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Cerealia: Insula Party!


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Mid April 77AD

It was Cerealia. The year had turned, the days had warmed, the grain fields were sprouting and Ceres had found her daughter Prosperpine and was enjoying having her at home again. Varinia could understand how she felt, now that she'd been enjoying sharing her son's home for the last few months, after years of separation. And enjoying her freedom, of course. She had grown more accustomed to it over those months, and was really starting to enjoy being able to do even just simple things when she wanted, as she wanted. 

Like making little flatcakes. Flour and water and eggs, honey and dried fruit soaked in wine, all mixed together and fried on a griddle to make little warm, puffy rounds of deliciousness. She'd packed them into a basket lined and covered with cloth to keep them warm, and carried them down to the insula's inner courtyard. The building was home to a range of people, from those who lived in multi-roomed insulae like themselves, to those who lived behind their shop fronts on the ground floor, to those who rented single rooms on the top floor. Every one of her neighbours whom she'd met had been lovely so far, and she was looking forward to meeting more as they celebrated the turning of the year. 

On top of the basket she carried a spray of wildflowers that she'd collected early that morning from down by the river and these she strewed over one of the tables that had been set in the courtyard, before placing her basket on top of it. She was pretty certain that Alexius would appear once he smelled food, and of course there was her own household. Who else might appear, with a plate or basket if they could afford to share food, or just themselves if they could not? All were welcome in her eyes. This would be fun. 

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Azarion wandered into the courtyard of the insula a little sheepishly. He had been there before, back when they were trying to hunt Safinia's killer down. And even though the others (apart from Tiranes) were all free, they still decided to invite the Sarmatian slaves to their Cerealia party. Whatever that entailed. Azarion did not want to go at first; it would have felt weird, and it wasn't like the others were his friends anyway, just because they shared a common enemy. But everyone else at the stables was going a little stir crazy with preparing for the Cerealia games, and he needed a break. So, he showed up.

Apparently, he arrived early, because he couldn't see any familiar faces. There were tables set up, and flowers everywhere, and the scent of food in the air. Azarion wandered in cautiously, looking around. If those who invited him weren't here, he'd have a hard time explaining why he showed up...

@Sarah

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The first to arrive didn't come from one of the insula flats, but through the doorway from the street. A young fellow with dark hair whom Varinia didn't recognise. Perhaps he'd gone out early, or perhaps he was a friend of someone who lived there? He looked a little nervous so Varinia smiled at him over her basket. "Salve! Come in." She called, still fussing with her flowers. "What a day. I've been looking forward to the celebrations." She twittered, in a high mood. It was the truth though, the various feasts and festivals were what broke up the monotony of life for the Plebians, Freedmen and Slaves, and now that she was free she was determined to make the most of them. 

"I don't think we've met. I'm Varinia." She told him. "Would you like a cake?" Because everyone was going to get fed, possibly whether they wanted it or not.

@Chevi

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Varinia was right, Alexius would appear, but it was not because of the scent of food. It was more the festival itself, because if there was one part of the Roman lifestyle Alexius had embraced completely, it was the celebration of various festivals throughout the year in Rome. Such celebrations often included good food, plenty of drinks and often also some sort of games. It was no different with this festival. Alexius didn't know a lot about farming or agriculture, but he understood how important it was and who was he to stay away from the celebrations then? He considered going to the Ludi Ceriales, both to maybe watch a few good matches but also for the sake of the beautiful young women dressed in white, running around in the arena with their torches. It was quite the sight. Even though he didn't know if he would actually try and bed one of them this year, there was another woman on his mind and suddenly, no one quite compared to her. 

Lexus had his own plans as usual, with his friends, and he'd long since left the building. Alexius put on his nice clothes and went outside, possibly for the arena, but as he came downstairs towards the courtyard in the centre of their insula, Varinia was there. And... Azarion? He could smell the flowers on the table, and the food and it all looked very nice down there. Varinia and Azarion were already talking, or, Varinia was, since Azarion didn't exactly talk much at all. Alexius was sure he would if he could. 

"Varinia, always a pleasure to see you out and about." Alexius said with a smile, approaching the pair, "You two know each other?" He didn't hear the previous conversation and who knew who Azarion knew in Rome?

@Sarah @Chevi

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Teutus was more serious than he thought he'd realised. His mother had spent a good deal of time preparing food for today, and it was only her cajoling that had made him promise that he would join the party in the courtyard. Perhaps he was more like his father than he knew - Tertius was always so serious and rarely took part in the more frivolous celebrations. He gave Jannus, Olipor and Proserpina the day to themselves, and some spending money, and offered the same to Amandus, who shook his head shyly, seeming to prefer to stay in the environs of the insula, though he was not slow to take the silver sestertius Teutus offered.

Teutus had initially draped his pallium around himself but then decided to set it aside and join the others in just his tunic, perhaps trying to recapture some of the more lighthearted aspects of his younger self. It was an informal occasion, after all, there was no need for the formality of his usual dress these days.

So it was with the youngest member of the household in tow, and wearing the new tunic his mother had made for him that Teutus made his way to the courtyard, to find his mother and Alexius there already, and a young man he had seen in passing once or twice.

 

@Sarah @Chevi @Atrice

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A cheerful woman he didn't know walked up to him, greeting him. Azarion looked at her a little sheepishly. Varinia. He tapped the tablet around his neck; if she could read, she'd know his name. Otherwise, she'd just think he's weird. She asked if he wanted cake, and Azarion nodded. Cake was always good.

Thank the gods, Alexius made an appearance; Azarion greeted him with a relieved smirk. He was not sure he was technically invited, but at least Alexius did not seem like the kind of guy who would kick him out. He shook his head, glancing at Varinia. No, they did not know each other. But if the woman was giving him food, she was alright in Azarion's book.

@Atrice @Sharpie @Sarah

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It felt... decidedly odd, to be walking into this insula (well, for him to walk into any insula would be odd, seeing as he didn't live in one!) when he wasn't here for some meeting of the ragtag detective bunch... they'd found their man, and he was safely in a dungeon in the Tullianum awaiting Caesar's pleasure, and hopefully some extremely hungry animals or something.

There were a number of people in the courtyard already when he came in. He didn't recognise anyone at first - there was a dark-haired woman, and a young man of about his own age - and then he spotted Azarion sitting on a bench at a table, and the gladiator (or ex-gladiator) Alexius, who'd given him such a heart-stopping moment that first night he'd got tangled up with the investigators. Well, no, that wasn't strictly true. The first time he'd heard anything about it was when he'd been summoned to translate Azarion's signs for his master after Azarion had had a run-in with the bastard.

He came in, half-expecting to be chased off - surely they wouldn't want a couple of nondescript slaves dropping in on their party? It wasn't as though he could think of anywhere else to be instead, though.

"Morning," he said to the gathering in general and Azarion in particular.

 

@Sarah @Atrice @Chevi (and @Sara and @Sains if Dids and Decimus are dropping by, too - and anyone else who wants to come by the party insula...)

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Suddenly, as though summoned by the Goddess herself, the courtyard of the insula went from empty - save for herself - to bustling. First there was the young fellow with the dark hair. As she introduced herself he said nothing but quietly tapped the tablet around his neck; it had something written on it. She didn't read, but he had to be a slave, only slaves wore things around their necks. Her offer of a cake drew a nod though. "It's OK." She assured him. "I was a slave too not long ago. You can talk to me. Here." She handed him one of the cakes, still warm from the griddle. 

They weren't alone for long though, as a more familiar figure appeared. "Alexius!" She greeted him warmly. He looked well, which pleased her; perhaps the festival had put him in a high mood. She glanced from him to her new friend  - because everyone was a friend waiting to be made. "We haven't met before, no." She told him. "Do you two know each other?" That might explain why the young man was here. How wonderful! 

A moment later Teutus appeated, Amandus in tow. The younger slave was still quite shy and inclined to stick to those he knew; for Varinia who had virtually adopted him as a child she'd never had over the last few months - even if he was a slave - this was perfectly fine. "There you are!" She smiled warmly at the pair. "You look wonderful." That was to Teutus, proud mother to her son oblivious to onlookers, seeing him wearing the tunic she'd proudly woven him, with the fancy blue and yellow patterning around the edges. That was quite hard to do, but seeing him look respendent in it made her heart swell. Indeed each new arrival only seemed to improve her mood and broaden her smile. It was going to be a real celebration. 

Another unfamiliar figure entered the insula and bid them good morning. "Good morning." She returned easily. "I'm Varinia. Come in, come in. Have a cake." She offered the fellow, a bit older than their other ring-in, another of the warm cakes. Food was for sharing, and Ceres was the Roman Goddess who ensured there was food, so in her spirit Varinia would share with anyone. She'd certainly made enough. Hopefully even more people would come; maybe the vegetable sellers who lived on the same level as they did, or the quiet fellow she'd heard was a medicus who lived on the top floor? 

@Sharpie @Atrice @Chevi ( @Sara @Sains)

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Azarion gave Alexius a relieved expression when he appeared and then shook his head when Alexius asked if he knew Varinia. Apparently not, as Varinia also explained a moment later. Thank the gods that Alexius did know Azarion... not very well, but well enough to know that he'd been attacked by the bastard they caught months ago, and that Azarion had a friend that had been murdered by that man. They did have a few stories in common now. But before Alexius could move on, Teutus appeared and he was greeted by his mother.

"Teutus, good to see you!" Alexius said with a smile and was then about to introduce Azarion to the two others, when Azarion's cousin or whatever he was, appeared too. What a coincidence that they both chose to appear at this insula tonight, he thought to himself. Or perhaps it was not? 

"This is turning out to be quite a gathering! You must feel flattered, Varinia, the only lovely lady among us so far." He said with a grin, and then thought, since he was the only one here who seemed to know everyone, he ought to introduce them all.

"Teutus, Varinia... this is Azarion, who is usually found at the stables near the Circus Maximus. And Jason, his relative, who can introduce himself further. Teutus lives here, he is my employer..." Among other things, at least in the past, "... and Varinia his mother, who also lives here." There, now everyone were introduced, he thought to himself with a smile as he took the cake that was offered to him. Hopefully there would be wine too. Gods knew he needed a drink or two tonight... again! 

@Sarah @Chevi @Sharpie ( @Sara @Sains )

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