helping ensure that their children don't become burdens on the state, that we're training good honest women in domestic arts...that we're saving women from unlicensed prostitution, or slavery." 

 

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"I should think if any Senators or their wives  take issue with it, then we can face them as an ex-vestal, and the wife of an ex-Consul who has his full support."

Calpurnia smiled back at her sister-in-law. Horatia was beginning to know her worth, even outside the sphere of the household. And yes, the two of them had formidable power, as far as Roman women went.

"But we need to explain its value to the state... To fend off most of the criticism. We will need to explain that we'll be helping ensure that their children don't become burdens on the state, that we're training good honest women in domestic arts...that we're saving women from unlicensed prostitution, or slavery." 

"And their children from living on the streets or turning to crime" Calpurnia nodded. The city had a lot of desperate people with nowhere else to turn. Maybe with some help, more of them could find a decent living instead. "This... would be quite the undertaking. We might want to start small. At first."

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"How small is small?" She chuckled and reached a finger to stroke her son's downy blonde hair on his head, temptation overcoming her. He snuffled and stretched in his sleep. 

"We could perhaps buy a small property, somewhere in one of the outlying regions? Find some staff?" She considered her own words and then changed her mind, shaking her head; "But then I suppose it looks like we're hiding what we're doing. I don't want people to think us duplicitous." Of course, all of this would require funding from either Aulus, his father or her own. Emancipated women they might be, but unless Calpurnia had a stash of gold or Aulus - Gods forbid - died and left an inheritance to her, they still required the support of their menfolk.

 

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Calpurnia still rocked the baby gently as he drifted off to sleep. She enjoyed holding him. Sometimes she missed the possibility of becoming a mother. But then again, she had a baby right here to dote on.

"Fair point" she nodded at Horatia pointing out they did not want to give people the wrong idea. "A small part of me... wants to find a place for this somewhere near Juno Lucina's temple, on the Esquiline. So women turned away from there, or not daring to risk the goddess' disapproval, can come to us for help..." she said with a small smile. "It would just need to be a small place. Few rooms, a midwife. Maybe part of an insula?"

@Sara

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Her lips twitched in amusement at  the thought of what the priestesses would say. She was a woman eminently comfortable in following the rules and towing the line of propriety, but whatever way they took this it would cause ripples. Better that they irritated Juno's priestesses than Senators. 

"That could work." She commented, although it wasn't her preferred idea. "I don't want it to be just for pregnancy though." She added as she stretched back out on the grass, revelling in the feeling of the sun on her skin. When not expecting company she just wore a simple chiton rather than the heavy, dowdy stola she was entitled (or required) to wear. "What skills would we teach them? Reading and writing," She said as if it was a given, "But what else would be practical for a plebeian girl to know...?" She really had no idea what would be useful. Certainly not how to order slaves about and organise a dinner party.

 

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"Reading and writing" Calpurnia nodded. That was a good start. Not many women were expected to have those skills, but they became a lot more independent once they did. "We should... look into what work plebeian women get hired to do." Not much, clearly; many worked in their family business, and for a lot of hosuehold chores wealthy household had their own slaves. "Maybe... they would learn from someone who's already there anyway. Midwife skills?"

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Horatia arched a brow, nodding slowly. "That would be good. There's a dearth of good midwives in this city." She lamented, as if Calpurnia would have any idea as a forty year old ex-vestal with no experience. She smoothly explained; "I remember when I was pregnant with Titus we had to hire one in from Tibur because the very best in Rome were already booked up." She narrowed her eyes; "So a home for young women to get support with their pregnancies, learn lifeskills and...train to become midwives?" The corners of her lips lifted in a smile. "I can't imagine any Senators would be interested in such female business..." 

 

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"Well, sounds like it would give them a good source of income, then" Calpurnia nodded. She had had her suspicions about the number of well trained midwives in a city of a million people, but it was good that Horatia confirmed them. And there would be training right at hand, at a house like that...

"The senators don't need to be interested. They just need to not hinder us" she added with a grin. The two of them behind a project, they would be force enough. "We just need a place... and a few people to start with."

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She chuckled and sighed in contentment at the sun on her skin. "I'm sure they'll try and hinder us. Or Aulus." Her smile became a touch more devilish, "Of course, he's already been Consul and has Caesar's trust so how they'd hinder him is unclear." Her own brothers were also, likewise, flourishing in their careers and a little irritation in the senate wasn't going to change that. 

"We could ask Xanthos to put out some enquiries at the insulae in the Esquiline." Aulus' secretary was dutiful and diligent, although she sometimes felt having her own would be of value, the words came tumbling out quickly thereafter; "Or perhaps we should buy our own? We'll need somebody to do the paperwork and deals we can't do ourselves." because despite their intelligence she was fairly sure neither of them were going to be driving bargains for insula space in some grubby landlords office.

 

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