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MJK2431

✿❀❁
(Sorry for the long wait. Finally finished all my exams and my Honour's year is officially over. :))

Markus tumbled over possible replies in his head, brows furrowing until they nearly knit together at the centre of his head. His usually towering figure was curled over, back arched and shoulders folding inwardly. He had been a proud man once. A good fighter too, at least enough to keep his blood from being spilled to threatening standards within his short time at the arena. Or, on the battlefield for that matter. However, life as a slave had a way of changing a man. His appearance reflected this, his body appearing to almost shrink and shrivel away under the harmless questioning. Markus had learned from plenty of stories that a slave being questioned was always something to worry about.

However, Kaeso just seemed genuinely at ease. His appearance as a soldier, his gait and posture recognizable to Markus from the moment he had first seen him returning with Valoria, also held with it a sort of respectful authority which the slave recognized from his early days in the military. Not the type of authority that was demanded, but rather earned. He stood a little straighter, still somewhat hesitant to answer but speaking anyway.

"As much as I hate to admit it, Roma could be as dangerous as Britannia. Except the danger here is somehow worse - it comes dressed in charming smiles and full of pretentious horse shit." He knew he may be speaking out of turn, but by speaking his mind he could properly asses just what Kaeso was like and just how honest he was being in his intentions towards his Lady Valoria. "Last night was stressful to say the least. She remembers nothing from her time here before and all the careful steps she must take. I am protective of her, I won't lie about that. My job of being a watchful eye over her started out as a means to just escape a death in the arena, but after I spent time with her....things changed,"

The words were flowing now, Markus staring off into the distance at the dusty road ahead. Despite the edge of the verge being fringed with trees, the shade did little to help escape the already rising heat. The shimmering mirages in the distance made it appear as if the road were covered in water, Markus focusing on that rather than Kaeso as he continued. "She reminded me of my sister. I lost her shortly after joining the ranks. Some sort of illness, I don't know what it was. My folks had been too poor to afford any apothecary or medicine. The Lady was the same age as Merina when she died and she has her same spirit. The protectiveness I feel for her..."

He paused, running his hand along his shadowed jaw and scratching at the sparse beard there. After finding the right words to continue, he spoke again. "The protectiveness I feel for her developed into something beyond duty as dangerous as it is for me to say that. Her returning here is my third chance of redemption - firstly for not joining the ranks sooner so that I could have afforded the medicine to save Merina, and secondly for failing in my duties of looking after the villa that night Valoria was taken. I need to do all I can now to repent for the mistakes I've made."

His cheeks reddened, the man's hands balling into fists at his side. Markus kicked a stray stone in his way, the small pebble bouncing along the dirt road before skittering to a halt. "I don't mean to speak above my station when I say this, but Lord Calamis' son does not seek any well-being for the Lady. The things I have heard of his....ah....exploits in the last few months has convinced me of that. Not all gossip should be believed, but the sheer volume of talk the man creates is worrying enough."
 

Zul'Zae'ju'Jin

the Hugger Troll
(oooh! Nice! :D )

Kaeso was glad the man did not rush into his reply. He had seen and heard many who rushed their reports and often forgotten to express it properly or left out key points. Having that initial think allowed for one to properly formulate and recall what needed to be shared. Quite often it just allowed the person to take a quick breather too as most were usually running to and fro for such matters. He glanced at the other as they walked along. The man's demeanor spoke more volumes than words and for Kaeso, it was both sad and humbling. He wondered at the man's history for him to have landed in his current predicament.

The Centurion certainly appreciated the candidness Markus gave when he did eventually reply to his statement and he certainly didn't hide that appreciation, a smile creeping to his rugged features that conveyed understanding and agreement. It was a Centurion's job to lead and train their men and often knew each and every single one of the men who served under him. It helped to provide a unit that reached a peak performance in their function and cohesion. Swearing was just as much of a rankers life as adhering to the rules and being bawled at by their Centurion. Kaeso certainly excelled in the use of swearing. It helped to relieve tension and he was not about to stop Markus from using expletive or being candid. Kaeso knew or had felt strongly that Markus could potentially be a really good ally to have.

He nodded, the previous night was certainly a high stress situation and had been for all of them. There was so much they could get wrong or get in trouble for. He listened to Markus speak with an attentive ear as if Markus was more of a man of standing such as his Optio or a free man than as the slave he was. It was a poor Centurion who failed to listen to his men's needs as much it was for rankers to ignore their Centurion in turn. Glancing to Markus, his heart reached out to the man when he spoke of his loss. He was not hard on that front... they were all human after all but it certainly helped him to understand why Markus was so protective. The man's body language last night had been poignant to a breaking point.

Markus spoke of redemption then and again Kaeso understood that. There were varying reasons why men joined the ranks and they could vary from patriotism to being forced to by law. Redemption was not the most common reason for joining, but it was a common part to life.

Kaeso watched as the man kicked a stone and watched as it bounced away, spinning to its halt a little aways from them. The man was showing several tells that were useful to Kaeso without needing to hear the man's words. He felt he could definitely lend trust to Markus in keeping Valerie safe from the vile reaches of Calamis and others with designs on their futures. All except for Claudius, naturally. There was little one could do to defy an Emperor's wishes without falling to treason. Kaeso had a healthy wish to avoid that fate knowing it would land Valerie and himself in dire trouble and there would be little to no controlling things beyond that point. He hoped he could prove to Markus that he was worth trusting as well, he didn't want the man to view him as someone to be wary about.

He smirked and nodded, "Oh, beleive me, you're not. You have the advantage over me... Those of Calamis' ilk, they don't acknowledge your presence. That, for me, is both useful and helpful. I don't trust either of those two... Not for the finest instants. Snakes in the grass... and we have to watch out for anything they're planning. You can bet on that, they're already scheming."

Kaeso hated the world he was getting into. He was happier with the simpler life of commanding men on the battlefield and only having to deal with higher ups such as preened Tribunes or Legates. He didn't have to normally deal with the plots and schemes of the echelons of the upper classes. However, he had made a promise and an oath to protect Valerie and keep her safe, and he would not break that promise he had made to her. So, it meant he would have to swallow his distaste and enter this world whilst looking out for the dangers it would so willingly weild upon them all.

They turned a corner upon the route to the Legion barracks and parade grounds, "I need you to keep those eyes and ears open, especially when I can't be there myself. I think you're a man I can trust, a good man and I know those are rare in this place." Kaeso looked at him for a moment, offering a smile that was genuine. He certainly felt he could trust the other and not find himself betrayed. There was a sense of loyalty and duty about the man and that he could use.

He sighed softly, "I made her a promise to keep her safe, to protect her, but I also know I won't always be able to do that. There will be situations she's going to be placed into where I cannot go but where you can. I'll need a man I can trust to help me keep that promise and if what yo've told me is true, you're a man who can do that. Perhaps not so much in action, but atleast with listening and watching where I might miss it."

"I have only known her for a short time, but she a woman of good heart and strength despite everything she's gone through. I don't want her to fall victim to some preening shit who cares not a fig for her wellbeing. Regardless of your position now in life, I hope you can trust me as well in what I say and do... That I'm not another danger to her." He gave a snort of amusement, "I know it's above my station as well but, I consider her a friend."

He looked at the other man and nodded after a moment, "I feel like I can trust you wholeheartedly but Aquila... How far do her loyalties extend? What's her take with Lady Valoria's return? Her wishes for the house?" He scratched his jaw.

"I get the feeling she's... skeptical towards me. She looks at me differently... not badly, but you can see thoughts passing through her mind. She's certainly a woman used to running things, and knows what goes where, what does when and the rest of the needs a household demands. Or at least I can assume it demands." Kaeso was used to living on barracks set up by the army and the only other home he had known was the small house of his father's which was entirely far more modest than Valerie's villa. He wasn't even sure how his father had managed to scrounge the money to buy a slave to tutor him growing up. They had lived by what the sea had given them in terms of food and trade.

"After all, she's had free reign up untill the Lady Varloria's return, no?" He wanted to gauge or determine whether Aquila had her own designs on Valerie's future and knew they may not necessarily be in conjunction with Markus' and his own promises to protect their charge from the dangers that surrounded her. In a perfect world, Valerie wouldn't need it, to be able to make her own decisions about how she lived and who she chose to marry. A second preferable prospect would be that Valerie could be partnered with someone who cared about her or at least let her live without the schemes and plots lesser individuals would enforce.
 
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MJK2431

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Markus chewed on his lower lip as Kaeso spoke. Everything he said seemed truthful enough, the deception that Markus usually expected from those around him absent. It was an oddity, really, being able to believe everything a man said. What finally helped the slave decide that the Centurion really was being honest in everything he had to say was when he candidly admitted his own feelings of friendship towards the Lady. Admitting something like that was risky indeed, an exchange of information fitting the type of admissions he had given towards the solider. Markus fell back instinctively when they neared the barracks, making sure he was a step behind as the familiar clang of metal on an anvil and the whipping of tents reached his ears.

"I would do my best to look out for her even without your insistence. I am invisible, yes, but my position also means that if something were to happen there is very little I could do to help the Lady beyond meagre intervention. I would lay down my life for her should the situation be that dire, but if she is under threat from nothing but wagging tongues or a potentially harmful courting to a young and forceful piece of shit then there's nothing I can do."

The were getting closer now and soon the opportunity for them to speak would be completely lost, lest Markus really wished to play with his life by speaking so freely when other ears could be listening in. He was especially nervous around the military men, considering his downward spiral into slavery had started with him somehow moving from the life of a soldier to one in the arena.

"Aquila has a mind that is bolted tightly. No one ever really knows what she is thinking. I believe she really wants what is best for the Lady Valoria, but she has been through a lot in her short life. At the end of the day, I do think she just wants to do what will be the least painful for herself. Many have heard of wealthy young men taking in the slaves of orphaned lovers. Aquila is friends with those who work for Lord Calamis and I'm sure they would tell her of any potential dangers in working in his households. While there would be no more use for me, a slave such as herself who has managed an estate in the absence of her Domina and who can cook and clean would be quickly absorbed into whatever household should Valoria marry Magnus. With other slaves as well, Aquila will probably have less duties and better living quarters than what she has now especially when Magnus moves on from his apprenticeship into a fully fledged praetor. A marriage like that would be beneficial for Aquila."

They entered into the barracks, Marksu immediately becoming solemn and assuming his normal bowed position. With his head turned to the floor and his shoulders rounded, he blended back into his position of a slave who was more apart of the furniture in the background than an actual individual.
 

Zul'Zae'ju'Jin

the Hugger Troll
Kaeso walked at a slow but steady pace knowing there was little he could do to entirely removed the soldierly walking style that he and several of his comrades had come to adopt. It would take years to lose that stride since it was so ingrained from the first day of training. Each legionary knew how to march, draw formations and respond instantly to orders when they were given. Throughout all of it coming to hate and then respect their drill master. Kaeso was the same, Besta had been ruthless, diligent and stood for high standards of discipline letting no one slide but the Centurion had been what had made the difference in men living and dying and that was something no man could deny.

The air was growing hotter with the sun's warmth as people were lining the streets with their own business or needs. Rome was never still, that he could easily remember but it was their capital and as such it held an overwhelming amount of populace that could stagger a mind more used to the smaller numbers of a coastal town. Misenum was nowhere near as grand or as epic. It was truly a sight to behold and yet through of all it, even walking towards the Army barracks set for the Legions of Rome in the city left him feeling a sense of foreboding. He was treading on sand that could shift and swallow him whole. It was like trying to wade through thick marsh with no idea where the predators were lurking, nor when they would strike.

Markus replied and set some of his misgivings aside. He and Valerie were not alone in this and that was warming. He would let Valerie know that Markus would be another friend to them. They would need as many as they could garner without revealing the entire truth of their story. He nodded, "It's a fucked up situation, Markus. I won't lie, I think you know that better than I completely do right now. I am glad we're of the same cloth however, and I have little doubt we can cover as much as we can between us." He looked the other in the eye not as a master to a slave but closer as one soldier to another in a promise they had both seperately made. They would be stronger in their ability to protect Valerie together than apart. Of that there was no doubt in the Centurion's mind.

They were getting close now, he could hear an order being barked from the direction in which the barrack's lay and smiled. It was something he had unwittingly come to miss in recent days. The soldier's life was far more simpler affair. Yes it was violent and oft lay whim to their commanders but it was straightforward and uncomplicated. He closed his eyes rbiefly and gave a deep exhale befor reopening his eyes again, his stride no different than to before. There was no real rush for him, he couldn't exactly be drafted back into active duty. Not with an Imperial summons looming in two days hence. Till then, he would be expected to continue his mission.

He turned his head as Markus answered his question about Aquila and the woman's motivations about the household. Kaeso listened attentively as Markus were more his Optio than the Corvinus' slave. He briefly wondered if the man was saving up for his freedom but if he was as loyal to Valoria as he claimed, than he may have given up his freedom in favour of doing so. Markus' words did improve matters at all. The singular statement of Aquila having friends with those in the Calamis household was distinctly troubling. He knew the dangers of loose lips and how fast one nuggest of what be seemingly innocent infomation could be upturned into a nightmarish disaster. If he could somehow convince Aquila that Magnus nor any of the Calamis bloodline were of good suit for her domina, then perhaps favours would turn more admirably. It was a fine thing but if not for Markus' words of alarm and his intervening, than an unwarranted kiss could have gone to darker steps.

Magnus was old enough to know that politically there could be no objection to the match except if the Emperor had other ideas. However, Kaeso had read easily that Magnus was also young enough to let his inexperience show through no matter how much of a wordsmith he or his father were. Kissing her the way he did had shown his hand and overstepped an eager rung. The fact the boy had cowered with a feeble excuse of ensuring slaves had secured his horses in reaction to the Centurion's stance instead of putting Kaeso in his place as any other noblitas might have done had also been quite telling. One with more experience would have exercised a different approach and a slower game. They could be lucky but Kaeso was aware the odds were equally stacked against them as much as they were for.

"Hmph... 'Beneficial'... That's turned into a disgusting word of late. We need to talk her around somehow. Fuck knows how we'll do it... but by the gods we have to. For Valeria's sake," he had no hesitancy in his words. He fully believed how careful they would have to be about doing such a task. If Aquila was equally suspicious about protecting her ward and the house she worked for, then he doubted she would have qualms in ratting them out. Not for the first did he finding himself wishing for them to go back to Valerie's time where everything seemed to make more sense.

"We'll have to be careful, Markus... Deligently. My presence the other night in stepping in between him and the Lady Valoria... Well, if they're set on this match, then my intervening is like to be seen as an affront to their house. If they get wind you gave me the word of alarm, it puts your life in danger too. The boy may respond rashly and try and remove the threat... Especially now he knows the Emperor has a play in this." he rolled his shoulders stiffly and dropped his speech as they approached the barracks. He trusted Markus enough to drop any response he might have had in reply as they turned into the compound. It was a large sight filled with offices, barracks, a training area which included the parade ground and some stables for the horses. The place was busy with men seeing to their duties, as various as they were. It was all familiar territory for the Centurion even if this was a mix of Legionaries and Urban Cohorts. What with the war going on in Britannia, he would not be surprised at all if the ratio stood more in the Urban Cohort's favour. The only other substantial army in Rome were the Praetorians whose barracks backed on directly to the Imperial Palace since it was required of them to protect and guard the Emperor at all times. They couldn't do that from here at all. The distance was too far. So much was his concentration upon the barracks, he missed the figure watching them from across the street. It didn't stay for long, no more than a few minutes before the figure walked away.

He glanced and relief washed over him as he noted Markus' aura. The man played it to the letter and Kaeso hoped he could learn more about the man. He had the traits of a good Optio in him, or least the start of the traits required for Centurions to single men out to receive the promotion to be their second in command. It was a valuable position. He just wondered what happened to the man's life to have made him end up where he was now. Kaeso frowned, he would have to arrive at that later. For now, his had to concentrate as he lead the way towards the Camp Prefect's office. Roman systems worked so well that he hardly needed to remind himself of the way there since most camps followed the same collective blueprint. It saved time on erecting such structures once it was ingrained into the men. It did not take long at the pace the weathered Centurion set and he rapped on the closed door before stepping back a half pace. The door opened revealing a clerk who looked at him with a blink.

"What's the meaning of this, civilian? These are Legionary grounds," the clerk said sourly and Kaeso wondered if the Camp Prefect was in a bad mood. Kaeso almost baulked at being called a civilian but held his tongue since his tunic was not of military issue. It had set the right cut and feel but there was no stamp of office to advertise his position. He deferred and stood to attention, his back straight and chest puffed out but not so much so that it would be confused for arrogance. Clearing his throat, he responded in a clear cut and concsise tone that spoke of his curriculum vitae.

"Centurion Quintus Marcellus of Seconda Augusta, 12th cohort," he rattled out with the breath of one who had said it so many times in the past that it rolled off the tongue in a singular heartbeat. The clerk arched a brow in response before he frowned. He briefly disappeared behind the door as if to collect something before reappearing and referred to a tablet.

"Centurion Kaeso Quintus Marcellus, Optio Gaius Renius Pullo?"
"Indeed so,"
"I see... Aren't you a little far from your cohort, Centurion?" the clerk queried speculatively as he removed his gaze from the lists.

"I was commanded to. I received orders from Legatus Vespasian to coomplete a mission sent to him from the Imperial Palace" Kaeso replied, hoping his voice would lend confidence and truth where none lay. Well, not completely at least. The orders may well have been issued and received by Vespasian but he had lost his cohort in a distinctly different way than that of how Valerie and Himself had explained it.

The clerk had been about to respond again before another voice yelled out angrily. "Will you close that bloody door already! Wind's getting in!"

The clerk sighed before he relented and opened the door more fully, letting the Centurion and the man in his shadow inside before closing the door. "I assume you're hear to speak to the Prefect?"

"Yes, I need to requisition new armour from the Quartermaster's stores but will need the Prefect's authorisation to do so."
"Very well. Wait here please," the clerk gestured with a gnarled hand towards a bench set against a bare wall. The clerk watched them move for but a moment before turning with a little while of his cloak and smartly knocked upon the door further inside and entered, closing the door behind him. Marcellus eased out a breath for a moment, eyeing the room. It was familiar and comforting in its own way and was a little similar to his own tent setup for when he usually had to set about doing his paperwork. After a matter of minutes, the door opened and remained so as the clerk returned.

"Camp Prefect Cordus will see you now," the clerk nodded, gesturing for the Centurion to move inside. Kaeso stood and looked at Markus.

"Best you stay here," he said before he turned and headed past the clerk and into the room, shutting the door and he stood to attention before the Prefect after saluting. The Camp Prefect was an older man than Marcellus, and Kaeso realised the man was likely bordering retirement soon. However, the harsh lines and the firm way he held the tools in his hand spoke of the Prefect's assurance of his post.

"I hope you have good reason to be in Rome instead of putting the natives in their place in Britannia, Centurion. According to the strengths, the Second Augusta should be near... hm..." it was a moment of scrutinising the infomation before him before he carried on, "Camulodunum, correct? So, why are you here away from your duty?"

"Correct, sir! We were about to deploy when Legatus Vespasian gave me new orders, Sir!" Kaeso hated using the man's name so candidly but he had to hope that Hugo really had done his homework to complete this ruse.

"New orders, hm?"
"Yes Sir. Those of Imperial origin, Sir." Kaeso's words gave the Prefect pause before he answered.
"I see. What did the orders pertain? Do you have them on you?"


Kaeso had anticipated the question and retrieved the orders that he had been bestowed by Hugo and drew close enough to hand them to the other. The older man read over a hawked nose where the skin was starting to stretch thinly over the bridge. "Hm, seems to be in order. That is an Imperial signature I am familiar with. The Corvinii are safely returned to their resiodence then?"

"Regrettably we were unable to save Valerius Corvinus and his wife, Sir. Lady Valoria was all I was able to get out of Brittannia."
The Centurion remained standing to attention even as Cordus returned the orders to his hand. "Regrettable, but I imagine the place is a wretched place. Tell me Centurion, is it as dark as they say? What with the numbers we have lost and the talk of druids?"
"Yes Sir... I think we'll have some trouble with those Druids. Very good at spurring on their warriors. If they weren't there, then the war would be over quick as pan, Sir," Kaeso replied dutifully but resignedly too. He had seen some of that mess close to hand and it was not easy work. Not that soldiering was ever easy but some battles were easier than others.

The man before him nodded and seemed to be content in a patch of silence before eventually he spoke again. "Antonius has explained for what you've come for, but I'm a little surprised Centurion that you've made the request. It's not cheap for you,"

"I had to get the Lady Valoria back to Roma safely, Sir. The Legatus advised that the journey should be one that brings undue attention, so the Lady and I travelled light and kept to those... advisements, Sir. I left my armour with the Quartermaster of my Legion. No doubt they've been given to the Centurion to replace me there if they've done so. I have a meeting with his Imperial Highness in two days time. I did not think it wise to turn up without somethi-" he stopped as the other stalled him with a raised hand and wrote upon a piece of parchment. The man stood and joined the Centurion before holding the piece of parachment out towards him.

"That'll do. The Quartermaster will give you all that you need... this will tell him to mark the items off the inventory but we'll await word from the Imperial staff about whether it is to be docked from your pay. After all, with completing a mission as difficult as the one you have achieved... I can imagine they might be inclined to reward you handsomely, Centurion. I trust I don't have to get Antonius to guide you there?" the old man quipped after with a smirk.

Kaeso allowed one in return and nodded, "I remember the way there, Sir. Thank you," he replied, taking the note offered. The Prefect smiled and nodded, patting Kaeso upon the back which belied the age of the man before returning to his seat and poured himself a fresh goblet of wine. "If there's nothing else, Centurion Marcellus, then I really ought to get back to these infernal reports. You have provided a healthy distraction, so I thank you. Dismissed."

Kaeso saluted with a thump to his chest growing more stiff with his posture before his body relaced, turned smartly for the door and left through it. He nodded at the Clerk who nodded back as he stood from his desk. "Don't worry yourself, I know the way," he said before the man could finish standing, waving the note about. The clerk grunted and sat back down, lifting his stylus.

"Come on, Markus. We have a Quartermaster to annoy," Kaeso said, looking to his companion of the day. Quartermasters were some of the best and some of the worst people to know and typically were those with a gnarly penchant for detail and even better memories. There was little outfoxing them. akeso would have to ensure he had a decent set that wasn't battered to shit. He opened the door striding past Markus as he spoke and kept it open long enough for the other to catch it before it closed upon him.
 

MJK2431

✿❀❁
Markus didn't tally at all, following closely on Kaeso's heels. His behavior was more suited to that of a leashed dog than an ex-soldier, but he had learned to play his role well and by the Gods a slip up would cost him dearly. The familiar sound of tent pieces flapping, far off cries of drills being carried out and the distinct scent of male sweat and dust however brought up memories from his days in the Roman army. It was a discomforting thing, being assaulted by familiar sensations he had only known from a past life that no longer felt like it belonged to him.

Once they were clear of the doorway, Markus resumed his position just behind Kaeso, unable to stop the smile that touched his cheeks at the Centurions quip about the quartermaster. "I shall not put my neck on the line if you manage to anger a rather sturdy man with a hammer....it will make for interesting entertainment though before I run for my life." His remark was whispered and well timed, said when they were ducking into an abandoned alleyway between tent rows, but there was no mistaking the lack of any seriousness behind the words. Markus realized he rather liked Kaeso, even if he knew that trusting the strange military man who had showed up with his Domina was not yet achievable.

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The doting of Aquila seemed much shorter this time, now that Valerie knew what to expect. After breakfast the routine of the older woman helping her prepare for the day was almost welcoming...if somewhat meager in getting the scientist to actually have her thoughts anywhere other than the events of the night before. It was close to impossible to not have a running loop of what had happened with Magnus replaying in her mind.

A sudden slicing voice right by her ear interrupted her thinking. "Green or red?" Aquila said, her tone implying that the question had been asked more than once already and that Valerie was really not paying attention.

"Ah, red I guess..." Valerie said with a shrug, thinking again of Magnus' careful manipulation throughout the night to get what he wanted. She thought of how cold his lips had felt against her, the memory sending goosebumps rising on her arms. Aquila was jabbering away about something like birdsong at dawn, but the girl did not have the focus to actually listen to what she was saying. She was thinking instead of her relief when Kaeso had appeared with Markus, her thoughts then going on to his absence from the villa that morning. Has he found his armour yet? Is he talking to Markus? What if they've run into trouble, would I find out in time to do something about it? Speaking of trouble, I wonder if any will come with their intervening last night, Magnus did not seem too happy with their arrival - Something clawed at her scalp and broke her from her thoughts, Valerie flinching away as Aquila suddenly lifted her hands from her hair to show that they were glistening with oil.

"Sorry my dear, I didn't mean to frighten you. I was just applying the scented oil from last night."

Valerie's brows knitted together, her gaze drifting from the oil on Aquila's hands to the bottle from whence the oil had came. It was one of the finer oils she...or rather Valoria...owned, the use of it so soon after the night before making red flags fly in her mind. "Why the finer oils, Aquila? I have no special occasion or visitors -" Aquila intercepted, hands going back to the girl's scalp as she spoke.

"Oh, but you do Mistress! I was meant to keep it a surprise but I can't exactly prepare you properly without informing you I guess. While I was fetching water this morning before you woke, I learned of a surprise visit that the young Lord Calamis wishes to spring upon you! He'll be bringing gifts and flowers, maybe even some new poetry that he acquired in your absence! Isn't it all so exciting? I wasn't meant to tell you like you said but I hardly think allowing you to dress in average attire-"

Valerie didn't hear the rest of it, the massaging hands on her head suddenly feeling like a vice-grip crushing her skull rather than anything relaxing. Magnus was coming around again. Except this time, neither Markus or Kaeso would be round. Her heart beat faster, the thudding visible in her throat as she felt irrational fear coat her mouth like a bitter gall. Anyone might think her reaction was one of excitement had they not known any better. He must know about the imperial summons. He wants to worm his way in deeper before the time I must see the Emperor. It's all a power game.

A sudden sharp, trill sound like a cellphone receiving a notification came through, making Aquila pause in her quest to begin braiding Valerie's hair before she started up again. "By the Gods what was that?!" She exclaimed, eyes searching frantically around while deft fingers worked quickly to plait strands together elegantly around the crown of Valerie's head.

Without even looking Valerie knew what it was. The sound of technology was like a salve to her beating chest with it's comforting familiarity...a salve that quickly became hot and uncomfortable as she remembered she was in Ancient Rome and not her own time. She needed to distract Aquila and quickly, knowing that the sound could only have come from the tablet hidden carefully in Kaeso's satchel. The last few seconds as Aquila finished the braid felt like hours, but the moment she was done Valerie stood with eyes wide. "Perhaps it was a bird! stuck somewhere in the villa! I....ah....I will search the rooms, you check the courtyard and atrium."

The housekeeper in Aquila raised it's ugly head, the woman's eyes taking on a steely resolve. "I have cleaned this place from top to bottom for last night, I will not allow some paltry poultry from fouling the place!" In a huff she stomped off, Valerie following close behind her only to slip straight into Kaeso's room while Aquila made a beeline for the kitchen.

Finding the tablet was quick and easy work, the glowing of a red light visible from where the tablet was hidden inside the satchel. Making sure to listen carefully for Aquila's return, Valerie opened it up eagerly. The sooner they followed the instructions that brought them here, the sooner they....or at least she could leave. That thought suddenly stilled her hand, Valerie blinking slowly as she realized that Kaeso was home. More than likely, if things were ever resolved, she would be leaving alone. The realization left her feeling suddenly cold and lacking substance, like an empty vase left in the chill of a dusty attic in the middle of winter. Shaking off the feeling she strengthened her resolve, eyes brightening again as her fingers pressed the button to turn the tablet on. No point thinking about that now, that's a bridge you'll cross when you need to...if you can ever cross it at all.

The tablet screen lit up, showing a simple block of white text:

Greetings. I assume you're still alive. Well done on that. A reminder to not jeopardize my plans by blowing your cover. Do WHATEVER necessary to keep all of the old Corvinus' acquaintances from being suspicious. You should have received the Imperial summons by now. Be sure to do exactly as the Emperor says. Not doing as he asks could spell disaster. Be careful - remember I could make things so much worse for you.

The words made her heart sink and anger burn hot in her veins, the need to suddenly toss the item across the room extremely hard to resist. Valerie simply growled under her breath though, forcibly shoving the tablet back into the satchel just as Aquila's eager footsteps could be heard approaching from the direction of the kitchen.

"My lady! A horse and rider are kicking up dust down the road! I saw them through the kitchen window while looking for the bird!" She popped her head in, eyes bright and excited. Clearly all worries about the ghost 'bird' that Valerie had invented were long forgotten. The younger female could hardly even bring herself to echo Aquila's excitement since she knew who it was that was arriving. Magnus is almost here.
 

Zul'Zae'ju'Jin

the Hugger Troll
Kaeso moved with the movements of a Centurion who was assured of where he was and who he was. He didn't have to concern himself too much with the differing of layouts to the barracks since they typically were constructed to the same typical layout anywhere in the world that they were built but it also came with an air of his own authority. He would be glad to have the physical form of that returned to him as it was difficult to prove without a uniform, his vine cane or even the other accoutrements that marked his rank in the Second Augusta. That had been one of the most difficult things he had to do, was letting his uniform be carted away in a box which now resided in a tin car some way off in the distant future. He was intelligent enough to realise that if that was found by anyone other than himself or Valerie, they were going to have a field day. Uniforms were expensive now. He wondred what the market was for a pristine Centurion's uniform in Valerie's time.

He glanced and felt assured by Markus's presence in his wake and could not fault the man's aptitude for maintaining appearances. Kaeso was aware that there were likely points in his arrival to the household where Markus could pick points out of but for now, their objectives aligned and that was Valerie. HE could place trust in that Markus would be a valueable ally, able to hear in places Kaeso would not be so readily welcomed or find it easy to blend into the crowd with. He didn't doubt that Markus saw advantages in having a battle hardened Centurion on his side. The man bore a smile and that got Marcellus' interest. It was soon clarified.

Kaeso concentrated on where he placed his feet more for not wishing to trip over a tent line. He grinned and chuckled softly, seeing the humour laced in the man's words. Indeed, he and Markus were likely to be very good allies all told. "I guess we'll find out then, won't we?" he nodded as he led the way to the Quartermaster's who, true to the standard blueprints of any Roman fort, had his office nearby in equal distances to the barracks and the training grounds. It was a point of convenience really and Kaeso doubted Markus forgot where it was either. He supposed it depended on how long the man had served but the Legion had its ways of drilling routines into a man that seldom left even past retirement.

The only difference that marked this Quartermaster's from those in the field was that the walls were stone and it looked a little more grand than the stores Kaeso was otherwise used to. It bore little steps leading towards the door that were well worn by the many soldier's boots to have transversed it looking for equipment. He really hoped the clerk was in a good mood. It was like pulling rusted iron rivets otherwise and he didn't really wish to be further from Valerie than he had to. Without him or Markus at her side, she was vulnerable. Especially with Aquila who seemed ignorant of Magnus' darker intents and purposes. He wasn't entirely sure how she missed it. He positively reeked of bad news. He certainly would not wish his own daughter, had he one to care about, upon the man.

In what was typical Centurion fashion, he opened the door and strode in without thought to knocking first. Quartermaster's might have the strings over a man's equipment in terms of what to dock the man's pay with but Kaeso would technically outrank him. Unless he was that unlucky in his lot.

"The fuck happened to knocking first, Legionary!" The roar of a response to this simple act was almost instant and it was loud. Kaeso peered towards the counter where a man was stood behind, paperwork before him. The man clearly hadn't bothered to look before he yhelled, assuming it to be one of many of the Legionaries stationed here. Kaeso grinned when he recognised the man and moved in further, trusting Markus to close the door behind them. The room was filled with the usual array of any stores and it was not too well lit but Kaeso could not mistake the weathered face of an old drinking buddy.

"Felix, you old cock. I thought you died years ago!"

The man, who looked to be in at least his late forties but had an early onset of greying hair, paused in scratching marks on wax with his stylus and peered upwards before the hard lines of his face softened and a smile replaced the harsh frown of disappointment.

"Well, fuck me. If it's not Marcellus himself. And thank you, but no. Still proving too worthy upon this plane of existence for Hades to fuck bothering with me yet," the older man grinned before he gestured for them to come closer, though the gesture was more for Kaeso than it was for the other. "I heard rumours of a Centurion returning from Britannia with talk of bravery and valour. Wouldn't happen to have been you, would it now?"

"Can't deny you a good truth to rumour," Kaeso replied, moving closer with a smirk.
"Hm, hm, thought so. The grapevine around here is thick with envy," the Quartermaster replied before he fetched a jug, filling two small Samian ware cups and offered one to Kaeso who took it without question. Kaeso sniffed it, swirling it gently before he smirked, "Retiring to city life then?"

"Eh, beats the cold winters of Germania.... Fucking Rhine... don't get me started, lad. I'll bore you both, I think," he nodded before they both took a sip from the cups. "Requested transfer to here. Got me a nice little setup now that will happily see me into retirement, so don't you go fucking that up, hm?"

Kaeso grinned holding his hand up placatingly, "It's not worth my effort to pull that stunt, old friend."

"Good to know. What brings you here? Thought the high and mighty would be lapping you up. Can't get enough of the latest gossip, them lot,"
"Had to leave my armour behind. Just wore the damned boots in too. Have to requisition a new set, preferably before two days time when I have a meeting with the Emperor,"
"Oof, that's tough," the Quartermaster accepted the paper which Kaeso handed to him, reading it with small sips from his cup before he nodded. "Good thing that Commander likes you, it seems."
"Think I served more as welcomed distraction,"
"Probably. Fuck all here to do but drills and paperwork," Felix replied sagely before he set the cup down and then leaned over the counter some, eyeing Kaeso over for a moment before he nodded and shifted about his office. Kaeso watched as he disappeared into a back room and the clunks of metal could be heard along with the man's treads on flat stone.

He glanced back at Markus a moment before he finished his cup. Felix certainly had not stinted on the quality of wine he used which made him think back to his somewhat younger and early days as a Centurion. IT opened a world not quite open to Legionaries. Felix returned with a bundle and set it on the counter away from his paperwork.

"Here you are. Think this would be suiting you quite nicely. Perfectly functional, and decent to go before the Emperor. Shoe size?" Kaeso told him and the man soon retrieved boots with greaves, adding that to the rest of what he had collected for Kaeso. He then moved and made notes in a waxbook with an expression of extreme focus which Kaeso knew better than to interrupt. It was not worth his existence to even make an attempt. So, he stood in comparable silence with Markus with patience as they waited for Felix to tally the numbers. After a moment, the man clicked his tongue and nodded, "I'll keep this handy. I'll send a note to the clerks at the Imperial Office, asking them to detail me if anything needs to be charged, amended, et cetera. Don't go ruining your sheet now Marcellus,"

"Perish the thought. Thanks Felix. I'll stand you a drink later, yeah?"
"Oh, you better. The good stuff, Kaeso. None of that pigswill you've had beyond the Rhine, hm?"
"Oh gods no. Don't miss that," he grinned as he looked over his equipment. Nodding, he glanced towards Markus, "Help me with this, lad." His manner was to the point knowing that even to a friend the facade would have to be maintained. He could see Felix turning his gaze on the other man now before he grunted, returning to his paperwork. Kaeso collected the smaller parts of the armour set leaving the heavier one for Markus. Not because he was inherently like that, but it would help to keep appearances.

"Stay safe, old friend. Now, kindly fuck off so I can finish my paperwork, huh?"
the old man grinned leaving Kaeso chuckling and nodding, already heading for the door with a gesture of farewell that wasn't really safe for polite company.

"Surprises around every corner these days," Kaeso muttered once they were back en route to the way back to Valerie's villa unaware that the man he had made an undoubtful enemy of was also enroute to pay a visit and decidedly much closer in the doing there of.
 

MJK2431

✿❀❁
Aquila hurried out towards the entrance to the villa, eagerly awaiting for Magnus' arrival so that she could assist him in anyway. The scientist followed at a much slower pace, wishing all the way that Aquila had managed to spill the secret sooner so she had had more time to prepare. The pompous apprenticing praetor arrived in no time at all, Valerie coughing with the surge of dust clouding the air that his horse kicked up. Before his steed had fully halted Magnus jumped off eagerly, waving with his hand as the only indication to Aquila that she must care for the horse.

"Valoria, you look as lovely as a spring flower. As always." He greeted her with a dashing smile, teeth flashing white before he ducked into a small bow. Valerie cleared her throat, forcing a painful smile onto her otherwise dull features before dropping into a quick curtsy. "Ah, thank you, Lord Calamis." When he rose, his eyes fell on her only momentarily before they scanned around the area behind her, then flitted towards the entrance to the villa which lay in shadow.

For someone willing to shower her with compliments, his attention seemed to not be focused on her. He's looking for Kaeso. Maybe Markus as well. He want's to know if it's just Aquila and I here....alone. The assumption made Valerie's stomach tighten, her smile fading all too quickly. Her guess was confirmed when he finally turned back to her and spoke.

"I see your war dog is not here. Where on earth could he have gone with the knowledge that you would be left unattended? You ought to tighten his leash, along with that man-slave." He offered her his elbow, flashing another white grin. "Take care of the horse, slave. Drop the parcel on the beast in your mistresses quarters. She and I are going for a walk into town." It was not a suggestion, but rather a command. One aimed at both her and Aquila simultaneously. The assumption that Valerie would just follow along like a well-behaved child made her anger boil as hot as a stew. However, impassive look on her face remained by sheer force of her will. Biting the inside of her cheek she did as expected of a woman in her position, looping her arm into the crook of his elbow.

Don't make a scene, don't expose yourself, remember Hugo's message, don't put Kaeso or Markus at risk. The words were all the motivation she needed to follow along, allowing Magnus to lead the way as they headed back down the road. He kept them within the shade of the trees bordering the road, waiting only until Aquila had left with his steed before speaking again.

"Your slaves need work, Lady Corvinus. Your woman is old and slow and your man should have been around to care for the animal in the first place. While you have no real domination over the soldier - " Here he paused, his eyes darkening and his grip on her arm tightening almost possessively. "The Centurion's duty, from what I heard last night, is to watch over you. It is rather shameful that he seems to have abandoned that post. I know if it were up to me -" He beamed down at her, his hooded eyes raking over her face like a fine-tooth comb, "-I would never let you out of my sight."

Valerie was sure the words would make most Roman woman melt. Any other female might be love-struck at the thought that a man of his position and power had confessed to never wanting to let his eyes off of them. For the Val though, the confession made her skin crawl and the sudden desire to run like a bat out of hell course through her. She swallowed back hard, making sure of her words which she coated with a honeyed tone. "How kind of you, Magnus." Keep your words short and sweet.

He lifted his other arm, patting her hand where it lay loosely against his forearm. It was an endearing action, one meant to reinforce his own feelings of power and superiority. "The soldier cannot possibly understand you as I can, Valoria. He is not one of us."

The female bit down on her lip, fighting the urge to scream that she was not who he wanted her to be and never could be. It was not in her to act the submissive, coy and quiet lover that he thought had returned. Now more than ever she wished that Kaeso had not left to retrieve his armor, her head grasping for a reasonable response.

"He is certainly different." The words weren't a lie. Although, their meaning to Valerie would definitely be different to how Magnus interpreted them. Kaeso was different, but in all the ways Valerie appreciated and longed for at this very moment. He was kind were Magnus was rude and entitled, gentle where the praetor was forceful and crass. The Centurion had become her friend, while the one beside her would never even be able to achieve a desired acquaintanceship with the female.

As if her thoughts had somehow willed the universe to lend her a hand, Valerie spotted two familiar silhouettes on the far hill in front of them. She smiled quietly to herself but said nothing, not wanting to let on her joy at seeing them. "Do you have any specific plans for being in town, Lord Calamis?"
 

Zul'Zae'ju'Jin

the Hugger Troll
The trip to the Legion's barracks was a wave of welcomed familiarity to Kaeso. This was not something he could deny for it was a truth. A lot had upset his world in recent weeks and he was still rsuhing to keep up. There was a lot more to worry about here in this time than he had in her time which seemed like the weirdest thing to acknowledge and it really just boiled down to the fact she was playing a role that really wasn't hers and she was also a woman in what was a man's world and time.

As much as the trip was welcomed, he was anxious about leaving Valerie alone to the whims of Aquila and any who chose to make a visitation to the villa. Chief amongst his thoughts was that upstart, Magnus. He had not made a friend in the man but then nor was he likely ever going to. His social class was lower than the senator's son and as proven had seen the soldier as nothing more than one might consider a tool. Despite Valerie's own new social class, she might as well be in the same collective boat as he was and he was worried about that.

Kaeso was aware that the man might do something stupid and try to have him killed. People were killed in Rome for a lot less and the manner was demeaning by comparison to being on the frontline in a battlefield. At least there, he had a higher chance of seeing his enemy in the eye. Assassinations were a lot rarer there than it was in Rome where it was common happenstance. He half expected to get jumped on at some point. He supposed if Magnus was to try and do such, he'd wait until after he'd heard what the Emperor and their meeting was about now that he had learned of it. Kaeso disliked it that the wretched man knew but knowing it also made him nervous. He was still pensieve about that ambiguous line left in Corvinus' letter.

His feet lead the way back more than his mind did as they retraced their route back to the Corvinus villa. Not for the first, or likely last, time did he wish and long for the simplicity of a good hard battle. It was easier to lead from the front, bawling at his men to fight against barbarians or angry celts than it was dealing with the delicate and volatile nature of high society. It was a headache that was getting bigger and bigger. His concern for Valerie was making him up the pace to return hope and Markus seemed to sense his urgency, matching his stride with the armour held solidly in his grasp.

--

"Specific plans? Oh, my dear Valoria. I have several plans though some will take longer than others. I know they would go along far more smoothly with you at my side," Magnus replied, not yet spotting the incoming threat to his position.

"No one could deny a beautiful face like yours," he looked at her with a smile that some could mistake for sincerity but in truth expressed of how he saw her. His movements were glideful in his stride and posessive in his hold of Valerie. It was also very much for show knowing how well gossip rn through the streets of Rome. Even as far into the Aventine and the Subura.

Magnus was pleased with himself especially now that interferring man was not there to threaten his intent nor was his little underdog. The man was imposing and not someone Magnus could feel like he could physically take on. No, he would have to employ other methods to deal with them should they get in his way. A thought struck him at that moment before he looked at her again, his head leaning towards her.

"Any thought as to what the Emporer may wish towards you when you and that soldier go to meet him?" he asked, perhaps a little too openly but he was curious. He had still had yet to see what or rather who she had seen, his focus and attention too far interested in her and whatever the Emperor might do. Perhaps he could pay a little visit to the Palace and get Imperial permission to get Valoria as his wife that way. He knew that Corvinus had been a close friend to Claudius and it was likely what with her father and mother having perished, the responsibility to seeing her wed fell to his Imperial Highness. Cogs were turning over too much to have recalled the physical representation of what might stand in his way of such endeavours coming their way.
 

MJK2431

✿❀❁
What on earth would a man with his power possibly need me for? This is beginning to feel like a man with a marionette puppet, pulling the strings to make it dance at his will. I don't like being the puppet. She raised a quizzical brow, turning her head towards him and inclining it upward. "Why, my Lord, what could you possibly need me for?" Valerie was honestly curious. It would be better for her to know before hand, that way she could be prepared for whatever would come her way. Without Kaeso here to help her weave through the unknown intricacies of Roman society, she was far more likely to blunder in front of the man with her.

I just need to keep delaying him. The longer he focuses on talking, the more time I give Kaeso and Markus to cross paths with us. Maybe I can somehow get them to join us or they can provide and excuse for me to return with them instead. The first option will be easier, since it will be the most placating for Magnus.

He commented on her beauty, the compliment catching Valerie unaware. The words were not endearing, nor did they give her the feelings she had seen girls in movies acquire when being said such things. This was no fairytale, no matter how strange and twisted the circumstances were that had brought her here. She smiled still, accepting his words and graciously and convincingly as she could. "You shower me with undeserved praise, Magnus."

His next question was all she needed to truly see what cards he was playing. The penny dropped in Valerie's head, the female growing more comfortable as she moved into territory that was more about power-play than swatting away unwanted affection. She knew that to keep herself safe, it was best to make Magnus believe she was the meek mouse he thought her to be. Feigning innocence and vulnerability, the scientist responded quite worriedly, "I have no idea what the Emperor wishes to discuss. I think part of it has to do with wanting to see with his own eyes that I am safely returned and to congratulate Centurion Marcellus on a job well done."

Val didn't need to fake the worry on her features. She was truthfully terrified of finding out what the emperor wanted.
 

Zul'Zae'ju'Jin

the Hugger Troll
Magnus looked at her as they moved through the crowds as if just a couple out for a leisurely stroll even though that was nothing as quite as close as it trully was. He seemed astonished that she would find this a suprise or be unknowing of the reasons. "My dear, with our houses joined, there is nothing we couldn't achieve. You must have ambitions too, you were certainly quite expressive before. 'Everyone will know the Corvinus name', to that effect. Your father would have approved of the match" he said softly as if this was something she should have realised. Course, Magnus had to fabricated a little of it but she seemed to have forgotten what she had known before and her father was not here now for that remark to be readily discounted.

"Eventually we could potentially become some of the most important people in Rome," his aspirations were higher but even he knew he ought to be careful and there was still time inbetween now and then in where he had to lay the groundwork for what he wanted to be. The old goat in the throne would likely die out before then but he lay hopes in the step-son that Claudius had through his latest piece and he knew his wife was just as ambitious. She would need several allies when that time came. If he could add the Corvinus name to the pool of supportors, his role in the future regime would be all set and he would be living it large.

Course, he supposed, there was nothing that stopped him from perhaps aiding the emperor from popping it a little sooner and if he could lay fault at the thorn that was the Centurion, all the better. His mind trmebled at the possibility of hitting two birds with one stone.

"I heartily disagree, my lady," he said readily in easy practice. "Your beauty is as if Venus had raised you herself," he affirmed, seeking to flatter her further. Such accolades had worked on her before and yet it seemed her amnesia had given her a little more resolve or unsurety. He wasn't too sure which.

It was then she answered his probing question about the Imperial meeting and his head tilted like he was a vulture eyeing a carcass from the skies before encircling. She seemed worried about it, perhaps she was concerned the Emperor would find fault with her, that perhaps she was now tainted because of the time spent with savages in Britannia. It didn't bother Magnus, he was more after her family name and the wealth that came with it, but he knew the Emperor might be disuadded by it in terms of agreeing to her being able to wed and with whom. There were other unknown factors involved and some of those included the infuriating Centurion.

Magnus had not forgotten how the Centurion had interupted him with Valerie and he was still planning the punishment for that impudence. However, the Centurion had not gone out or left the house for the longest time and today had been the first time he had left Valoria alone.

"Hm, I suppose. The Centurion could do with a little reward before he returns to active service, as is befitting of his rank and experience. He's quite lost here in Rome," he breathed. It appeared that he still had not realised how close Kaeso and Markus were. Not until Kaeso had stopped in the man's path causing him to bump somewhat into him.

Magnus blinked and was about to launch a tirade at whoever dared to walk in his path before he recognised the scarred, rugged and frowning features of the Centurion in recent question. The Senator's apprentice scowled, "You're in our way, Centurion," his tone was seething at the man's gall to stand in the way of one of Rome's most noble of families.

--

Kaeso was so much into his own thoughts for the most part that it was the exhalation of breath from Markus that broke into his reverie. Markus had seen the pair as they walked back to the villa and his heart dropped to see his domina held in the man's hands like she belonged to him. He doubted Valoria would have gone with him willingly at all. "Sir..." he urged in warning to the Centurion in a low voice. He might have used the proper title but he had seen the soldier's absent expression to realise that he might not immediately react to such. Calling him 'Sir' would do the job much quicker than other pleasantries. As anticipated by Markus, the Centurion's attention immediately broke from whatever he had been thinking about and glanced towards Markus inquiringly.

Markus turned his gaze back to Magnus and Valerie and gestured with his chin in their direction. Kaeso followed it as if he and Markus were trying to not make a lot of noise and he frowned as he recognised Valerie and he frowned more distinctly when he recognised Magnus. Bastard! Kaeso knew leaving her with just Aquila had been a bad decision but it had been one that could not be helped. The army would not have looked too kindly on him demanding someone from their end to carry his armour back nor would the Emperor have appreciated him turning up in the simple tunic that Hugo had provided.

"Keep an eye out, he might have thugs with him at a distance," he told the other anticipating a noble's penchant for keeping bodyguards. The city was a dangerous place after all and you had to be careful. It was certainly rarer for nobles to be out alone without a guard or litter bearers. He didn't want to find themselves jumped upon and getting themselves outnumbered should things go sour. He hoped the jumped up noble had forgone the use of his father's guards this time around but neither the Centurion or Markus could afford that chance.

Kaeso paused and at a pause through the thoroughfare of the road he quickly crossed the road. Markus kept with him in his wake allowing the traffic of people, carts, horses and mules to give them cover from the noble's view. The Centurion knew the man would not fair well at the threat of having to fight and perhaps intimidation would only get so far but the Centurion was not going to leave Valoria alone with the man. They shouldn't have left the villa at all without him being there to protect her. Such were his orders, no matter from what time they had originated.

Centurion and slave kept a slow but steady pace before they met with Valoria and Magnus. Kaeso stood in the man's path amazed that the man had not yet noticed him. It showed how piss poor the man's situational awareness was and that was just asking for trouble. Kaeso would have loved for this man to be under his command so that he could put him through his paces. The Centurion doubted that MAgnus would have lasted long as a Legionary.

"Forgive me, Sir, but given how tightly your hand is holding Lady Corvinus, I beleive I have the right as her protector," he replied curtly, nodding in gesture to Magnus' hand on her arm. It did not look overtly painful but neither did it seem like a gentle hold from which she could easily break.

"My lady, is everything all right? Shall I send him on his way?" he asked, making it clear that she had the rule of command in this situation. He was her guardian and through her status as a noblitas through that level of contract between a dead man's words, she could use him in such a fashion effectively. It helped her 'adopted' family was of high standing. Kaeso was also giving the chance for her to help in making less of a scene out of all this. Last thing the Centurion wanted was for things to turn violent.
 

MJK2431

✿❀❁
I…I don’t recall that…” It was clear to her now. He had expectations and it was all Valoria’s fault. Anything that was happening to her now with concerns to Magnus was not any of her doing, but at the same time it was her doing. The revelation caused a twisting of the female’s gut, since she knew that fending off any of his advances when the girl who had left him a few years ago had been encouraging them. “I’m sure my father had very high expectations of me. I’ll do my best to not disappoint him. However, you must understand how difficult this has all been for me considering my circumstances. I….I don’t remember any of our encounters from before or anything I might have said to you. I have no idea of the promises I’ve made or any sort of, um, future I might have planned out with you Magnus.” The hold of his arm on hers was still so strong. It almost seemed to be tightening, especially as the crowd around them grew denser and people began turning their heads towards the young, renown couple. What else could be expected after the night celebrating her return?

The most important people in Rome…” Her voice may have sounded in awe, especially to Magnus, who was certain of his goals. In reality, the thought frightened Valerie immensely, thinking of the pressure and watchful eyes that would be on her then. If she was finding it difficult to manage now, she could only imagine how difficult things would get if her status was elevated. Her second thought though was beyond herself: what would happen to Kaeso? How would she be able to keep him around, by her side at all times – preferably in Magnus’ place. In fact, having him here with her arm in his instead of Magnus’ would have confronted her with a whole different set of feelings rather than fear and worry. The thought made her feel strange, like she had drunk champagne and was suddenly light and bubbly. A foreign yet, pleasant sensation. The female reminded herself sternly of the actual reality and focused once again.

While she could only grow heated at how uncomfortable his comment on her beauty made her feel, it was his comment on Kaeso that got her to open her mouth again. “Lost? I think it is more I than he who is lost is Rome. My memory loss has left me feeling quite out of place in this large, bustling place.” It was the most truthful thing she had said to him so far and also the most direct.

No sooner had she said the words than Magnus bumped straight into the topic of their conversation. His firm grip on her arm made her unsteady when he collided with the soldier, Valerie stumbling slightly and needing to grasp onto Kaeso in front of her on instinct to correct her footing. His skin was hot beneath her hand, the female pulling it away awkwardly before looking up with relief to give Kaeso a smile. Thank the Gods. The phrase was not one she had thought before, her smile widening when she realized it was most likely something of Kaeso’s habits that had rubbed off on her.

He offered her a way out, Markus standing diligently holding rather heavy armor just behind the Centurion. She could recognize the helping hand Kaeso was offering her, even if it was not as carefully veiled in Magnus’ presence as she would have liked. There was clear tension between the two men and it was making them both not account their words as carefully as they should. Not that Magnus had much to lose with his ranking and status, but a slip-up on Kaeso’s end could be disastrous for both of them. Still though, Valerie was eternally grateful for any excuse to get away from the slimy man still holding onto her.

I think Lady Valoria is doing just fine with me, in fact your obtrusion into our discussion is quite offensive considering your rank and –“ Valerie interrupted Magnus before he could continue, using her free hand to fan her face quite dramatically.

“Well, the heat is suddenly quite extraordinary and the walk this far has been more taxing than I realized it would be. I fear I’m not as recovered as I’d like to be. I have enjoyed your company thus far, Magnus, but I fear you might be carrying me back if I don’t return now". A withered look passed over her features, her eyes widening and her mouth parting like a freshly opening flower bud to allow a delicate sigh to escape her lips.

Her act seemed to do the trick, Magnus’ eyes widening at the thought of the crowd watching him perspire and struggle to return the lady home if she did indeed pass out. Had he brought his horse it would have been no problem, but he had been expecting to make use of the extra time it took to walk away from and back to the Corvinus villa.He cleared his throat, releasing her reluctantly. Valerie inclined her head gratefully, joining Kaeso’s side.

Tomorrow, then. After your meeting with the Emperor. I’m eager to hear all about it, my Lady.” He took her hand gently, his eyes almost imperceivably flitting into Kaeso’s direction before he planted a kiss on her knuckles. “I’ll think of you until then and send my prayers to the Gods that your health returns to normal.”
 

Zul'Zae'ju'Jin

the Hugger Troll
Magnus kept his hold as they walked surrounded by Rome's populace. The people here were a little more higher up the social ladder save for the slaves that tended to their master's every whim. Some were walking, whilst others were carried in litters surrounded by trusted bodyguards and personal slaves. This was an opposite to how it was in places like the subura and the Aventine.

"I doubt it would be difficult for you to disappoint a man as important as your Father was to the Empire, my Lady," he replied in what might have been a reminder of her social class. After all, he did not want her to look anywhere else but his own match. Hopefully, father could cement the deal with the Emperor but he knew that it would depend on what instruction her old man had left and what the Emperor ultimately wished for her. If they hadn't been such close friends, the situation might have looked more easily to his favour. He looked at her briefly but deceptively with adoration as to fool her and others, "I'm sure they will return to you soon enough, my dear. Once you're yourself again." If what she had said to him was supposed to have dissuaded him from his endeavours to join their two houses, it was a poor show on her part. How could she have forgotten it all?

He smiled pleasantly as she echoed the words he had said and he knew it was true. They were indeed some of the most important people in Rome. His father was largely influential and he planned to make a name for himself as well. Course, he would have to soon complete a stint in the Legions as a Tribune as part of his path to becoming a Senator. He wasn't really looking forward to that but it would be a comfortable posting for him at least, he presumed. The fighting was for the lower ranks, the rank and file of the lowest rungs of the ladder. Few could aspire to be anything more than that.

The talk of the Centurion did not aid his mood, knowing a few Centurions had risen to achieve a higher glory. He knew personally that the Legatus Vespasian's father had been a Centurion who had reached the Equestrian class and now his sons were high ranking members destined to be Senators themselves.

"Oh, you'll pick up everything again in no time, don't you worry,"
Magnus was very sure of himself in this which faultered when they ran into the Centurion that seemed to be ever present these days. it seemed the soldier had not been willing to leave her alone for too long and the Senator's son sighed with exasperation. The man was an obstacle in his way.

Kaeso raised his arm to aid Valerie when she stumbled into him, looking to her with concern as to her health and safety. She looked relieved and he could not doubt the intervention had been welcomed. Kaeso didn't really think much of those who forced their affections on others even if he knew it was a part of the brutal world in which he lived. He made sure his touch was clearly professional, he did not wish to give Magnus dubious ideas. Not that he cared but it would save any actions later down the road, he hoped. Course, Magnus would still him as a man in the way and men's lives were often expendable.

The Centurion realised belatedly he could have said his meaning in a better phrase of words but he struggled to be elaborate with them. He was not one known to mince his words... There was little time for such flair on the battlefield or when training rankers too green to know one end of a pilum from the other. It was his job to get his men trained to the best of their ability, to ingore their natural instincts and to follow orders, to fight and kill and survive. It was a different world of wordsmithing and not one normally within his skillset.

Besides, he knew Magnus saw him as a rival, an opponent and given what the letter had alluded too. It could very well be the case. It was all down to the meeting they would have to be attending with the Emperor. If the Emperor and his council of Freedman saw what Kaeso had recognised then either they would throw the notion out of the door entirely or the Emperor would honour the wishes of his close friend. He would do his duty, he knew, but it was an uncertain state of affairs over which he would have little to no control over.

It seemed Magnus really had not liked the Centurion's intervention at all. That was unsurprising but equally Kaeso cared little for what the man liked or disliked. The man was privelidged and was ungrateful for his position. Kaeso was only too aware of how life could be some. Whether you were a slave and ill treated by your master or a free individual under the slums of poverty. It was a harsh life frowned upon by noblitas. At least with the Legions, you had that for family.

He had been about to speak but Valerie got there before him in a fashion that was perhaps better suited for the situation. It seemed to have worked as the man's hand released her and Kaeso felt a little m,ore relieved when she joined his side. He was acutely aware of how his world differed to her own. One little fuck up and they could both be easily sent to a life of slavery. Something Kaeso did not wish upon either of them. He could hear Markus shift behind him as the other went to take Valerie's hand.

Was it really tomorrow? The days had flown by all too quickly and the nervous ball of energy rested in his gut. So much so that he gave no reaction at all to the kiss. His expression was largely blank but he remained stood by Valerie's side as the other gave his farewells. Kaeso didn't like the tone in which they had been said but he could not say much on it aloud. Not here. He bowed his head, "Until then, Sir." It was annoying but he still had to observe the social differences of class as much as those underneath him.

Markus and Kaeso watched as Magnus smiled at Valerie once more, not even having acknowledge the Centurion speaking before the man turned and headed off presumably in the direction of where his own villa was located in the city. Kaeso watched him beadily for a solid minute before he scratched his chest absently. "He's up to no good," he muttered warily.

He looked back to her, "We should get back, and I think I'd like to reread your Father's letter," he breathed. He could feel Markus' tension release somewhat as well as his own. Till they knew they were safe, they all had to be on guard. "After you, my lady... Unless you'd like a arm, just in case," he nodded gently. Kaeso already knew what the letter had said, he had mostly memorised it through subsequent readings before he had gone to sleep but he knew she would have to be aware of the potentials. It wouldn't be fair to let her meet the Emperor blind.
 

MJK2431

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He’s always up to no good. He has been pestering for information from the moment we left the villa. I tried my best to keep him as in the dark as possible, but it seems word travels far and wide in the city. Nothing remains secret for very long.” Valerie agreed, her eyes narrowing as Magnus’ silhouette finally disappeared behind a corner building. An irritable huff left her nostrils, hands fidgeting with the skirt of her dress.

Kaeso’s offer of an arm brought back a more pleasant mood though, Valerie chuckling under her breath before carefully tossing her hair back over her shoulder. “I appreciate the offer, Centurion, but I’m suddenly feeling much better. Perhaps it was just a passing affliction, or perhaps Lord Magnus’ prayers have already worked wonders.” The was a faint hint of sarcasm in her tone. She grinned smugly, starting the walk back towards the villa at his indication she take the lead.

*************************************************​

Aquila seemed disappointed at the group that arrived back to the villa. She had been expecting to see a smiling Valoria, arm in arm with one of the upcoming powers of Rome. Instead she was faced with a indeed smiling Valoria but rather chattering away to Markus and Kaeso in an animated fashion. I smell trouble brewing. I only hope it does not sweep all of us up into it and dump us all into the pits of Tartarus.

****************************************************​

The next morning was a flurry of activity. Valerie was woken up by Aquila at the crack of dawn who insisted she take a quick trip to the baths. The old woman followed her around like a cat after a mouse, wanting to primp and preen her young Domina until she looked her best. Valerie could merely sit and let her do her work, knowing that any attempt on her own to meet the standards of an Emperor would be frivolous with her lack of knowledge.

The full orb of the sun was over the horizon by the time she emerged from her room, dressed in a lavender-hued tunic cinched with silver brooches at her shoulders. Thin metal clasps had been used to isolate braided pieces of hair, her wheat-coloured locks forming thick curls that shone with the oil that Aquila had so lavishly applied. Her eyes were thickly lined with kohl, lips stained with a special powder the old servant had pulled from one of the many strange pots set on the shelves.

The longer she had been awake, the more her nerves grew. It was hard to hide her anxiety, fingers nervously wringing together and twisting on the silver rings dotted with amethysts. The matching earrings, weighing heavy on her lobes with the amethyst pieces dropping from circles of silver, smacked against her neck every time she turned her head to remind her they were there. Her attire felt foreign and itchy, any appetite she had worked up in her trip too and from the baths gone as her reflection in the fountain at the middle of the atrium showed someone she did not recognize. She was an impostor in her own body – if she could barely convince herself, how was she supposed to convince the Emperor?
 

Zul'Zae'ju'Jin

the Hugger Troll
Marcellus nodded, his attention still on the retreating form of Calamis's son. The knowledge that he'd been pushing for information did not come to him as a surprise much less that it had been her Magnus had asked and not the Centurion so far. He was wary. He did not like the man's seedy tones and airs and Kaeso was of the opinion that they would be seeing the wretched man again sooner or later.

He gave a snort, "I'm not even sure even half of Rome knows the meaning of the word, my Lady," he replied, keeping up the appearance of the class difference between them. Last thing he wanted was for some upstart to have overheard a slight and bring him up on it in public. Not that privacy was much of a thing in his times when slaves were everywhere from meetings to other pursuits their masters got up to.

His gaze returned to her with her use of his rank and he hid the smile of amusement in return. She was plaaying the part and that's what both of them had to do right now, despite knowing the truth. His own station might be a truth, but he still knew more than what a Centurion should know and was acting on orders that he was not entirely sure were genuine no matter how much Hugo had said they were. The Centurion inclined his head in response, "Very well, my Lady. After you," he replied formally, a hand smartly gesturing the direction and it was not long before they had returned to her estate.

Conversation had sprung up between them for a good while as they had returned and even Markus's own mood seemed to have been uplifted. After that, he had made his excuses to go reread the letter. He sat in the room he had been using since it had been allocated for him and removed the letter by Corvinus's own hand.

"To his Imperial Highness, Emperor Claudius and those it concerns,"

"It will soon be known that my family is no longer upon the lands of our beloved capitol but deep within the lands of the savage natives of Britannia. My time is short, along with that of my dearest wife, Julia. I have written this in the hope that if my wife and I are not blessed by Fortuna in returning home is that our daughter who has blessed us with her life will have the chance to do so in our stead. I am grateful to those in Rome who have sent this man to our rescue and it is my wish and authority that the bearer of this letter remains with my daughter as her protector for the rest of her life. She will need all the protection this life can provide for her."

"To my darling Valeria, we wish you all the best and bestow our love and strength to you.. and that you can do all you can to maintain the family name. We love you very much and our hearts shall always be with you. In this life or the next."

"Signed,
Gaius Valerius Corvinus"


Kaeso read it multiple times but there was no mistaking the hidden meaning behind one particular sentence of Corvinus's request. His hand rubbed over his jawline as he read with a nervous energy to the pit of his stomach. 'I am grateful to those in Rome who have sent this man to our rescue and it is my wish and authority that the bearer of this letter remains with my daughter as her protector for the rest of her life.'

This one request would have repurcussions that Valerie and Himself would not be able to control or steer the direction of. The Emperor could honour the request or ignore it for more favourable tidings. On one hand, the thought of what could be on the cards for him meant he would be able to keep his own promise to Valerie but it was equally something that he had not given much thought to when he had enlisted and rose through the ranks. It was asking a lot of the Emperor on Corvinus's part. He wondered how much of this Corvinus had realised in the short space of time he had available to him in this life.

His sleep was not as solid as it usually was but he still woke at dawn. With a heavy sigh, he rose and saw to the needs of making sure he was at his most presentable. He made sure that his hair was clipped back to his usual military standard. It had grown longer since the last time he had been able to have it cut and he felt better with as short again. He also made sure he was freshly shaved, the scent of the oils that had been worked into his jowls wafting through to his nose in distraction as he had returned to don his armour for the important day ahead of them.

The Centurion enlisted Markus's help in getting it on and making sure nothing was out of place. The slave's fingers working at straps and ensuring the armour sat correctly in the fashion born to soldiers. He looked at the other and held his helmet with its transverse crest in the crook of his arm, "Well?"

"You look better in uniform, Dominus," Markus nodded in reply and Kaeso nodded back, satisfied nothing was out of place for an Emperor or his many members of the Imperial staff to pick on. He was without his medal harness but he could not have helped that. They were in a box somewhere, someway, off in the far flung future. It made his head spin even now.

"Aquila will have breakfast prepared by now master, if you are hungry,"
"Starving," he smiled, "Come on then."

Kaeso retreived his loculus and made sure the letter and the signet ring that had belonged to the lat Gaius Valerius Corvionus were safely stowed. He had found a spot to hide the device Hugo had left them in his room that he was sure Aquila could not find before he had turned in to sleep the previous night. He had not thought it wise to bring the device along with them in case they were searched. Given the paranoia of ensuring the life of Claudius remained a live one, he knew it was a likely happenstance. He then turned and lead the way back out.

The Centurion had to pause when he saw Valerie and Markus paused a half stride to one side of the soldier in a pace behind him. Markus glanced from his Domina to Kaeso and smirked to himself as he looked back, his head was tilted in the usual manner for most slaves. Kaeso shook his head, she might be a woman out of her time but the outfit looked stunning on her. It seemed Aquila had gone to town in making sure her Domina was fit for an audience with the Emperor. He realised they would look at odds what with his armour and her much lighter dress but again, there was no helping that. He was a soldier. It would be odder still for him to turn up in a tunic, even as fine as the one he had worn for the house warming party.

He cleared his throat and approached her, "Good morning, my lady. I hope the day finds you well rested?" He offered her a reassuring smile. She would not be alone in facing his Imperial Majesty. Kaeso would be there alongside her. He just hoped the day, whatever it would mean for them, went smoothly with little to no outside interuptions. The command of Hugo's words sprang to mind again causing ill feeling to rise within him again. If anything, that man had more in common with Magnus thus far.

"Time for a little breakfast before we go, I do beleive. Shall we?" he gestured towards the seating area where they usually sat down to eat their meals.

Breakfast was brought and the slaves stood to one side in case anything else was needed. Kaeso settled his helmet to one side, the piece of kit looking far more shiny than the one Valerie had born witness to the first day that they had met. He looked towards Markus and Aquila a moment before he spoke, "Could you two leave us be for a moment?"

He could read some unease in Markus but the man bowed his head and turned to leave the room, heading out towards the courtyard where transport was being readied for them to the Imperial Palace. Aquila was a lot more hesitant in obeying the request, fixing the Centurion with an wary gaze. Despite her status as a slave, she still held the highest standing of the household staff and was used to being allowed more freedom with her words.

"Don't need to look so worried, Aquila. It's nothing serious but it's for Lady Valeria's ears alone, what I have to say," Kaeso affirmed before the woman could speak. Kaeso was used to anticipating actions and words from others.

"As you wish, master," she inclined her head before she walked off in the direction of the kitchens. Kaeso watched her for a steady moment before he moved. He sat alongside Valerie, speaking without further preamble and he was sure to not have his voice rise too loud.

"I'll keep this brief. I'm not sure how much you've read into the letter Corvinus left, but there could be a chance the Emperor will decide to marry you off. I dare not try to guess who that may be... But you should be aware that it is a possibility. Normally, the act falls to the Father... but if they're the close friends they seem to be, then it falls to the Emperor instead now that Corvinus is deceased." His tone was gentle but no less informative in its delivery. He tugged slightly at his neck cloth as he peered at her. He hated how she had been dumped into this position by Hugo. This was not her time, her age... She never should have had to face this at all in a world where women often had no choice in the matter of who they married. He wasn't sure how knowledgeable she was of the times, or if she had paused to remember the intricacies of his culture
 

MJK2431

✿❀❁
Valerie stared, examining each of her features with a fine tooth comb. So busy was she, criticizing every crease and line, that the sound of Markus’ and Kaeso’s footsteps on the tiled floors startled her. She looked up sharply in their direction, earrings swinging wildly and pulling on her ears once again.

The soldier’s appearance was, for a lack of a better word, splendid. The armour he wore now differed immensely from that which she had first met him in. The metal gleamed, letting off a pale-yellow reflection with the intensifying morning sun. He had shaved and cut his hair, once more groomed in a way that made him appear slightly younger in her eyes. Kaeso was clearly much more comfortable, the armour befitting his station adding an extra surety to his stride and posture that Valerie noticed. It helped strengthen her own demeanour, the female’s hunched over, unsure posture straightening to greet him.

Markus stopped a short distance away, his curious smirk in Kaeso’s direction after a brief glance her way causing one of her brows to arch upward. And that look? Have I dressed incorrectly, is something wrong? Surely Kaeso will say something if I need to change. Maybe Aquila went a bit overboard… The soldier gazed in her direction, the slight shake in his head making her chest seize nervously and heat rise up her neck and into her cheeks. Maybe I do look wrong. He said nothing though, instead simply greeting her and enquiring after her rest.

I rested well enough, considering the seriousness of today’s events. Aquila ensured I was up with plenty of time for her to nitpick at my appearance like a mother hen with a nest of hatched chicks.” She felt uneasy under his gaze, adjusting the strap on her shoulder with a careful gesture. “Breakfast would be a good idea, even if I don’t know just how much food I can stomach. I already feel sick thinking about what the Emperor wishes to discuss.”

Breakfast was a simple affair and repetitive compared to what they normally ate. Valerie tried as best she could to consume something, but every mouthful tasted like sawdust and every swallow made her feel as if she was placing stones in her stomach. Without much explanation, Kaeso suddenly urged Markus and Aquila to leave them be for a moment. Rather than be upset, Valerie was rather eager for a chance to speak with him alone – even if Aquila seemed hesitant.

With the steady, piercing gaze of the older woman gone Valerie found she could relax. Her shoulders drooped, her jaw which she hadn’t realized she had been clenching coming loose. Kaeso moved closer, metallic sounds filling the room as his armour subtly shifted in its placement. Eagerly she leaned forward without any provocation, eager to hear what it is Kaeso wished to discuss with her.

His words, although gentle, were difficult to hear. In fact, describing them as a vice like grip squeezing around her body was more accurate. The more Kaeso spoke, the more she felt the squeezing. Valerie had suspected, especially with Magnus’ advances and his questions around the meeting, that marriage might be the subject of todays appearance with the Emperor. Hearing it come from Kaeso’s mouth though was much more abrupt than her musings had been.

M-marriage? I mean, I know something of the culture in these times. I am old to be unwed, even if in my time that isn’t at all true. Still though, I don’t want to actually believe that I might have to – be forced to marry someone. You realize that….that…

She gulped, her tone paling before her hand moved towards her stomach as if that could keep the breakfast she had just eaten in it’s place.

This was probably why Magnus has been so direct and insistent in his pursuits. Oh Gods, I don’t know how I’m going to go through with being married to him. That’s what the Emperor is going to force, surely, considering his connection to my father? Considering Calami’s connections within the nobilitas? I think I’m going to be sick.”

She stood, unable to stay seated much longer. Her hand flew up to the nearest wall for support, fingers brushing against cool mosaic tiles. Valerie stared intently ahead, trying to organize the overwhelming rush of thoughts as she tried to think of a solution. I’ve been so busy trying to just survive here that I haven’t been thinking of the long-term game Hugo wants us to play. Was this his plan all along? Make me wed some horrid, beastly man? How does that help his plans? How does Kaeso fit into all of this?

Her eyes suddenly fixed on the image in front of her, eyes gazing at the mosaic image of a much younger version of herself. Her mind cleared, Valerie thinking back to the first time she had seen the image when arriving at the villa. I really do look so much alike her. Why is that? Why is all of this happening to me of all people? The question was the hardest one to answer of all, Valerie’s eyes shutting tightly. She let out an uneasy sigh, her hand sliding from the wall and coming to rest on her hip. The long breath helped to clear her head further and calm her down. I don’t know the answer, but that isn’t going to change a thing. Regardless, I need to keep going and make sure that my actions don’t bring harm to anyone else…especially Kaeso.

She straightened, dusting off the non-existent dust from her dress before turning back to Kaeso. “I guess musing about it isn’t going to help much. He’s the Emperor, so regardless how I feel about it his decision will need to be followed no matter what.” Just as Hugo said it would be. She forced a smile on her face, popping one more olive into her mouth before draining her watered down wine. “We best get going. The last thing we need is to be late for a meeting where we’re the guests of honour. Making the Emperor upset seems like a bad way to introduce my memory-less self to him.

************************************************************************

Despite her resolve to just accept whatever was to come, the litter ride did not prove to calm Valerie's nerves. She absent-mindedly stared out of the opening, thinly veiled with hessian curtains to block out the light should the passengers so wish. Her hands lay in her lap, anything but idle as they tugged and twisted on each of her fingers in turn. The female paused for a second, laying her hands-palm down to wipe away the perspiration building up there. Gripping her knees she looked down at her left hand, imagining a ring of metal encircling her second longest finger. It had seemed a fairytale thing to her as a child, the girl recalling playful times of placing plastic jewelry on the finger during times of make believe when princesses would marry princes. Now though, the imaginings of such things filled her with only dread. There was no promise of a prince this time, nor a fairytale. The ring would mean power of another over her and it frightened her terribly.

She squelched down the desire the suddenly jump from the window and flee, Emperor be damned. Instead, she chose to cast her thoughts aside and focus instead on Kaeso. Her turquoise pupils drank in his image, comparing once again his current appearance to how she had first seen him. It seemed sad to her, that this was the impression the Emperor expected of his soldiers - one of gleaming metal and perfection. In reality, if her memory was correct, soldiers looked anything but when actually doing their duty. Kaeso had been caked in grime, mud and blood when she had first met him - the polar opposite of the preened Centurion who was before her now.

Her thoughts produced a question, which she posed to him. "Does the Emperor ever attend battle himself? I'm not talking watching from the sidelines away from the threat of arrows. I'm talking actual, fiery battle." She needed something to busy her mind, keep it from turning in on itself and driving her mad.
 

Zul'Zae'ju'Jin

the Hugger Troll
Kaeso smiled and nodded, he could very well beleive that to be the case. Aquila was one who seemed extremely proud of the house for which she worked for. He could not see her letting anyone under its roof going out to meet as someone as important as the Emperor looking dishevelled and that everything had to be 'just so'. If only he could win her favour more over that wretched tosspot. That would be his chief effort after today, he mused.

"At least she's looking after you for which I'm grateful," he replied knowing the woman in question was somewhere within earshot. Why wouldn't she be? If he could get her to open up to hima little more, all the better, he mused. He nodded and joined her to the next room, sitting down and trying to do it as lightly as possible. His armour made the effort difficult. None of it was worked in yet and did not readily yield where armour that had been worn in was liable to do. He enjoyed the simplicity of the breakfast choices. Compared with the usual army fair, this was luxury. All the same, he ate sparingly.

He was aware his words would not go down too well but he rather have given her some warning than not. There was little harm in that kind of preparation but as he watched her, she seemed flummoxed by the mere suggestion. She reminded him of the difference between their two cultures and his head lowered in understanding and shame. She didn't deserve any of this. It was wholly unfair. His gaze lowered and fixed on the grapes on a silver platter with a glare of swift anger before he sobered his emotion.

The Centurion watched as she spoke and then rose so abruptly that he stared at her with open concern, his frame reacting in tune to his feeling. He wasn't so sure that Magnus would have a look in if the Emperor and his staff saw the same meaning hidden within the words he had seen. He didn't want to second guess an Emperor's decision. He rose from the seat in a creak of leather and metal, his concern for her still apparent on his frame. He adjusted his neck cloth again before she turned to face him after a moment. He offered what he hoped was a reassuring smile.

"I'm afraid so. It may not even come to that event, but I wanted to be sure you were aware that it's a possibility. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say," he said before he nodded. He moved to retreive his helmet and joined her to the courtyard where her litterbearers were waiting for them. He'd be walking alongside the litter himself. He would be better positioned to protect her if anything happened and now that he wore his armour, he was that much heavier too. There was also the fact he was in the wrong social class for it to be appropriate enough for him to join her.

The litter was furnished and decorated to a fine splendor and Kaeso felt very out of place as he walked alongside it. He was in view of Valerie and was within easy talking distance so he knew she wouldn't feel too alone. The bearers took a steady pace and began the journey to the Imperial Palace. Kaeso matched their pace with a practiced ease that he was not even conscious off.

He reached up and jammed his felt liner on his head before sliding his helmet on, tying the cheek guards securely. The breeze pushed into his crest as he walked alongside the litter, the nails of his boots striking on cobblestones.

Kaeso looked towards her at a glance when she spoke and winced, "The Emperor? No... Not really. He leaves that task to the legions. He did come to Britannia... Made us delay the push on Caratacus for his arrival, and the arrival of his elephants. You remember I told you about those?" he paused a moment before he continued.

"I did hear talk of him charging in on his horse during the battle at one point. I'm not sure how true that is though, but it would certainly have given some boost of morale to the men," he nodded. The walk to the Palace was akin to eternity but he was glad for the distraction of conversation.
 

MJK2431

✿❀❁
The female felt odd, sitting in a place of privilege while Kaeso had to walk along beside her. She missed her car terribly and the freedom it had given her. Having men carrying her around did not give her feelings of power or superiority, it in fact rather made her feel weak and inconsiderate. Who was she to make others carry her weight around? Yet, that was the way things were done here and any of her protests would come across as suspicious.

The centurion answered her question, a puzzling look coming over her features as her brows knit together. Both her hands clasped the edge of the opening, the female leaning forward so that her head was poking further out. “So he doesn’t really fight? At least, there’s no expectation for him to?” Her voice dropped, a mumble that only he could hear leaving her lips. “Looks like your time isn’t much different from mine in that regard. Our leaders also fight wars from afar.

The image of a war elephant, big and imposing, charging at the head of a battle seized her mind. It was a frightful thing to imagine. Valerie could easily assume that the use of such beasts had as much of an effect on the mental state of an enemy as on the physical loss of lives. She had only ever seen elephants in the peaceful setting of a zoo or game park and did not wish to see for herself what damage they could do.

You look more comfortable in the armour. It suits you.” The compliment was out without her thinking much of it, the female sliding back inside the litter and settling back down.

*****************************************************​

The conversation the rest of the way served to numb her nerves. Then they returned full force though as she noticed a distinct change in scenery, with lush gardens and a sprawling estate suddenly coming into view. Servants tended to flowerbeds or followed around groups of nobilitas with trays of fruit or fans for shade. White marble statues, some recognizable to Valerie as Gods or Goddesses, dotted the green lawn. It seemed as if they had entered a world of luxury. Things here were on a much grander scale, even compared to the villa to which Valerie’s counterpart had grown up in. The outer perimeter though was nothing compared to the grandeur of the building itself when the litter was eventually set down.

Valerie exited, looking up to come face to face with a monstrous building of columns, marble and white stone. The fact that she would soon face the emperor hit her full force, a lump forming within her throat even as she craned her head back to try and see to the very top of the grand entrance. Marble steps led the way, bordered by tall olive trees spread evenly while statues of regal looking men punctuated the spaces in between them. Figures and sceneries were carved into the stonework, elegant and intricate in it’s design. There was no doubting that the person who lived here was one of the most important men in Rome.

She finally looked to Kaeso, eyes wide and fearful. “Do- do I go in first? Do we announce ourselves, meet someone else first? I’m not sure how this works.” The words were spoken under her breath, even as the litter-bearers were already preparing to pick the transport up again and make their way to a place where they could wait. The girl sucked on her bottom lip, chewing it gently while her hands curled tightly into fists at her side.
 

Zul'Zae'ju'Jin

the Hugger Troll
Kaeso liked mornings, especially when the sun began to kiss the buildings of Rome with its rays of light. It was like it was bringing everything to a waking mood and there were alreayd people starting to go about their everyday lives on the streets. He reached to adjust the clasp to the cloak he wore, a simple red woolen garment but along with the weapons and armour he now wore, he felt more like himself and his rank again. The weight was comforting and familiar to him.

"A Commander's prerogative, I'm afraid," he replied with a sigh. There was all sorts of leadership styles that were no more worse than the other but if a leader really wished to get the most out of the men he commanded, then Marcellus knew that getting into the thick of things alongside the men often boosted their morale and loyalty far more than being bought or just simply lead. He snorted slightly to himself. It seemed the army, both his and hers, would always have its ways of separating the chaff and proving a man's worth to their peers.

"But no, an Emperor's not obliged to. Nor the Senators that often allow the wars the Emperor initiates. Good thing too in the Emperor's case, really," he spoke the last part a bit quieter. There was no use throwing the comment out aloud, some idiot might take it the wrong way which happened all too often in his world.

He took the moment of silence to look at those around them, looking at faces and reading the body language so that he could hope to anticipate any forms of attack if they occured. He doubted they would but you never knew in Rome. It was a fast moving city.

She spoke again and he looked towards her at the compliment before he smiled towards her. His head bowed with gratitude causing the red crest to bend slightly at its topmost fringes. He was glad he looked it as much as he felt it. He just wished he could say the same for her but he knew that what she currently wore was not the kind of clothes she had been used to for so long.

"Thank you, my Lady."


*******************************************************​

He kept up the conversation as they worked through the city and headed further towards the Imperial Palace. He was perhaps the only one out of all of them to know just how much out of her depth Valerie was likely to be feeling and he had to make sure that she felt safe and that she knew he was not going to be leaving her to her own defences even though there would be questions she alone could answer. Likewise with himself. It depended what the Emperor asked.

It was not long before the scenery become more luxurious and impressive. The place, even its walls, left little doubt as to the important of its occupancy. Kaeso knew that to one side lay the barracks for the Praetorian Guard so that they were better equipped for the Emperor's protection details. They reached the entrance and with a little talking with the two guard's and a clerk, they were let through without preamble. They were expected and it seemed had been ordered to ensure they were not delayed when they had arrived. Good, Kaeso thought, he hated being kept waiting.

The grounds were luxuriant as you could expect of an Emperor and he could easily see many coming out here to read or gain a modicum of peace or a place to think. He kept his position by the litter up until the moment the litter-bearers settled it back on the ground in front the main palacial building. Kaeso turned to see if she needed help but she seemed to be able to leave the litter by her own locomotion. He smiled warmly to her before he moved slightly. Once she had disembarked, the litter-bearers moved off again and he moved back to her side.

The Centurion was nervous, perhaps just as much as Valerie undoubtedly was. They both had to be careful with their words and keep to the story they had shared at the house party. Kaeso suspected the Imperial Freedman may have heard it too since he had shown up. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly before he looked towards her.

"We can ascend the stairs side by side," he nodded. "There will be Praetorian Guard there, who will most likely search us. Imperial policy," he shrugged apologetically before he continued. "One of the clerks will most likely show us the way in once the Emperor is ready to receive us."

He nodded before he gestured gently up towards the stairs before he began the ascension towards the palace. The place was huge and he felt incredibly small but he knew that was by design. He kept to a pace she would easily follow, aware that dresses were awkward on stairways and in general. He felt the breeze tug gently at his cloak and crest and relished the feeling. They reached the huge doors to the palace which by this time, early as it was, were both open. Standing in front of them were four Praetorian Guards who as soon as they saw the Centurion and the woman by his side seemed to react accordingly.

They waited for them to reach the same level as them before the rear two barred the doorway with their own bodies and shields whilst the other two turned towards them

"Halt! Identify yourself and state your business!" the tone was barked out with an authorative tone that had been been rehearsed.

"Centurion Kaeso Quintus Marcellus with the Lady Valeria Corvinus, daughter of the late Senator Gaius Valerius Corvinus. By summons received, we are here to receive audience with his Imperial Highness, the Emperor," he returned concisely.

"You are expected!" The Guardsman returned after a moment to check a waxed slate. "Before you may enter the palace, we must search you both and take in your weapon, Centurion,"

Kaeso disliked being parted from his weapon but Imperial policy was not something he could argue against and thus he nodded and removed his sword belt. He wrapped the leather belt around the scabbard before he gave it to the awaiting Guardsman. He stood quite still as the man frisked him with a professional edge to his movements adn seemed satisfied that the Centurion had nothing on him that would present a threat. He seemed to be equally satisfied that Valerie was of no threat.

"Thank you, my Lady, Centurion. Harpex and Junius will now escort you inside where you will wait until the Emperor is ready for you," he informed them smartly before he and other moved out of the way and the two who had been barring the way to the doors lowered their shields and indicated for them to join them. Once the Centurion and Senator's daughter had done so, they lead the way inside, which was no less opulent in the inside as the outside had been.
 

MJK2431

✿❀❁
She was fretting, feeling her heart rate already increasing even as they ascended the stairs towards the entrance. Balling the skirt of her dress into her hands she carefully made her way up, hyper aware of how she was acting and the way the breeze pulled at her dress and hair. Their feet on the marble seemed to echo among the tall columns holding up the roof above their heads, echoing too the shouting of the guards as they approached them. They stood in front of a tall double doorway which stretched from the floor to ceiling, the height making the opening appear like a wide mouth that threatened to swallow Valerie whole. Inside somewhere was the Emperor, waiting just for them.

The sharp tone of the guard made her flinch, his authoritative tone quite severe for her already fraying nerves. Lucky enough for her, Kaeso managed to respond quickly. It was a good thing too as her tongue suddenly felt thick and too heavy to speak. She wasn’t sure if she should have spoken for herself, but the guards seemed satisfied with the Centurion’s response anyway.

She was prepared for the fact that they would need to search her. Kaeso had seen to that by telling her about it in advance. It still didn’t make her any less worried as the men approached, hoping that the shake in her hands wasn’t obvious as he frisked her as appropriately as possible. His hands only just passed over her sides, but Valerie knew if she had been concealing a weapon the thin material of her dress would have given it away by sight alone. The guards were satisfied by them both though, Valerie watching with narrowed eyes as Kaeso handed over his weapon. She hadn’t realized until then that the sword had been something of a comfort to her too.

They were now permitted to enter, instructions following for her and Kaeso to accompany the other two Praetorian guard to where the emperor was waiting. This is it. Time to find out just what the Emperor wants from the both of us.

They headed inside, the cool interior contrasting sharply to the muggy heat that they left behind. Valerie assumed that the cause of this was the cold stone beneath her feet and the easy draft which seemed to whistle its way through the wide passages. It was a relief, really, to be out of the days growing heat – but the perspiration she felt dotting her brow now was from nerves rather than the sun. Keep it together Val. Don’t do anything that is going to land you or Kaeso in trouble.

The interior was as opulent as the exterior, gilded statues set on pedestals, the sound of numerous fountains trickling in open-air courtyard and the scent of freshly cut flowers which had been popped into expensive vases wafted in the air. Every where she looked oozed luxury in one way or another, whether it was the imported Egyptian cotton she saw covering lounging chairs against a far wall or the carefully carved figures of animals on a stone tablet almost as high as she used to divide a room she passed by. Servants flitted in and out, heads downcast and hands folded neatly in front of them when they weren’t carrying anything.

This is the type of lifestyle that isn’t just afforded by power. You need to keep people fearful enough to not try and take it from you as well. That’s how men keep the power they have earned. Valerie made sure to follow closely at Kaeso’s side, fingers brushing against the side of his arm in a subconscious effort to seek comfort. It was nothing but a passing touch, her lips set together tightly in a thin line when they finally arrived behind another large set of double doors.
 

Zul'Zae'ju'Jin

the Hugger Troll
He quelled the butterflies that span in his gut. He was not used to meeting important people like this. He was too used to a soldier's life, being the first in and the last out. That was the nature of a Centurion's duty, to lead from the front in the thick of battle. To get the best out of the men that they commanded. Here though, there was no battle and no century of men to command and put the fear of the Gods into. Just him and Valerie and a load of well to do noblitas, freedmen and the Emperor and, potentially, his family. He was unsure of the protocol, but undoubtedly they would be informed.

He just hoped he had anticipated enough to give Valerie that little bit of armour against the unknown. This was unnerving for him, he could only imagine how much worse it was for her to contend with. He glanced as the Guardsman frisked her over before his eyes went forwards again when they were to follow their escort into the Imperial Palace. The place made him feel incredibly small and insignificant. he supposed that had been the desired effect.

They were lead through a couple of anterooms before they were told to wait in a room with two large doors separating them. He glanced towards her slightly at her touch, almost startled by it but had reigned his surprise in check in time. It was a fleeting gesture, but he knew what it meant for her and he did not mind.

In the room, there was a desk there with a clerk bent over it, writing quickly by the flicker of candlelight and the thin framed clerk glanced up as one of the two Praetorians announced the pair's arrival. The clerk glanced towards the Centurion and the woman at his side for a moment before he blinked, consulted a piece of parchment and then nodded.

"Thank you, Guardsmen. You may return to your post. I will take it from here," he spoke with a light but definitive Greek accent that thinned out in parts. The man, equally, was into what must have been his fiftieth year by now, his hair was well into receding and stood out in a salt and pepper colouration. The two Guardsman nodded before they smartly turned and headed back the way they had come. The clerk looked to the standing pair and smiled in welcome.

"Thank you for coming," the fact they had been summoned and would have been a punishable offence to not have answered was not lost on the Centurion but he dipped his head slightly all the same. The Clerk continued, "His excellency is currently seeing to another matter right now but you are next on the list. Please, do take a seat whilst I let them know you've arrived." A bony hand gestured to comfortable seating opposite his desk. There was no expense spared in the furniture and decoration of everything around them. Kaeso doubted he could afford even a fifth of what was contained inside this room alone with his soldier's pay.

He nodded before looking to Valerie, his head dipping in deference. "My lady," he breathed, indicating she should go before him. Nominally, he preferred to stand but they would not know how long the Emperor would be likely to keep them waiting and so, once Valerie had taken a seat, he followed suit. He found it too soft for his liking.

The Greek stood and moved to the second set of doors, that seemed impossibly more exquisite than the ones before it. With a little difficulty, the Greek did eventually set the doors ajar and entered quietly, closing the door behind him afterwards. Kaeso sighed a moment, gathering his thoughts and running through the potential 'what-if's' of how this meeting played.

"Think I'd rather be in the frontline right about now," he muttered quietly, knowing she'd understand the feeling even if she was not a soldier herself.
 
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