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MJK2431

✿❀❁
The clerk spoke to them, giving instructions to take a seat while the business before them was completed. His thin, gnarly-knuckled hand indicated to the wide variety of seating available, skin so thin that Valerie could see the criss-crossing of blue veins running along his fingers. The girl summoned the faintest of smiles, nodding her head in understanding. She tip-toed over to a nearby chaise lounging chair which was covered in an opulent velvet the colour of dark burgundy.

The female lowered herself down, feeling the soft cushioning give way beneath her much more than she was used to. The lounging chair was stuffed in the pillow areas with some kind of material, making it spongy and comfortable almost like the couch Valerie had grown accustomed to long into the future. The familiarity made her squeamish, considering it was out of place among the other completely unusual circumstances. Despite the apparent comfort, she felt she couldn't relax. Valerie's sat with her knees held tightly against each other, hands clasped into a knotted ball while her foot bounced nervously against the floor.

Soon, the Greek man left, disappearing behind the tall doors which led to the Emperor - or so Valerie assumed. He seemed to struggle with the weight of portal, a soft grunt audible before he eventually managed to leave. Thick and heavy. An obstacle for sure, but is it more for keeping people out or keeping people in? The female's thoughts were only proving to fray her nerves further, the bouncing of her foot migrating until her entire leg was moving up and down in a nervous tapping. Her hands tightened in their grip of each other, knuckles going white to match the paling complexion of her face.

This weighting is going to make me a nervous wreck before we even get to the Emperor. More than ever I wish I could jump straight back through the portal that had brought me here. This meeting is vital, according to the message that Hugo sent. If it goes poorly though, it could easily end in Kaeso or I being executed with a single wrong word.

The centurion spoke to her, Valerie's head turning to him sharply and making the earrings at her ears tinkle with the sound of metal and gems clinking together. "I'd much rather be at the zoo, feeding a punch of zebra. In fact, I would settle for being in my apartment scribbling down notes or working late. Or even dealing with Octavia at the baths. In fact, I'd take an hour of Aquila pulling at my hair again over this waiting - I think I'm on the verge of losing my mind."
 

Zul'Zae'ju'Jin

the Hugger Troll
He glanced at her for a brief moment before he looked about the place, taking in its opulence that he would never own in his lifetime. It was grand and designed to both impress and remind the viewer of who lived within its walls. Nothing had been left out. Every little biut of trim had been seen to. Kaeso knew he did not fancy living here. It was too oppressive and too big for a soldier used to a decently sized officer's tent and a house of his father's which could easily fit inside this room alone.

He closed his eyes a moment before he breathed in deeply, centering himself for the meeting ahead. It occured to him then to wonder how much background of a person had reached the future. He opened his eyes and frowned in that same spread of inquiry. If she wasn't aware of Claudius' and his nature, she could very well end up offending the one man they needed to keep safe. Damn that Hugo!

The man grunted in feeling. He was seldom the patient type but then Centurions, as a rule, rarely were. It was a part of their job to get the best out of their men and idleness was not something to be allowed room for. It invited lazy habits to settle. "I think I could stomach the talking to she gave me over this... It's like watching paint dry," he muttered

Kaeso looked towards her again and his eyes quickly caught the tapping and saw it for the nervousness it betrayed. He could only imagine what thoughts she was laying a field to. He gently reached out to rest his fingertips on her arm, clearing his throat a little before he spoke quietly.

"I don't know how much of Emperor Claudius you're aware about, but you should know as your namesake would have known... He speaks with a stutter. He's also limp in the leg and is a bit deaf, so you'll need to speak clearly for him to hear you," he kept his voice low, his body leaning as much as his armour would allow for. He straightened soon afterwards.

It was several minutes before the large, ornate doors were pushed open, each being moved by a Praetorian. Movement stirred and the Grecian clerk from before stepped through and paused before them. His hand raised and gestured towards the room beyond. "The Emporer awaits you. If you'll follow me, directly,"

Centurion Marcellus refrained from the snort of derision that was threatening to pass his throat at the man's words. It was well known an Emperor had queer definitions on waiting but nonetheless, he rose from his seat and offered a hand to Valerie.

"My lady," he said with deference to her station. It would not do well to go before her and his offer of a hand to her feet was a subtle reminder of that. He figured she would need a little steering and encouragement to help her get through this meeting. They were both apprehensive about it and what the outcome of her supposed father's words would entail. He had told her what could happen but no one could know the mind of an Emperor, or his Freedmen... Or even his wife, for that matter, he mused.

Aggripina, mother to Nero, was both Claudius' wife and his niece. After the events of what Messalina had done, no one had wanted a repeat. Of course, it caused a tiny scandal but the move was waived and pressed through the Senate and now it was an approved match. She, also, could very well be present at the meeting.

Once Valerie was ready and taking lead in following the clerk, he followed a half pace behind in a position that a protector would adopt. The walk was both loud, due to the nails that were attached to Kaeso's soles, and a test of nerves but he did his duty and kept an expressionless face. If he could face and survive the screaming horde of Caratacus' Britons, then he could survive this. Hopefully.

The room was bigger and far more stately than the one they'd been in previously with room to fit a whole three cohorts comfortable. It was segregated by decorated pillars and there were several medium sized statues that edged around the room. In the centre was the Emperor, sat on a grand throne that looked both simple but exquisite. He was joined by his Freedmen who stood to one side and by his wife. His sons, one natural and the other adopted, were also present though Kaeso couldn't really think why. They were young, Nero the eldest and Britainnicus standing a head shorter. they had to be about twelve and eight mark, or so Kaeso would think. The room was also filled with other men, and it was clear from their manner of dress that a good many of them were Senators of Rome. There were also a few military men amongst the number, at least one Legatus. The rest of the room's occupants consisted of the Praetorian Guard and the number of Germans that stood as Claudius' personal protection unit.

A figure shifted to one side, catching Kaeso's brief attention but his purpose was soon clarified when a voice spoke loudly but concisely, "Presenting her Lady Valoria Corvinus of the late Gaius Valerius Corvinus. and her escort, Centurion Kaeso Quintus Marcellus, 2nd Cohort, Second Augusta recently returned from Britainnia!" The speaker smartly saluted and stood back again as the clerk lead them to a point before the Emperor's before making them stop. The room stood hushed for a moment after that and Kaeso could feel the eyes upon him. It wasn't the first time he had felt being the target. His transverse crest made him stand out but this felt different, all told.

The Centurion reached the spot where the Clerk had stopped them and then saluted the Emperor, a thud to his chest before his arm extended outwards. A salute that was to die with Rome's fall and be reborn with the darker empire of a future ruler of Germania. Given the speaker had already announced them and their reason, anything he said at this point was mute.

The Emporer was a man in his early fifties and perhaps, in his youth, had cut a handsome figure had it not been for his infirmity. There was a slight tilt to the man's head that seemed ever present, his hair had begun to grey and his upper lip slightly overhung his lower one. His frame was leaning forwards slightly, as if to subsconsciously aid his poor hearing. One of the Freedmen stood close to the Emperor and spoke in Claudius' ear. The Emperor glanced at him and then smiled before he looked back at Valerie and the Centurion at her side.

"R-R-Rome bids you both a welcome return! Good V-V-Valoria. I am glad you have returned s-s-safely from those barbaric sh-sh-shores, though you have my condolences for your parents. Valerius was a good friend of mine, he was there for me in d-d-dark times and he will n-n-not go forgotten!" He looked her over for a moment and Kaeso, though his expression remained alert yet passive, disliked the look the Emperor was giving her.
 

MJK2431

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He touched her arm gently, pulling her attention towards him. He warned about the Emperor, the words triggering some memory of reading such facts when she was much younger. It was strange, she realized, the way a mind worked. When she had been young, learning Latin and sometimes giving it half-hearted attention, the curious facts about the culture and the people who had spoken it had seemed arbitrary and unimportant. Yet, if she had paid just a little more attention, she might have had information which was vital to her now more ingrained in her mind.

Then again, I had never expected to be thrust back in time on the whims of a man wanting more power and doing whatever it takes to get it. No one in their right mind would think to predict such a thing.

She noted Kaeso’s warning, nodding her head slowly and committing what he said to memory. “I’ll be sure to not make any sort of indication that I find his, ah, conditions beneath me. I will speak loudly and clearly – luckily I’ve needed to have plenty of practice with addressing someone who could ruin my career or my research with a clear voice.”

Eventually, they were summoned to meet with the Emperor. Valerie had thought she was nervous before, but from the m0oment the clerk returned a whole host of butterflies began to squirm and wriggle in her stomach while her heartbeat like a drum against her ribcage. She rose from the chaise lounge seat with Kaeso’s help, wiping her sweaty palms against her thighs before neatly placing her hands at her sides. Setting her shoulders straight and having her teeth clamp down with her tightening jaw she ventured forth, acutely aware and desperate for the presence of the soldier she felt a short distance behind her.

The hall they entered was vast. Despite the airiness of the design, with a tall ceiling and bordering columns that only proved to emphasize the height by drawing one’s eyes upward, the air inside felt heavy. Every breath was like drinking cement, Valerie’s knees growing weaker with every step. She was thankful for the looseness of her dress to hide how she was shaking, the hands at her sides balling into fists so that she might hide the tremble in her fingers.

Despite her grand surroundings, her eyes were fixated on the man who commanded the attention of all those surrounding him. Her turquoise hues never left his face, even as the booming voice to the side announcing their arrival made her flinch. Once they were told to stop (a distance to far for any hidden weapons to be of any threat to the Emperor, she noted), Kaeso saluted the elderly gentleman seated before them. Upon closer inspection Valerie could now truly see the age that lined his eyes. He was not still a young man. Having lost herself in observing him she almost forgot to give him the respect owed to his position, the female only curtsying a few seconds after Kaeso had saluted him.

Valerie was at odds with the opposing duality that struck her. The man seemed frail, for one so powerful. She wouldn’t let that fool her though. A chipped sword with a skew hilt could still kill a man with ease.

He spoke to her, the stutter that Kaeso had warned her of present from the get-go. Despite the fumbling in his words Valerie’s expression remained ever-respectful, a small smile gracing her features so that she did not seem too stoic and fearful. A smile could easily hide her true feelings if she laced it with enough sweetness and innocence. Valerie stepped into the role she knew she must play, especially since her life and Kaeso’s depended on it. Clearing her throat, she responded.

“It is good to be back in the arms of Mother Roma, Emperor. I am fairing much better now that I am away from the savages and back with my kinsmen. My father, who spoke so highly of you, is surely smiling down on me now especially considering that I have been given the goodness of your company.

She did not miss the way he had looked at her, a look she was becoming all to familiar with considering Magnus’ presence in the past few days. However, Magnus was a mere cub in comparison to the lion that stared her down now from his throne.
 

Zul'Zae'ju'Jin

the Hugger Troll
Not for the first time did he have to squash his nervousness nor try to ignore how small and insignifcant he felt inside the room they were in. He knew it would be worse come the next room but there would be no helping that. This would be the first close up meeting with the Emperor for Marcellus. It would be nothing like how it was seeing him at a veritable distance. The sounds of screaming elephants came to mind in that moment and his lips pursed slightly in reaction. It had not been one of Claudius' finer decisions to have attempted to outdo Hannibal Barca on terrain that had never been designed with the 2.5-7 ton beasts in mind.

She spoke and he could not help the smile that rose to the surface of his face. So much so that he could feel the edges of his cheeks brush against the cheek-guards of his helmet. He had known her long enough now to have come to respect her personality and capability.

The next palacial room dwarfed the last one and again there was that feeling of being put in his place. Course, it did not really matter. The Centurion had no desire for any sort of political reach himself. He left that to those better suited for its constant change in tides. At least with the Legion, it had a better stab of some stability and it had its drills and routines that Marcellus favoured. Ever since he had been pulled from Britannia into Valerie's time, he had been misisng the everyday routine that was present in a Centurion's life. There had been none of that in his life for weeks now.

The room was filled with people who did not know or recognise and he wondered if this was what they might by 'being thrown in to the Hyena's'. He knew he could ill-afford to offend any of them, especially the Imperial family and the Freedmen that surrounded them. The Emperor looked old and frail, undoubtedly aided by his infirmity but there was a keen light to the man's eyes that deceived any notion that he was completely weak in short moments before the fraity returned. In that moment, Marcellus could see why Claudius had lasted so long compared with previous Emperors on the throne. He had also done more for Roman infrastructure and economy than Caligula or Tiberius before him.

He tried not to stir in unease as Valerie was reviwed so openly. In teh past, it would never have bothered him as much. However, he reasoned, Valerie was not just some woman. She was someone he had come to enjoy talking with and a woman he very much had come to respect and value. She had stirred feelings he didn't really know he had and that was not something he wished to through away. Kaeso had never met someone he wished to protect beyond duty before. It was an alien set of feelings but he could not deny the recognition that they were there.

The Emperor regarded her a moment longer before he nodded at her words, smiling fondly and yet sadly too as he was gently reminded of his old friend. Someone who had been there when times were at their darkest for Claudius. In that time, he had not yet been made Emperor and had been a forgotten or abandoned part of the family, particularly under the thumb of Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, or Caligula as he would be better known.

"I am c-c-certain that Valerius most certainly is, and to be so glad at his d-d-daughter's return! It is trully a m-m-miracle! Is that not so, Narcissus? I beleive it was your hand to s-s-send for her rescue?" The most important man in the room turned towards one of the few men that stood closer to the throne than others before the Emperor returned to his seat.

A man stepped forwards and inclined his head. The man was tall but thin, with hawkish features and a thinning pate of hair garbed in simple robes, "Yes, your excellency. It would appear the Centurion did a grand job in completing the mission put before him. If the Centurion could remove his helmet so that we might better see his face?" the man was clearly a Greek in his accent na dyet spoke of one used to Roman company.

The nod of agreement from Claudius was easy to note and Marcellus reached up to undo the ties before he lifted the helmet from his head, removing the felt skullcap along with it before resting the piece of armour in the crook of his arm. He kept his expression even as he was looked at by everyone in the room. The Freedman spoke again, "I trust, Centurion, that you can explain the manner of the rescue in all its detail?"

Kaeso kept his facade of a neutral expression but he had heard the succinct order in the Greek's voice and it irritated him to be so commanded by one who technically was lower on the social ladder than himself. However, this was the Imperial Palace and Narcissus, along with others dotted in the room, was an Imperial Freedman with just as much reach. He could not disobey.

"Yes Sir," he acknowledged before he told the court the events that happened that entailed the rescue of Lady Valeria Cornvinus, the inability to have rescued her parents, the loss of his entire cohort and the subsequent return to Rome. It had been what had been said at the house warming party but put into a more solid and pragmatic format that Freedmen and other military leaders would come to recognise. Not a person spoke whilst the Centurion's voice filled the cavern of the room except for a few gasps here and there and the occasional creak from leather when someone moved.

"I have brought the last words of Gaius Valerius Corvinus with me as requested, Sire," he eventually finished and Narcissus paused before he moved closer, a hand reachign out for the aforementioned document. Kaeso smartly retrieved it from the loculus alone with the signet ring that he had gained from Hugo. The man took both before he returned to Claudius' side and offered the ring to him after having inspected it the way back himself. The Emperor took it with a shaking hand, peering at it before giving that sad but fond smile.

"Wh-wh-what does the letter say, Narcissus?" the Emperor asked and the Greek glanced towards him before nodding and reading out the contents of the letter. Once he was done, he seemed to reread it multiple times, resuming his spot next to Claudius before showing the letter to the older man. The man read it too even though he had heard it aloud but it was clear that Narcissus had grasped the same ambiguous suggestion in the words left behind by Corvinus that Marcellus had understood.
 
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MJK2431

✿❀❁
His eyes scanned over her hungrily, although whether it was a glance of lust or mere intent focus Valerie could not decide. While she knew he was frail, it was hard not to think so from the physical and verbal disabilities that he could not hide. However, it was in his passing gaze that Valerie was convinced of how the man had come to rule and had kept his seat of power for so long. There was a keen intelligence that glimmered behind his irises. A hawk-like tilt to his head as she spoke and an almost unperceived raising of his brows whenever he noted something important when someone was speaking. She could almost bet that his mind was like a steel trap and sponge all at once, absorbing whatever information he could glean and holding onto it tightly until it became of use. Sometimes, knowledge was power – let alone the entire army and officials he had backing him up.

She saw a moment pf recognition flickering over him as she spoke of her father. It was clear by his reaction that they were as good friends as Hugo and the letter thought them to be. Perhaps, it had been more than just political obligation that the emperor had sent for the Corvinus’ family rescue. Maybe, they had indeed been something akin to friends – or as close as one could get to such a thing in the ever present games afoot among the Roman nobles.

The Emperor spoke to one of the men nearby, conversing with him over the letter that had been dispatched to call for the rescue. The man was Greek, his dialect somewhat similar to the clerk that had greeted them and first led them into the room. The amount of Greeks in positions of power surprised the female, considering Valerie’s understanding that Rome took pride in uplifting its own before considering anyone else. Romans had always been known as a proud, loyal people, even into future times.

Kaeso was instructed to remove his helmet, and then to proceed with explaining how he had fulfilled his mission. A knot of nerves tightened in Valerie’s stomach. He would have to lie right to the Emperor’s face about much of the events. For the first time, she was actually thankful for Magnus’ obnoxious behaviour that had led to them already developing a story since it would be much easier to tell the tale a second time.

The story drew in the entire audience, each person seeming to lean in further as Kaeso spoke. It was an intriguing tale indeed, filled with enough twisted and gruesome events to make it worthy of everyone’s attention. Valerie remembered all too clearly though how the story was meant to be about herself and the passing of her parents, the female acting accordingly by turning her face to the floor with a forlorn expression clouding her features. Shoulders drooping and hands laying heavily at her sides, she only looked up again when the tale came to a close. She was committed to playing the part of the mournful orphan, even as her stomach tightened further with Kaeso mentioning the letter.

This is it. This is the moment when I hear about what my fate will be for the remainder of my time here. Will I have to accept it? Will I be able to find a way to get out of whatever complicated situation this might turn in to? Could I even plead for a different decision to be made or would that be foolish?

Questions and emotions were boiling within her as the letter was read and discussed. It was then read again and still mulled over further once it was placed in the Emperor’s hand. Valerie held her breath, feeling her heart thumb heavily in her throat as her hands grasped together tightly. Knuckles whitening and skin paling she awaited the Emperor’s verdict, sending up prayers to whatever God’s were listening that her fate would be kind and that Kaeso’s would be positive after all he had already endured. It was her fault, after all, that he was under all this scrutiny and danger to begin with rather than among his comrades living a life he had been comfortable with.
 

Zul'Zae'ju'Jin

the Hugger Troll
Whilst he effected the calm and at attention stance on the outside, Kaeso was in reality a bag of nervous energy on the inside. He was not sure how well the wording of what he said would be taken. It was clear the Emperor and Valerius had shared a close friendship that stood through a test of time and was important to Claudius enough for him to have insisted upon a rescue attempt. He had been successful, albeit all of it a complete and utter lie boosted by what had happened in the past, where perhaps others had failed. Course, he had been unable to return with the father or the mother but some would celebrate the return of Valeria as equally as have returning with all three.

He had also not failed to notice the look that the one called Narcissus had given the letter and he instinctively knew the man had read what was between the lines as much as he had. The silence that followed was excruciating. He was used to giving a report or handing in strength returns and having them more or less instantly responded to but this? This was something else entirely. It was like a lion unsure whether it should back off or pounce. Kaeso decided he was going to get a decent amount of drink in him later if he and Valerie survived this meeting.

Their fates were in the hands of others and it was not a pleasing thing to note. Perhaps it was not so new to him, he was a Centurion and he went wherever his legion went but he could see how Valerie might be feeling in regards to this. Her control over her own future had be thrown to the Hyenas all thanks to Hugo and his mission for them both. Not for the first time did Kaeso wish he could strangle the man to death. However, they were here now and all they could do was survive this.

He felt the eyes of the Emperor and a good half of his retinue rest upon him after Claudius and Narcissus spoke quietly with each other. Kaeso might have kept his gaze aligned forwards in the typical fashion of soldiers who were stood to attention. Indeed, the same expression was worn on the faces of the Praetorians at the doors. He also could see that the Greek seemed somewhat disapproving of whatever it was that Claudius was wanting but did not wish to go against the word of the master he served.

"Centurion Kaeso Qu-Quintus Marcellus, step forward," the Emperor finally spoke as he himself rose. With half a beat, Marcellus shifted a few steps ahead of Valerie, his helmet still neatly held in the crook of his arm as he went. The Emperor paused a moment before he took a moment and then filled the room again with the stuttering timbre of his voice.

"Rome th-thanks you dearly for the return of Valeria Corvinus, the daughter of a revered friend now departed from us all. The success of your mission despite the losses to both yo-yourself and to that of Ro-Rome is not something that will go unforgotten or unrewarded! Also nor can I ig-ignore the will of my dearest friend, Valerius Corvinus. It is by his wish that you are to remain at Valeria's side as her husband. Fu-furthermore, you will be elevated to the rank of Prefect. The sp-sp-specifics of which will be forwarded to you at a latter date. Rome will celebrate alongside us all, I sh-should think, is that not s-s-so, Narcissus?"

"Of course, Sire," the Freedman agreed as he peered towards the Centurion-now effectively-Prefect of whom shifted slightly by what he had just been told. There were looks shared between others of the room as if this was news unprecedented and that probably wasn't untrue. It was rare a nobleman expressed the wish for their daughter to be matched to one of a lower class and that usually meant that there was good reason for it. Saving their daughter's life seemed to be one of them as the word 'protector' seemed to have expressed.

From the will of one deceased man and friend of the Emperor, Kaeso found his own notions of his future changed by forces outside of his controle. His choice had flown like a bird but he knew it was an enforced choice that he would be obliged to follow willingly. Valerie was an outside element. She was in a world so far away from her own and in one where women were not equal to the men, even if they could weild a similar amount of power. It was often through manipulation or persuasion that they could do so but it was a careful exercise. The match would in the least allow them to remain with each other and offer Valerie protection against the whims of Lord Calamis' son. Course, Kaeso mused, that may not prevent the man from schemes since Magnus was not going to like this news at all. He could very well imagine the man would feel robbed and slighted even more than he had felt so now.

Course, the elevation from Centurion to Prefect now raised his social class. It was a rank that belonged to the equestrian classes which would allow the match to a Senator's daughter. It was not a common thing for an Emperor to do but Kaeso was not blind to the fact that Claudius had need of victories to present to the mob. Their entry into Britannia had not been an easy one and Caratacus had proven already to be a sly and cunning opponent of the legions. Marcellus did not doubt the man could prove to be a thorn in Rome's side for years to come if the Celt played the dice well.

"Well? What say you to this?"

"You honour me, Caesar, and I give my gratitude," he returned, unable to hide his own feeling in his voice. He might have anticipated the decision but it was still much of a shock to him. Anticipating a move was still many, many steps away from it actually happening and now that it had, he was unsure of how to act or event react. Furthermore, he wanted to look back and see how Valerie was taking this. They were in the same boat, it was not something either of them could refuse. If they did, they would be refusing the words of a dead father and the words of a live Emperor.

Claudius smiled before he limped up to Marcellus and took hold of Kaeso's burly arms, "Rome honours you. You have earned it, P-P-Prefect!" Kaeso bowed his head, his mind a swirl of emotion and feelings that he had not previously allowed for, and most of them worried at how events would now play out. Claudius watched him for a moment before he let go and patted Kaeso's arm. He then looked at Valerie and smiled, gesturing for her to join them.

"I can im-im-imagine how you might be finding this, dear Valeria but it would appear your father has found you a good match s-s-seeing as Marcellus here has succeeded where I fear others may have not," he expressed to her, his earlier looks of carnality replaced with affection, as if seeing the features of his late friend and counsel in Valerie. Kaeso lifted his head, glancing towards Valerie slightly. He knew he might be looking and behaving like a soldier should rather than how a civilian or noblitas should but that was his world. Even still, he knew he was tight with anxiety about everything. Even now, one little mistep could cost them a lot more than either of them had bargained for and through no real fault of their own.
 

MJK2431

✿❀❁
There was further deliberation. Quiet whispering amongst the trusted advisor and the Emperor about the contents of the letter. The Greek, Narcissus, frowned so deeply that a trough of skin formed between his eyes from the furrowing of his brows. The Emperor on the other hand maintained a calm façade, the movement of his hand and occasional pursing of his lips the only indications that a serious matter was being discussed. Then again, it probably didn’t seem all too serious matter to a man of such power. He had far greater things to deal with considering the war in Britannia. This might even be just a minor inconvenience to him. For Valerie and Kaeso though, this discussion was weighted as heavily as lead on the scale of their fates.

The wait was far worse than the one she had encountered in the waiting room. There at least she could tap away or even pace if she had been struck by the desire too. Here though, in the grand echoing hall with eyes all around her, she could do nothing but stand still and hope she did not appear as frail and afraid as she felt. Her hands grasped together tighter, nails digging into the flesh of her palms and teeth grinding together.

Seconds were feeling like years, especially under the scrutiny of all those who had gathered to watch the meeting. Valerie couldn’t help but notice those who were stretching to catch even a snippet of the conversation between the Emperor and his advisor, as eager to hear his decision as he was. Valerie could tell by the hungry look in their eyes as they glanced between the whispering pair and the soldier and woman who stood before the throne that whatever news would be shared would be out on the streets of Rome by the day’s end. Nothing stayed secret for long around here, especially such events that had demanded the attention of the Emperor.

Soon enough, the deliberating was done. The Emperor and the Greek parted, the latter of which held an unreadable expression even as Valerie searched his face for some sort of hint to what had been decided. It was times like these when she had the ability to read minds. She could detect nothing but a faint downward turn of his mouth, a sign that spoke of disapproval. It seemed a foreboding thing, one which made Valerie’s throat dry and the blood run cold in her body. The Emperor once again looked upon them, his carefully gaze going first from her to Kaeso before he summoned him forward.

The Centurion did as he was told, taking the required paces until he was standing ahead of her when before he had been beside her. Valerie’s eyes watched his back carefully, distracted by the creak of leather which only settled when he stopped. The Emperor paused again, making the female wonder if he was just gathering his words or if he had learned from experience that giving a hesitation before speaking would somehow increase the impact of his words. Everyone in the room seemed to be holding their breath, waiting for his decision to finally be given substance.

He began, speaking of reward and thanks that were owed to Kaeso. Valerie could hardly disagree, feeling relief flood her system that he would be given some appreciation for the efforts he had gone through, even if the reward he deserved was for different acts of valour rather than the one false rescue implied by the letter. This is good news, the best we could have hoped for, at least now we can –

“…remain at Valeria’s side as her husband.

The words brought a stop to all her thoughts, the girl feeling the breath leave her lungs. Kaeso? My husband? Her mind was spinning, only vaguely catching the remainder of the Emperor’s words with regards to Kaeso’s promotion and celebrations to follow. Valerie gulped, her hands unlatching as one flew to her stomach. I’m going to be marrying Kaeso. Not Magnus, not some foreign Lord who I will have to eke out the rest of my days serving. Things could be far worse – but why do I still feel like the ground is disappearing beneath my feet?

She looked up making her earrings swing, swallowing back her nausea as she analysed Kaeso to try and see how he was taking the news. It was difficult to tell without looking at his face, but he looked strangely calm and relaxed considering the bombshell that had just been thrown at their feet. Valerie knew he was good at keeping a calm façade, but with all their time together and how they had come to rely on each other, she knew how to read worry in even the smallest movements from the man.

He seemed oddly at ease, shoulders relaxed as he faced the Emperor and gave him acknowledgement of the honour the man had bestowed upon him. Valerie didn’t understand how he was taking this so well, how his knees weren’t quaking like hers were. The decision had an air of finality to it, removing all choice and questioning from the equation. How was he not shattered by the news, considering that he could have had his fair pick of anyone and now he was being saddled to her?

Unless…unless he already figured all along this would happen. He warned me about a marriage, but why had he not spoken to me about a possible marriage to him? Why would he not talk to me about it?

She was confused and frightened, feeling somewhat betrayed by how he could have kept something like this from her. There was still the relief of course, especially considering they would both be walking away from this meeting alive with Kaeso having gotten the reward of a much improved social ranking. There was anger too, she was surprised, that all of this was being decided upon without any sort of care for how she felt about. She was a pawn in a game of chess being played by the likes of Caesar and his freeman. An object, to be moved around and placed on the whims of men, even if they were long deceased or spoke with a stutter. The marriage would be spun to the Emperor’s advantage, providing him a means to appease the need for parties and celebration among the people during a time of war. The union of a noble daughter and a hero of Rome was a striking tale indeed and one which the Emperor would wield like a sword and use to bolster his standing amongst his followers. Anxiety had reared its ugly head too, when Valerie saw some of the other court audience whispering among themselves.

Magnus will know soon enough. He is not the type to not get what he wants. I don’t think he’ll take this lying down. He’ll have something to say about it, to both me and especially to Kaeso. This decision doesn’t free us from danger, it just throws us into a different kind of danger outside of the palace walls where the Emperor won’t be able to protect us.

She gulped, feeling suddenly very light-headed. The regret at not eating a lot of breakfast was definitely apparent to her now. The Emperor rose from his throne, approaching the soldier in front of him and taking a hold of his arms. The manoeuvre looked to Valerie like two men finding victory after the closing of a deal. That’s all she really was, she needed to remember. Something to be bargained with. She was feeling unsteady on her feet, no longer able to hide the shake in her hands as the Emperor indicated she should join them.

Valerie somehow forced herself forward, even as the ground was moving beneath her. She wondered if she was near fainting, fumbling until she found herself beside Kaeso. When the world didn’t stop moving when she did, her hand lurched forward to find Kaeso’s forearm, fingers weakly winding their way around the muscle there to steady herself. Easy Valerie, you can’t afford to show weakness here. Not now, process everything later. The Emperor spoke to her now, reassuring her of the decision he had made and her father’s – or rather the true Valeria’s father – role in making it happen. Her tongue was thick and her head dizzy, but not replying to the most powerful man in Rome would be an insult they couldn’t afford.

A….a good match indeed. One that reflects the strength of Rome, the persistence of its people even in death and the wisdom of it’s leader.” She forced a smile, wrapping her other hand around the same forearms of Kaeso’s as she felt her knees sway. “I should go share the news and begin preparations at once. There is much to do.” Valerie knew she could not outright leave, but also knew that if she didn’t leave soon her legs might take control of themselves and run for her. If she didn’t pass out first, that is
 

Zul'Zae'ju'Jin

the Hugger Troll
Married life was not something he had given much thought to. He had always thought he would fight and remain in the Legions as the seasoned Centurion as before. It was all he knew, all he really understood. Naturally, he could see women when he wanted, preferably those that were clean if he could help it. That was the plus side to a soldier's life but with this new elevation and he could daresay condition, he could no longer been seen to be getting involved with anyone other than Valerie and that was not something he would do to her. His need for a good drink afterwards was growing steadily stronger by the minute.

This would mean a whole new change of pace for him and he would be entering a world entirely new to him. He was common blood, so for him to have made Prefect was something really something of note. He knew his father would be proud of that, and proud he was to be married too. The man like kids and had muttered about grandchildren at every opportunity but Kaeso still could not see that happening any time soon. Again, he could not and would not force that on someone of whom he considered a good friend.

It spoke of his inner musings that he flinched slightly at her touch. It was not enough for anyone to have noticed, but Valerie would be sure to have felt his muscle twitch. He looked to her then and saw she was shocked by the news too. That was of no surprise. Even with his warning before. He had anticipated what the words meant for the daughter. So much was happening in such a short space of time.

Valerie spoke and Kaeso listened, his breath deep and yet slightly uneven as he did so. Her words filled the great spaced of the room and all eyes looked to the Emperor. He was smiling at them both, gnarly hands shifted to join their hands, his own resting atop of them. It was intimate and Kaeso felt distinctly uncomfortable. This wasn't something he usually did or was used to hiding the discomfort was an enormous task in itself for him. It was a good thing that Valerie and the Emperor seemed to both be shaking because he was damned sure he had a tremor in his hand too right now.

"Of course, of c-c-course. You need not worry about a thing, everything will be arranged. R-R-Rome has need of her heroes and I daresay they would like to see you both," The Emperor breathed before he nodded and moved towards the woman that was next to his throne. "If th-th-there's nothing else on the agenda, I sh-sh-should rather like some mushrooms."

The woman, clearly Aggripina by the finery she wore gave a smile that did not completely reach as she nodded to her Uncle and Husband. Anything else that was said, kaeso didn't quite catch or see for the Freedman approached them, his expression dour but resigned enough to the nature of his task.

"You can both imagine the prestige of this match, and how Rome will react. You are staying within the Corvinus household already, I trust?" he peered at Kaeso specifically who cleared his throat and nodded.

"Yes Sir,"

The man nodded, "Once everything is arranged, you will receive itinery and what's to be expected. The ceremony itself will be the usual, but it's the public event beforehand that will take more finess and fine planning on our part. You may go now, but be sure you read it when it arrives."

"Thank you, Sir," it was irritating having to answer a Freedman in the way of respect that he was ffording the man but this was the Palace and to offend him would not be a sound move. The man nodded before he afford both Kaeso and Valerie a smile.

"I extend my congratulations to you both," it was worded both as the praise and as a means of dismissal before the man turned and left them. Whisperings from the court rose again and it made Kaeso feel very uneasy. He shifted so that he could salute the Emperor again, as well customary to do so before he made sure he left the big room with his arm still out for Valerie in case she still had need of his support.

It was only when they had reached the courtyard that he gave a sudden exhalation of breath and had to stop for a moment to collect himself. The world was spinning so fast that he wasn't sure any of this was real. It was as if the gods were playing tricks but he knew from Valerie's grip of his arm was proof that either they both were sharing the same dreams or hallucination, or that it was very real indeed and they would be married soon.

"Fuck me," he muttered in a tone that clearly expressed his own bewilderment at the situation. A moment stirred nearby as a couple of Praetorians appraoched them.

"Your sword, Sir," Kaeso stared at the man dumbly for a moment before an awkward cough brought him to his reverie and he nodded, taking the sword belt in his hand that was also holding his helmet. A helmet that he would no longer be wearing. Prefects did not wear helmets with a transverse crest, but rather one that was parallel to the direct of the face much like Grecian helmets of old. Just less pompous.

The Praetorian nodded before he addressed them both, "Your litter will be here shortly, my Lady, Sir." They both then saluted smartly before they turned and resumed their earlier stations. Kaeso really hadn't even acknowledged that, his gaze was solely on his helmet now as he realised the full extent of how much his life was changing and Valerie's alongside.

As they waited for the litter and its bearers to return, he looked to Valerie and gently touched her arm, "How you holding up?" he was concerned for equally her life was changing in ways she porobably hadn't expected before. He was not entirely sure how Roman weddings compared with the ceremonies of her time. He imagined that they couldn't be too disimilar.
 

MJK2431

✿❀❁
He flinched, the female a bit taken aback by the retreat from her touch. Considering that they were surrounded by people and could not speak openly, the reaction was not something she found very pleasant. Is he upset by the news? Does the thought of being tied for me make his skin crawl and his disappointment rise like a bitter gall?

She loosened her grip, keeping only just enough contact to use him as some sort of anchor. Valerie was struggling to process the circulating emotions fighting for attention with in her and she yearned for some peace, quiet and isolation from the eyes all suddenly set on her, Kaeso and the Emperor. She was a small ant under a microscope, and she feared what those looking might see if they stared hard enough.

The Emperor joined their hands, Valerie easily detecting the discomfort that was coming off of Kaeso in waves. She was reminded of the time when she had first managed to speak to him as a bloodied and battle-worn solider on top of an examination table with Shane. He had worn a similar expression to the one he wore now, a carefully constructed mask which through trial and error the female had learned to see through. Kaeso seemed to not be happy about the situation, expression grim and eyes set forward like he was staring at a painting rather than discussing with the Emperor his decision to wed them. Her hand felt like a limp chunk of uncooked meat even as the Emperor joined hers together with the soldiers, Valerie suddenly all too aware of the sweaty nature of her palms and the ice-cold touch of her fingers where the blood had drained away with shock.

The Emperor explained that most of the arrangements would be made for them, a relief which took huge pressure off of Valerie’s soldiers. She had very limited knowledge about Roman weddings and knew that had things been left to her, she could easily have messed up on small details often skipped by historians. Then, they were dismissed, Valerie hearing some mumbling about mushrooms. She didn’t quite care though, just eager to leave.

Valerie was gathering her skirt to make a swift exit when the Freedman approached, giving a last bit of information regarding the plans and what would be expected of them. Kaeso seemed to grin and bear through it all, Valerie unable to muster up anymore than a ghostly smile when he offered his congratulations and finally freed them. She gave a small curtsy to accompany Kaeso’s salute, then spun on the balls of her feet and practically flew out of the huge doors they had entered through. She did not take Kaeso’s arm again during their leaving, the sting of his reaction to her initial touch still fresh in her mind.

The air of the courtyard hit her like a smack in the face, heavy and thick compared to the coolness inside the palace walls. It was somehow more preferable, the heat honest in its discomfort compared to the falsely comfortable but chilling nature of the hall they had been in. Valerie dragged in a breath now that they were finally free from watchful eyes, bending at the waist while placing her hands on her hips. She was trying to get the world to stand still, wanting her dizziness to abate before she attempted to recollect what had just happened and start processing it.

She barely heard Kaeso’s exclamation, nor the approach of the Praetorians. Her nausea had only heightened and she was struggling to keep down the minimal breakfast she had eaten. Now that she was free to feel and act accordingly to what had happened to her, her body was acting of it’s own accord. He gave a small wave of acknowledgement when the men spoke of her litter arriving, the girl turning to the side so her back was to Kaeso with her hand to her mouth as they walked away. Her other hand shot up to the column she had been leaning against, her eyes tightly shut as the knotting of her stomach warned her of a potential spewing of her breakfast. She breathed in deeply though, managing to ride through the sensation until it died away.

The female was focusing on breathing when a gentle, familiar touch from Kaeso grazed her arm. After a few seconds, Valerie not responding immediately, she straightened. Shaking her head slowly, she folded her arms across her chest before turning to face him. “This is….this wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.” She gave a sad chuckle, scratching at the corner of her brow before lifting her head to look him in the eye. “It could be worse right? We could both be dead or I could be forced to forever be under Magnus’ boot while you get sent back to the frontlines once he takes over my household.” She chewed on her lower lip, then continued.

“I’m, ah, managing, I think. Just feel like a bomb exploded in my face. We talked about what could happen, but having discussions become reality is very different. As a girl, I just imagined my wedding differently than a traditional Roman ceremony.” She let her arms drop, Valerie reaching up and gently placing a hand on Kaeso’ shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Kaeso, that you’re being forced into it. I’m sure you had much different expectations for someone you would eventually –….” She paused, struggling to get the word out. Saying it only managed to cement the situation further in her mind. “….eventually marry. The situation I helped to get you in by being part of the time machine project has robbed you of the choice you are owed.

The female let her hand drop, self-consciously wringing her fingers together before she continued with a light-hearted chuckle, trying to improve the seriousness of the situation. “I don’t know anything about being a Roman wife, but I’ll do my best. When all this is said and done, you can find someone worthy enough for the position and who won’t drag you into so much trouble. Maybe a quiet home on a farm somewhere with lots of fat dogs and lazy cows near where your father lives.”

Footsteps approached, Valerie looking up to see the litter-bearers approaching. He offered him a small smile, saying “I can’t wait to see the look on Aquila’s face when she finds out, if news hasn’t spread to that part of town already by the time we reach the villa. The people in the hall were already talking.” Her face grew grim once more, the girl lowering her voice before finishing with “We’ll talk more when we get back. Aquila and Markus be damned, I will get some peace and quiet in a space without any listening ears so we can speak about everything that's happened.” She turned then, walking down the steps and entering the litter for the ride back.

(we can skip to when they arrive back at the villa if you like)
 

Zul'Zae'ju'Jin

the Hugger Troll
It was of no surprise how fleeting Valerie's steps were out of the palace. His own stride matching in haste but not so lightly on the feet. It was hard to do so whilst armoured in so much leather and metal. The sounds of his footfalls were loud and obtrusive, drawing looks of irritation from those he passed but he did not care for their hearing. His mind solely occupied with the Emperor's words of promotion and marriage.

Yet, the worry was not with himself. He had never envisioned life beyond the army. He was happy with the routine of such a life but a married life was not something he had ever considered for himself let alone toyed with how it would have played out. He might have talked about getting some place to retire and live out his days drinking and the like but it had been purely all talk. He fully expected it of himself to continue his career as a Centurion.

The promotion perhaps answered some of that vision for himself but the marriage was something that was still breaking it entirely. Most would call him the luckiest man alive to have been so blessed but he did not feel it. The whole thing was based on a lie and therefore a sham.

Nothing eased off even when they got outside into the fresh air of the courtyard. Everything felt like it was going to close in on them and reveal everything for what it truly was. He had to take several breaths just to ensure he wasn't going to do something to compromise himself. A nervous Centurion was never a good thing and it would not be received well by the Praetorians either.

It was not even himself he was worrying himself over but rather Valerie. None of this was something she should have had to deal with let alone accept. Damn that Hugo! He didn't know if there had been someone of an intimate relation for her back in her time. If so, they had been completely split apart and he knew he had no way to know how to help her get back. Perhaps she knew how to build one... That would be the only way he supposed.

She spoke then and his brow knitted at the emotion in her inflections. This was just too painful in ways he knew had expected to feel. He didn't like that she was, as much as he was, being forced into a life that shouldn't have to be one she had to go through. He looked at her searchingly for a moment, his facade less of what he had displayed back in the palace before.

He offered a smile of agreement at that. They could just have easily been given different fates rather than sharing the same path that would allow him to keep his promise to her. "There is that," he breathed.

Kaeso could quite imagine that a girl, even one of a young age, would be up at night dreaming of their big day as if they could plan every little stage of it. Ultimately, Kaeso knew better. if it wasn't a parent or an Emperor calling the shots, something else would get in the way of things.

Her touch this time was not startling nor did he recoil from her. Rather, he welcomed it and oddly found it soothing in a way, returning him to some sense of normality ina robust ball of weirdness. It had been a very strange and peculiar morning. There would be the gossip that would no doubt his the grapevine, spread by those to have witnessed the event.

He blinked when she gave an apology that he did not think she even needed to give but the thought was appreciated all the same. He shook his head in response whilst equally and perhaps a little subconsciously lowering a little. He kept his gaze with hers however, feeling more at odds with everything that was going on around him than ever.

She spoke of him finding someplace quiet and the life that went with it and he found it hard to see for himself. It sounded pleasant and almost inviting but it was difficult for him to imagine such a future for himself. Everything about this was new. "My Lady, you could never drag me down. I know nothing about being a husband, equally," he returned, and it was the truth. The only figure he had known in his life that had experience of what being a 'husband' involved was his father, and he was in Misenum which was not a close port of call from which to derive advice.

He opened his mouth to speak but he heard feet approaching and he closed it as soon as it was apparent she had heard the incoming interuption as well. He turned slightly before he lgnaced back to her and grinned at what she said. He was pretty sure Aquila had some fancy ideas about the future of Valeria Corvinus that the Emperor had just thrown to the wayside. The conversation drew to a more sombre note and he nodded. They would have to talk more and he wasn't sure how he felt about it. She was likely to have questions that demanded answers he would not necessarily know. He also wanted to know what his duties were likely to include now that he was a Prefect.

He rubbed his face, "Of course, my Lady." As he watched her get back on to the litter, he realised one thing. If this did go ahead, he could get away with calling her by just her name more often than he could now without need to use titles. Why was it always the small things?

The return to the villa was uneventful and uninterrupted for which Kaeso was grateful. As soon as they had arrived, he had changed out of the Centurion's armour now that there was no need to wear it. He didn't know when she would want to talk but knew it would be sooner than later. Very little could rest on its laurels these days. It would be easy enough to make sure Aquila and Markus were too pre-occupied to eavesdropped. Things would have to be bought and sourced ready for a wedding to come. He doubted Aquila would like it and he feared she would try something stupid to get rid of him. There was also Magnus to still be concerned about.

Still, it was nice to have the house to themselves even if it was only for a little while. There was a little food to snack on inbetween their discussions and plenty of wine.
 

MJK2431

✿❀❁
(Sorry for the long wait, things have been extraordinarily busy)

She accepted a hand up from the soldier, pausing at the threshold just before entering the litter. Just before she let go of his grasp, she gazed at him for a moment or two then spoke. “Centurion. With our now current engagement, I find it inappropriate you address me in such ways. Even without the engagement, the promotion gives you grounds enough to no longer address me as your lady. As my future…husband…I wish that you call me as you would someone in such a position. Thus henceforth, I would prefer you refer to me as Valeria.” She gave him a gentle smile, inclining her head to him in a brief but respectable manner before heading inside with her fingers sliding out of his grip at the last possible moment.

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

The ride back seemed quicker than the journey to the palace. With all the thoughts and arrangements Valerie was picturing in her head, it seemed mere minutes before the litter was suddenly being set down right by the front of the villa. She graciously exited, making note of how Aquila was already eagerly waiting at the doorway for news of what had transpired.

Something was off though. Rather than her usual, impatient expression, Aquila seemed uneasy and jumpy. Her posture was stick straight and nervous, hands gripping the handle of the broomstick in her hands fiercely. The pose told Valerie all she needed to know about just how fast news managed to travel in Rome. Without a doubt, the elderly lady had already had her fill of the gossip while collecting water earlier that afternoon, perhaps only a short time before the centurion and domina of the house arrived home. However, it was not her place to go questioning her charge and that was eating her up inside. Valerie could tell by the way she was irritably sucking on her lower lip and glancing quite obviously with a cold stare in Kaeso’s direction.

It was going to be a long, stressful next few days. If just dealing with Aquila already felt like a lot of work, Valerie knew she was not yet prepared for the likes of people like Octavia or the doggedly determined Magnus finding out the news. The girl made a private bet that he would be storming over pompously to find out exactly what had happened before the day was up – if he wasn’t already waiting around somewhere looking for when she arrived home. In which case, she didn’t have much time.

No sooner had she entered into the house than Aquila already opened her mouth to speak, unable to stop the glare that she threw in the soldier’s direction. Before she could even say a word though, Valerie silenced her by raising her hand in a stopping motion. “Aquila. Whatever you have to say, now is not the time.” Aquila’s mouth closed with a snapping sound, shoulders sagging in defeat.

Markus stood off nervously to the side of the centre courtyard after she entered, feet spread apart and hands gripped uncomfortably in front of him. “My lady, I….uh, I heard…” Valerie stopped him too, rubbing at her eyes next as she said, “Markus, please just help Kaeso with his armor. I’m sure he’ll need assistance in getting it off just as much as he needed assistance in getting it on. There was more straps and buckles in one ensemble than I’ve seen before.

Turning with a sigh, she then addressed the solider. “Kaeso, after you’re done, could you –“ Aquila, who had followed Valerie inside at this point, couldn’t keep her mouth closed any longer. “My lady, it is not appropriate to address him like that, if someone hears it could –“ The female bit down on her tongue, dragging in a deep breath through her nose. It was going to take more control than she thought not to explode at the woman.

She’s just worried about her own wellbeing. She doesn’t know what to think, or what to believe about what she’s heard. I mustn’t take out my own worry about the future on her.

“Aquila, that is a perfectly acceptable way to address someone I am engaged too.

The woman’s eyes widened, her mouth falling open in the shape of an ‘O’ before she dropped her broom stick. Her reaction might have been funny, had Valerie not already felt drained from the events of that morning. “So it’s true then. I discarded it as mere gossip, not willing to believe our beloved Emperor would make such an unusual decision. I…I apologize.

Valerie rubbed at her eyes again, pinching the area at the bridge of her nose before sighing again. “It’s alright. Yes, the news is true. We are to be married and the Centurion is going to be promoted. Soon enough, he will be head of the villa. A new Dominus.” She glanced over at Markus, who stood and stared as perplexed as a new-born child straight at Kaeso. There was admiration in his gaze though, something which was strangely calming to the girl. She smiled slightly, then turned her head to speak to Aquila.

“Understandably, there is much we need to discuss. As I was saying – Kaeso, once you are done with your armor, could you meet me by the tree outside? Aquila, if you could pack a basket with a few food items and a cloth to sit on I would be very appreciative. I’ll meet you outside once I have changed into something more comfortable.”

Aquila nodded slowly, moving in a trance-like state towards the kitchen after picking up the dropped broom. Valerie headed to her own quarters, where she dressed into a less luxurious tunic and then headed out to the speckled shade of the tree.
 

Zul'Zae'ju'Jin

the Hugger Troll
(No worries. Things have been busy here too.)

He blinked when she kept hold of his hand and looked towards her as she spoke, her grasp and voice commanding his attention in a fashion he had not expected before. He inclined his head in return, smiling back in the same way. His expression one of acceptance of the request and gentle amusement at how they had reverted back to being on a first name basis without need or worry for people getting the wrong impression.

"As you so wish, Valeria,"


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

The walk back alongside the litter allowed for too much thinking on his part. What the Emperor had dreed for them both would bring forth plenty of reaction. undoubtedly, the usual hub for gossip in the city of Rome would soon, if not already, be richly spun. Some would welcome the match between one of nobility and one of a lower class. others would be against, beleiving it a stain on the purity of the higher class. Some would be indifferent. Kaeso wasn't too worried about them. It was certainly Magnus he was more concerned about.

The man was sure to dislike the new situation put before him and Kaeso didn't think it likely for him to accept it at all. Giving how some society worked, he'd be surprised if there were not reprisals from Magnus later down the line. There was nothing he could do about that now. He would have to face that when it showed itself.

The walk back seemed to be quicker and he wondered how deep into his own thoughts he must have reached to not notice the distance. He blinked and sighed somewhat. Now they;d have to face Markus and Aquila. He was sure Markus would not mind it so much. It secured Valeria's future and in turn, their own. It was Aquila who might have something to say about it. The woman, slave or not, had not been shy in her thoughts about him.

Already he could see Aquila at the door waiting, the look on her face was enough to make him at unease. He could almost see the whites of her knuckles from how she was gripping the broom handle. He frowned, had news spread this fast already? She was looking at him with an expression that lended him no favour. It was clear she thought less of him from however much she had taken from the rumours. Perhaps the woman hoped he would have been sent back to his Legion by now and that her Domina would have been free to accept the advances of Magnus. Aquila seemed to favour the man for some reason. Kaeso really didn't understand how or why.

He prayed to Fortuna that they were left alone for the day but he knew the goddess of luck and fortunes was a fickle woman. As they entered, his hands rose and removed his helmet and felt liner, ruffling his hair a moment. Valerie seemed to have found her moment to take charge of the situation and he wasn't about to stop her. It felt strange in some ways to feel so much hostility from a slave but then Aquila was loyal to Valeria and her house. Not him or his. All of that was going to change soon.

He smiled slightly as Valeria started giving out instructions to Markus and Aquila. It was assertive and neither of the two could quewstion her right as Domina of the household. He glanced to her before he looked at Markus and smiled with gratitude coupled with a nod. Armour was often easier to put on and remove with two people rather than the wearer alone. Especially after battle fatigue.

When he was addressed, he looked to her before he frowned as Aquila seemed unable to hold her peace for much longer. He couldn't blame her too much. He could see she saw him as someone foisted upon them and perhaps didn't see him as a potential friend at all. He shifted his weight, his feelings conflicted. On hand hand, it allowed him to keep his promise to Valerie more legitimately. On the other, he had no idea how to be a husband to anyone and was completely new to this situation as the rest of them.

He briefly looked at the floor before looking up again as Aquila was told of their engagement. It was all very surreal to him still. Like a dream. He blinked at the clatter of the broomstick and tilted his head slightly. Aquila seem wholly surprised by the news but then perhaps she had envisioned a different future or prospect for her charge.

Kaeso could believe that well enough. It was indeed not a usual happenstance but if they were to survive Hugo and the times, it was perhaps a fortunate aspect. It depended more on what he was to be doing as a Prefect. There were many kinds. He missed the look he was getting from Markus entirely, holding the helmet he'd no longer need in the crook of his arm.

The Centurion looked to her and nodded, "Of course My La- Valeria," he corrected himself halfway through with a little flush to his skin. He was used to having to use appropriate titles. He looked to Markus then, "Come on, Markus... This is growing too heavy for today." He moved towards the room he had been asigned. That would change, he mused. It would look odd if they didn't share a room after they were wed.

He paused, not hearing footfalls behind him and he looked back at Markus. It was then the man caught himself and hurried after Kaeso who gave a smirk of bemused wonder before he too carried on towards the room.

"Something of a developement for Aquila, I see,"

"I... I don't think it was something either of us were expecting, Dominus. I am glad for it... Though, I don't think Lord Calamis' son will like it," It was strange to be referred to as Dominus over just a regular Master but there was a nod it in that he picked up on.

Kaeso smirked, the man was astute and read it as equally as he had. He placed the helmet on the cot, resting his hand on the glossy metal surface in feeling, "Everything is changing, and we're all running to catch up, I think," he muttered before Markus began helping him out of the armour he was wearing with a methodical manner.

"I just hope he behaves himself. If not, we'll just have to meet that when it comes," he mused further. It was a relief once he was out of the heavy armour even if he was used to the weight. All Legionaries had to, but he knew with the promotion came a new set of armour that was durable but lighter by comparison. He was unused to the idea of wearing a cuirass.

It was not long before he was clad in his simple tunic. He felt more comfortable in that and he didn't want to ruin the fancier tunic he had worn for the house warming party. He supposed he ought to have worn that but he was never going to escape his humbler beginning as a soldier and he didn't want to.

"I'll see you later, Markus... Best help Aquila with things, hm?"
"Yes Dominus," Markus nodded, glancing at the armour again before he left with Kaeso in a slower tow before the soldier turned for the tree outside.

He saw she was already there and smiled to himself. No wonder, she didn't quite have as much to change out of as he did.

He gently cleared his throat, "What a morning, hm?" he joined her, sitting by the tree and was glad for the constant that was the sun above. It was warming on his skin.
 

MJK2431

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Valerie exited the villa, taking a moment to savor the warmth of the rays on her skin after the coolness of the villa. Her nausea had not quite left her, but the more time she had to think through what had happened the better it was getting. Plus, there was the chance for her to speak with Kaeos without being interrupted now that Aquila had been dealt with.

She had felt the old woman’s eyes on her back as she had left, only to have her gaze flit away at the last minute when Valerie had turned to look in her direction. It was clear that the slave was unhappy with the decision that had been made, but she was all the more sour for the silence she now had to suffer in without speaking out her say on the matter.

She just needs some time to stew over it, just as Kaeso and I need time to process it.

Valerie didn’t doubt that Aquila was more than upset by the situation, but she knew she it was going to take more than an order from the Emperor to change how the woman felt in her heart about Kaeso. He was a stranger, a plot twist thrown into her carefully made plans involving Valerie and Magnus.

Remembering the praetor and the problem he would most likely give her brought a new wave of worry washing over the young Domina. Valerie sighed heavily, rubbing at her brow while taking a seat beneath the tree. That was definitely something that her and Kaeso would need to discuss, considering that backlash from the man and his powerful father was not something they should consider but rather something they should expect.

Valerie was mulling over Magnus’ behaviour in the last few days when Kaeso’s voice interrupted her thoughts. She looked up, greeting him with a vague smile before moving over to make space for him on the stone bench. It wasn’t until he was comfortably seated that she spoke.

“I would say that this day has been the most taxing one in my time here so far.” She brushed some of her hair over her shoulder, the warm breeze bringing the scent of the oils Aquila had combed into it that morning to her nostrils.

Dragging in a breath, the female leaned back. The rough bark of the tree rubbed against her back through the thin material of her tunic, but the sensation was strangely enjoyable. It was somewhat grounding, helping her focus when her circulating thoughts threatened to make her world spin.

Not to state the obvious, but we’re getting married.” Saying it out loud, between just the two of them, seemed a strange affair. Valerie’s mouth curved up into an awkward smile, teeth biting at her lower lip as she struggled to keep in a chuckle. A small laugh escaped anyway, the female shaking her head as she closed her eyes and leaned back more comfortably against the tree.

What an odd twist to our story, huh? I know very little about Roman weddings. My hope is that since it will be a public affair, that the Emperor’s helpers will do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to organizing everything.”

Her hand slid off from her lap, coming to rest very gently on his forearm. “We have something more serious to discuss first though: what we’re going to do about Magnus and Lord Calamis when they find out, if they don’t already know. If Aquila has already caught wind about what has been decreed, I am assuming that most of the nobilitas, including the Calamis family, have also heard. You know he won’t sit idly by and just let it happen, not after all the scheming and conniving he’s been doing. If you had heard how he was talking to me yesterday…

Her hand tightened a little around his forearm, her other hand curling into a fist so that her nails bit into her palm. “He was intent on making myself and him the most powerful couple in Rome. How he wanted to make that happen I don’t know, but he seemed dogged in his determination to achieve it. I can only guess that he’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that can still happen.
 

Zul'Zae'ju'Jin

the Hugger Troll
The sun was something he found comforting but that was just how the climate here was and what he was used to. To him, in reality, it had had only been a week or so now since he had previously been stood in the cold and wet of Britannia. Course, this was not his home. His home was on the coast of Italy further south in Misenum. He hoped to visit there soon. His father would appreciate the visit and yet he knew his duties to Rome, to the Emperor and to Valerie were going to remain here for a while yet. Still, they would be wed and if he had the time, his Father would come for it.

His father would like Valerie, he thought as he walked.

Smiling a little, he made himself comfortable and was glad it was a bench of stone as opposed to the soft cushionings of the seats inside. It helped him centre his mind with what was going on and what the future now brought to both of them. It was ever so surreal and yet it would happen. There would be no arguing with the Emperor was the decision was made.

His gaze shifted to the small space before her before his eyes lifted to look at her. He could find no fault in her statement. It was taxing, and the sun was not yet past its peak. The grapevine was thick with fruit already which did nothing to settle his stomach. Still, he could smell the scents from his hair and found them pleasing. He didn't doubt Aquila had designed them to be that way. He got the feeling that Aquila disliked leaving things to chance.

"You can say that again. Whatever i was expecting...," he replied, trailing off with his thought. He was still processing that whole scenario that would be more than just some piece of fiction. Neither of them had asked for this and yet could either of them equally refuse it? He didn't think they could. Not without shame or rebuke. However, he could not deny that by doing so, it would present them both with security of knowing each other and aiding him in keeping his promise to her.

He looked to her again as she spoke of their engagement and not for the first time did it sound alien and frightening to him. He supposed this was going to take some getting used to. He had the Legion for everything up until now. This was going to put new challenges before them both. IT was good to hear her laugh though, he had to admit. He smiled and nodded, "Never did do well to try and second guess the work of the Fates."

That was true enough... It could entirely have been his destiny to have been pulled through time and then to be thrown back with a woman to join his side. It made his head spin just thinking about that.

He lightly rubbed a temple before his arms settled loosely at his sides, hands upon his thighs, "Oh... I can very much concur with you. And I hope so... They should do. Given the social difference, I imagine they'll want things to be done in a certain way... but it should follow the standard course." It was also that aspect that concerned him too. He wondered again at the different between the wedding ceremonies of his time compared with those of her time. Perhaps more specifically the privacy of such affairs.

Her touch broke him out of his reverie of absently staring at a bush of Rosemary nearby and looked back at her before the subject of her topic raised his own back to the forefront of his mind. It was a question he had been asking himself on the way back from the Palace and the answers weren't many. His brow knitted when she spoke of the 'way' of how Magnus had talked to her and that ball of unease returned to feeling. That in itself was odd to deal with but he had put it down to his protectiveness of her. Clearly she was just as worried as her touch tightened over his flesh.

"I don't know..." he answered honestly as he always did with her. There was nothing he wished to hide from her or keep from her. He didn't feel like it would be doing her justice to wrap her in wool and hide the dangers. That wouldn't be fair. "You're right, though. He'll do something. I just know we can't precipitate it by giving provocation. He has to make that first move and we need the proof he's behind it. If we can achieve that, then we can bring the Law on him. After all, if he does anything that stops it or delays it... He'll have the Emperor and his Imperial Freedmen to answer to. I'm not sure how much is him, or him and his father both," he reasoned, his hand of the arm that she was not touching reached out to cover hers with a gentle squeeze of what he hoped was reassurance. That was certainly his intent.

"I'm just glad we have Markus in agreement with our side of things. Aquila however... I think I may have to speak with her some point soon... She clearly doesn't like me much. She could be one route Magnus opts for," The woman threw him as many concerns as Magnus did.
 

MJK2431

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(I think I might throw in a bit of a plot twist. Just an extra little side quest, but the main story will remain the same from what we’ve done so far. It will come in the next post if that’s okay with you? )

Valerie found that his words offered little comfort. She knew, after all, that Magnus would indeed do whatever in his power to prevent the marriage. No man as doggedly determined and righteous as he was in the speech he had given her yesterday would simply give up and let the fate he had envisioned for himself slip away. Despite the warmth of the day and the sunlight that graced hers and Kaeso’s skin, she shivered.

His hand covered hers, warm fingers making the back of her hand tingle against the rising goose-flesh that sprang up after the shiver. Rough callouses at the base of his fingers grazed against her skin, so different to smooth hands of Magnus after his life of luxury. The sensation offered Valerie a stark reminder: this was a man who was used to fighting. He stood firmly for what he believed in. All she had to hope that she was apart of what he thought was right in this world. He had survived countless battles and war, surely he would manage to persist with her through whatever Magnus and his father would throw their way?

Aquila has become accustomed to the certainty that the position in this household offers her. You are a symbol of the change that is coming, that is all there is too it. We’ll just have to prove to her that the change you offer will be just as positive to whatever change the servants in Magnus’ household have put into her head or which she has imagined for herself.

A large spray of dust further down the road caught Valerie’s eye. It was growing quickly, plumes of swirling dirt from the road drifting into the air on the warm afternoon breeze. The girl stood, trying to see over the vines and foliage growing within the villa gardens to get a better look at what was approaching. The sound of thundering hooves soon echoed up the long villa dirt road towards them, a guttural shout encouraging the animal to quicken it speed making Valerie’s inside twist with anxiety.

Hearing the commotion, Markus and Aquila were already exiting the villa by the time Valerie absentmindedly slid her hand further down Kaeso’s arm to take his hand. She pulled him to stand and walk with her as she headed wordlessly towards the villa entrance. They were halfway when the sound of hooves sliding against dirt to a stop reached them, sending up another dramatic cloud of dust that obscured the rider for a brief moment from the pairs view. Valerie squinted into the distant, trying to discern the man’s features.

Markus was the first to reach the visitor, the squaring of his shoulders and straightening of his spine as he recognized the individual making Valerie’s heart rate quicken. The man had his back turned to them as he addressed Markus, who barely said a word before the visitor firmly shoved him with great force. The slave back-stepped and fumbled in attempt to catch himself before he eventually landed flatly on his back after the unexpected push. Aquila stopped then, her hand going to her mouth in surprise at the visitor’s uncalled-for response to whatever Markus had said.

The visitor turned his attention to Aquila then, his question of Where are they!” audible to Valerie and Kaeso as he shouted the query. Aquila pointed, her other hand still on her mouth, behind the man in the direction of where Valerie and Kaeso were now walking together.

The dust settled, the visitor finally turning around as Aquila sprang to help Markus up to his feet. Valerie’s blood turned cold as she was met with a furious Magnus, his pupils like pinpricks while veins stood out in his neck.

The man’s gaze shifted from Valerie’s face to her hand grasping Kaeso’s, his hands balling into fists while his skin began to turn red from his neck up towards his face. Striding towards them, his shoulders bunching up aggressively towards his ears, he shouted, “Is it true? Are you and the solider betrothed?” He spat the last word like a snake spat venom, his true disdain for Kaeso evident as he refused to even acknowledge his title of Centurion.
 

Zul'Zae'ju'Jin

the Hugger Troll
(Of course! Plot away >3 :3)

Magnus would be an issue and one who might try and make their lives difficult even with the risk of falling out with those that had put this marriage forth. Valerie and himself were caught in the middle of all this. Unable to refuse one nor give in to the other. He doubted she would even want to go with magnus, the man had already proven the kind of man he was. Kaeso knew he presented as a very stable rock in an otherwise choppy sea of the unknown and he knew he would be there for her, regardless of how he was fated tgo go about that. This marriage thing made it somewhat easier a task to manage.

Valerie spoke of hiom being a symbol of change and he almost laughed at that. it seemed strange, almost ridiculous but there was truth to what she was saying. Marcellus was a new thing in Aquila's world that she did not know or trust. He just hoped she could learn that he could be trusted, that he had Valerie's interests at heart in terms of making sure she was safe and alive in a world she was alien to or supposedly returned to. He hoped she would come around to him and forget her preference for the Senator's son. Time would and could only tell. He found a frustration in that too.

He blinked when Valerie suddenly rose to her feet and he glanced upwards to look at her with a quizzical frown to his face before he followed the direction in which her face was peering. Dust rose in angry swirls and swipes, he could hear the harsh clop of horse hooves meeting the ground below. The horse sounded quite put out and he frowned at who was in such a hurry. It couldn't have been anyone from the palace, that was not quite their style. Not even those infernal Freedman would be caught dead rushing anywhere unless a lion or such was on their heels.

"What on Jupiter's Stone...?" he muttered.

A shout of harsh order barked at the horse and Kaeso shook his head somewhat before movement caught his attention. Aquila and Markus. It seemed it was not only Valerie to have caught notice of this new event. He didn't like the feeling in his gut at this. There was a negativity in the air. It seemed that he might not have been alone in this as he felt Valerie's hand snake down his arm, taking his own and pulling him upwards. He rose to join her sensing that she was not okay at whatever or whoever this was. Instinct told him it would be someone they knew, someone who didn't approve or had bad news. The dust kicked up by the horse's galloping hooves was too much to make identification of the individual clear.

He could feel that she was anxious, the grip to his hand was tighter than what he had taken to be normal. Frowning, he looked back and saw Markus' posture straighten in that way that the Centurion had long recognised in soldiers. You could never quite removed the soldier or a soldier's training from any man to have been trained in the Legions. The drilling was just that well done that it become ingrained in how one reacted to everything set before them regardless of how long they remained serving. Kaeso realised Markus knew the identity even before he did and did not like it or approve. They moved closer but the dust still didn't help their visual acuity. Markus confronted the rider after he had dismounted. Aquila's response seemed muted as if welcoming the man of noble breeding.

That was untill the man pushed at Markus with a sharp pushed and Kaeso scowled as Markus slammed into the ground on his back, unable to save his footing from the force of the push. The identity was no longer needed. Kaeso knew it was Magnus and he realised that somehow already the man had learned of the morning's developments. Couldn't they go one day without someone shitting on it, he questioned himself irritably. The man was a bad sestertius.

The tension was growing thicker by the second as Magnus rounded on Aquila bellowing his question for all the world to have heard. The world could have hardly cared. The Roman Higher Classes however would enjoy feasting on this level of drama and the gossip it would entail. Kaeso knew he would have to be careful. He was aware he was not of noble birth and risen through merit of his actions but had little in the ways of social courting. Magnus however had been brestfed upon the ways of how nobility moved and operated. A lone soldier was not a great place to be in, even with Imperial backing. His own hand shifted in subconcious action to wrap a little tighter around Valerie's fingers in silent reassurance that she was not facing this dangerous idiot alone.

"Breathe,"
he said quietly for her to hear, but he said it for both of their benefit. If he lost his head here then he would run the risk of opening doors he'd rather leave closed for both their survival. Aquila pointed them out. The woman, true to her nature, always had her eye on them so it was doubtful she would have been at a loss to their whereabouts. Kaeso was glad when she seemed to recover from her shock enough to give aid to Markus as Magnus stormed over to them looking for all the world an angry hornet. The man was too spindly for Kaeso to liken him to a bull.

The whole manner of the man was too much like an angry hornet. The balling fists, the shaking frame, bulging veins and the way his face screwed up. Especially when he had seen that their hands were still holding each other. In some ways, this man had reminded him of when Shane had gotten angry over a supposedly stolen notebook. He hadn't liked that and he didn't like this. Kaeso didn't let go, he knew the contact would be helpful to Valerie.

The fact the man was also ignoring that he was there did not go unnoticed by Kaeso and he frowned distinctly. The lack of a rank was evident enough and the refusal to meet his gaze another point of note. All Kaeso could think was this was one very spoiled child too used to get what he thought he deserved. Kaeso doubted he had ever worked a proper day in his life. The soft, weak hands were poignant.

Rome must be thick with rumour already.

"If you really must know Sir; yes, we are as of today," he didn't like how Magnus might react to that or to the fact he had answered the question instead of Valerie. He was restraining himself, he knew his words had been cordial if a little blunt but nothing rude could have been made out of what he had said but he knew that a strong belief of getting what one thought belonged to them and being denied that could make people do some strange things.

He just did not want Magnus taking it out on Valerie. She had done nothing to have deserved any of this just in the same way he hadn't either. They had been thrown into a circumstance that was neither of their faults and somehow, through it all, they had to survive. However, he was used to a life of brutality and violence. His usual stock and trade was in killing others with a thrust of a sword or shouting at his men to get them in formation, to eduring the harsh extremes that army life brought with it. He could take a punch. He wasn;t sure Valerie could. He didn't want her to get hurt so if Magnus did get violent, he rather the man focused it on him over her.

"By order of his Imperial Highness and his Imperial staff," he added as if to educate the man that this was not something worth trying to undo, or at least he hoped it might. He knew for some, not even imperial orders were enough to stay hands. After all, Claudius had his enemies.

His own spine straigtened without him really being all that conscious about it. He glanced as Markus faced them, looking somewhat unsteady on his feat and Kaeso hoped he hadn't hit his head too hard. He looked back at Magnus and raised a brow at him. Kaeso realised then that the man had come alone and he wasn't sure what Magnus hoped to prove...
 

MJK2431

✿❀❁
She heard Kaeso’s carefully whispered instruction in her ear, Valerie not aware that she had even been holding her breath until he said the word. She exhaled slowly, then made a conscious effort to slowly inhale rather than drag in air. Now that she knew it was Magnus, they were both going to have to be very careful about what happened next. Their words needed to be picked with great consideration as she was sure that their response would be ingrained into Magnus’ memory and he would twist it whichever way he could to get the upper hand. There was no doubt in her mind that the moment he left here he would eagerly share what had transpired with anyone who would listen.

Valerie watched for Markus careful before Magnus spoke directly to them. She was completely relieved when Aquila managed to get him to his feet, but he seemed mightily unsteady. If things spiralled out of control, she doubted she would be able to count on him for any assistance. Her focus immediately shifted to the raging individual before them though the moment Magnus addressed her and Kaeso. Valerie felt herself wither under his intense gaze, the anger and revulsion in his eyes enough to make her feel icy. She knew from experience with Shane though that the last thing she should do was show her feelings of inferiority. It would only manage to stoke the fire lit within him further if he thought he had power over her.

The female squared her shoulders, lifting her chin defiantly before opening her mouth to speak. Gratefully, Kaeso seemed to manage an answer for him before she needed to voice anything.

Magnus’ gaze flickered to Kaeso instead, his mouth puckering up as if he had eaten something sour. This petty soldier thinks himself high and mighty now that he has a daughter of Rome’s hand? His anger only rose, spittle flying as he demanded more details.

And how, in the Aphrodite’s name, did you manage to get that right you low-ranking filth? Whose wife did you take to bed or which man’s pockets did you fatten with gold that I doubt you even posses to make that happen?” He pointed his fingers directly at his face in an accusatory fashion, eyes flashing with doubt.

Kaeso added in the very important portion about the marriage being arranged by the Emperor. Momentarily, all the wind seemed to leave Magnus’ sails, his face falling into an expression of utter confusion and denial. Just as quickly his wrath returned, cheeks reddening and puffing out like a fish as he strode forward towards them once more.

An Imperial order? You’ve got to be fucking with me. Not on Jupiter’s beard would some small rescue mission result in you being rewarded with marriage to one of the most powerful, wealthy, unwed virgins in Rome! You don’t deserve such an acquisition; you’d mar this prize with the dirt under your fingernails and dust clinging to your clothing and sweat on your brow!

Prize? Acquisition? I’m nothing but livestock in his eyes. A means to an end. Valerie truly believed now that any future with Magnus would be a miserable one, spent crawling in the shadows and perpetually held beneath his thumb. She would have the same value as any dogs he kept – perhaps even less.

There was rumour of the Emperor’s physical fragility, now with this proclamation I know his mind is not far behind!

He was almost upon them, the man reaching out his hands and with surprising force ripped Valerie unexpectedly from Kaeso’s grip. Not being prepared for how quickly he had closed the gap between themselves and him or for the brashness of his actions, Valerie fell forward and shrieked out a cry of pain. His hands encircled her forearms, fingers digging into her flesh so roughly that his nails left welts along her tanned skin.

We’ll get this sorted out Valeria! You’ll come with me immediately and we’ll head to the senate! My father has many ears willing to listen to him there, we’ll get this all straightened out, by the Gods! The Emperor has been walking a fine line for years, but tying a member of the nobilitas to a common dog might be the last straw!

He was mad with thought that he could potentially be losing the cherry on top to his years of hard effort and careful scheming. Magnus dragged Valerie along like a ragdoll, the female stumbling in the dust as she tried to get her feet underneath her to resist him. She rolled and fought, her carefully prepared hair flying into her eyes and her leather sandals kicking up more dust which was swirled about by her flailing arms.
 

Zul'Zae'ju'Jin

the Hugger Troll
Kaeso's anxiety was rising and you could feel the tension grow more tightly around them all. Everything was telling him to hold on to Valerie more tightly, to pull her behind him and punch this idiot's lights out but he could not do anything. Not without Magnus pulling the first move. He gripped Valerie's hand firmly as he looked the other down, his face set to an impassive frown.

There was no secret that they disliked each other. Kaeso was in Magnus' way and Magnus was not of good intentions. It was mutual at best but the look he was given was next to utter loathing. Kaeso knew then the man considered no better than a slave under his heel and that thought was something the soldier found offensive. Rome had not come to its achievement under the skill of wordsmith like Magnus alone. If anything, Hugh had been right in that the army was Rome's backbone, its sword and shield were its life breath. If all the Legions of Rome willed it so, they could leave her utterly defenseless.

Kaeso's eyes narrowed at the line of questioning, his spine straightening and his shoulders pushing back in a defensive manner. "With all due respect, Senator, you should choose your words more carefully," he groused irritably. Being accused of sleeping with anyone or lining pockets to get what Magnus was after was not something Kaeso could stand. Some of the Equestrian classes may well get up to that sort of behaviour but not him. His father had taught him too well to deal with life around him for Kaeso to have made such a mistake. The fact Kaeso had replied with a sentence consisting more of two words, one of which was not polite at all, was a show of restraint.

"Given your behaviour Sir, I could state likewise of you also. You are also trespassing," Kaeso replied, his voice even for the most part. He was right though, the man was trespassing since he was here uninvited and getting very aggressive with them in what seemed to be a temper tantrum without forethought to personal safety. Kaeso had thought the man was better at this sort of thing.

It seemed the man was no fan of Claudius either as Kaeso's words did nothing to salve the wounds created by Valerie's return and rejection of his advances. He seemed confused and taken aback before the outrage returned tenfold. It was like watching a tomato getting squeezed.

Magnus raged with words at him and Kaeso even wondered how stupid and idiotic he seemed to be right now. He glanced behind, Markus and aquila were staring after the three as if waiting on baited breath at what to do. He just hoped this incident was enought to change Aquila's mind about Magnus. Valerie nor her original counterpart were deserving of Magnus in any way. Kaeso turned his eyes back on Magnus as the man kept approaching and Kaeso's stance shifted almost without him being entirely aware of it. With sudden quick strides the man was on them close enough to force Valerie away from him.

Time seemed to slow down as Kaeso reacted to all of this. From the point of Valerie falling forewards and Magnus dragging her away. Being called a 'common dog' was not new to him. People had such low respect for soldiers and yet military acclaim was one of the pinnacles of a Roman man's life. If the man was ever made a Tribune, Kaeso feared for the men under his command. Magnus was unfit to lead beetles let alone battle-hardened warriors.

Kaeso moved after them in solid strides of his own. He could only react as his instincts told him. Magnus was committing an offense in what essentially another kidnapping. "Let her go! Now!" he tried to grab the arm holding Valerie. He could see Markus already moving towards them now as well. Kaeso shook his head, "You kidnap her then you're making an enemy you don't want!" Magnus seemed incensed and words did not seem to sway him. Kaeso angled his head by an instinctive reflex as the man tried to punch him to get him to let go.

Kaeso attempted to aim a solid punch to the man's guts in reply. He was not about to let Valerie be taken or get hurt, not if he had any say in it.
 

MJK2431

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Valerie still continued her struggle, even as she glimpsed Kaeso approaching him once the stun of what Magnus was trying to do was broken. “Let go of me, you sick brute! You can’t just drag me along to do whatever you please!” She was shouting, all hope of remaining sullen and dignified dashed away by Magnus’ actions.

The apprenticing praetor stopped for a moment, his eyes wide and nearly bulging out of his head as he pulled Valerie up. Using his free hand, he grasped her chin roughly, pulling her face up and close to his so that she could feel the heat of his breath and see the red veins running in the whites of his eyes. His fingertips pressed into her jaw, making her teeth hurt and forcing her head still.

Listen here, Valeria. You were all but promised to me by your father. My household and yours have been fated to be joined since our early childhood years – everyone knows that. In fact, my own father was in the midst of drawing up the marriage arrangements when your family went off to Brittania against their will. Ergo, I all but own you already. Now, I will get what is owed to –

Kaeso finally neared them, Magnus dropping Valerie’s face so that he could wildly swing at Kaeso’s head. He missed when the man ducked low, letting out a growl of frustration just before Kaeso’s blow reached his abdomen. With a loud “Oof!” he doubled over, releasing Valerie as he curled inwardly with his arms wrapped around his middle. Magnus crumbled so that he was kneeling on the ground, head bent and breaths coming out in pants as Valerie scrambled to get away from him.

She was covered in dust and sand at this point, grime painted along her cheeks, legs and arms while streaks lined her face from where sweat ad dripped down the dirty layer on her face. Markus made his way over to her in a wobbly fashion, trying to help her to her feet.

As soon as Valerie was up, Magnus sprung to his feet, having grasped a nearby rock that had been lying in the dirt and smashing it into the side of Markus’ head. This time, when the man fell down, his eyes were shut and he didn’t get back up. Aquila screamed then, falling to her knees by the man and trying to lift his heavy frame with no success.

“He’s bleeding! He needs help!”. The older woman was frantic, touching her hand to the place where Magnus had hit him and letting out a sob when it came away wet with red blood. Aquila grabbed Kaeso’ wrist, begging him for his assistance. “He can’t die, he’s the only one whose been with us since she was a girl!” Tears sprang from her wrinkled eyes, sobs rising from within the woman’s chest. Markus had never done her wrong, had always been willing to help and remained a symbol of strength in her elderly years. The sight of him unmoving, still as windless night, was unnatural to her.

Blood trickled slowly from the wound, moving down Markus’ shut eye and dropping red droplets onto the hot sand. The sights made everyone freeze…even Magnus who had reclaimed his hold on Valerie’s arm.

What have I done. The man had had people done away with before to further himself. However, he had never made a killing blow himself. Have I…have I killed him? His face paled, sickening guilt settling into his stomach as all rage left him. The redness of the ooze leaking from Markus’ head was imprinted in his memory, the man gulping quietly. I need to get out of here.

The silence was broken though as Valerie roared angrily, spinning and using her full momentum to land a hooked punch to Magnus’ left side. Surprised by the show of violence from her of all people the man did not have time to block, his head snapping to the side and knocking him sideways a few steps. Valerie wasn’t done though, her hands clawing at his face and clothing before she aimed for his sternum next with her opposite hand. Magnus was more prepared though, batting her hand away before stepping backwards out of her reach. The man retreated, taking one last look at the fallen slave before bounding back to his horse and mounting it. Magnus wheeled the beast around, disappearing back down the road.

Valerie would have gone after him. She craved to sink her nails into his flesh they way he had done to her, feel her fist slam into the side of his head again. Looks like those self defense classes hadn’t been for nothing… she thought smugly. However, her immediate worry was over Markus. She flung herself into the dirt beside him, using the hem of her tunic to dab at the side of his head. Contrary to how it had started, the bleeding was already beginning to die down. After wiping away the sand that had been clinging to the wet blood, Valerie could see that the cut was deep, but only minor.

Markus eyes fluttered open as she cleaned the wound, hissing through clenched teeth and swearing fouling as he came back to consciousness. His head was swimming, spots dancing in front of his eyes clearing gradually. The slave tried to rise, not aware that Magnus had already left, before Valerie’s sturdy hand pushed him back down.

Stay still. We’re all alright. But you might have a concussion…” The female wasn’t aware how strange this might sound to someone who didn’t know of her academic background, especially in a time when medicinal practices were only beginning to be investigated. Her focus wasn’t on history just then though, it was on helping a friend.

A…what? Magnus is gone?” Markus said with confusion, Valerie nodding her head to confirm his question.

At least he’s able to talk. That’s a good sign.

Never mind, just do me a favour and follow my fingers with your eyes…” She watched his eyes as they tracked the movement of her finger as she slowly moved it from one side to the other, the female breathing a sigh of relief. “How’s your head feel?” Valerie asked gently, checking the wound again to confirm that it had, in fact, stopped bleeding.

Hurts like hell – feels like there’s a weapon’s master crafting a sword in my head, hammering away at the steel.” The headache was expected, but would need to be watched. She turned her head to Kaeso, needing to hold up her hand to her eyes to shield out the sun.

He's going to be okay, but we need to get him inside. He needs to lay down and rest.”

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

Once Markus was sorted out, Aquila tending to his wound by wrapping some cloth around his head, Valerie could begin to return to herself.

The female melted down to a seat on the edge of the courtyard fountain, replaying what had just happened in her head. She remembered that she had in fact just punched a future praetor. The man had then run away like a coward, but still. Flashbacks to the moment made her bring her hand up for inspection, the female bristling at the sight of the broken skin on the knuckles. She could also not ignore the faint throbbing that was also pulsing throughout her hand, now that her mind was no longer occupied on helping Markus.
 

Zul'Zae'ju'Jin

the Hugger Troll
Her voice only spurred him closer all the more. He had made her and himself a promise he vowed to keep and maintain for as long as Valerie was stuck in his world. He didn't even know if she could ever return to the world in which she grew up and understood. He supposed that was either something she would have to devise or somehow Hugo felt a generous streak. Kaeso somehow doubted that. All he understood right now was that he had to protect her and he would do that by any means necessary. Even at the risk of his own freedom. He had accepted that ever since Magnus had made his first mistake.

He just hadn't quite figured on Magnus actually growing a pair and using force himself. Kaeso had figured him for one who employed those to do the dirty work for him. It was a lot cleaner and distanced that way but he supposed anger could blind a man. Kaeso knew that in their betrothal, the Emperor had made them enemies to his agenda. He frowned, it was all very complicated now and he was struggling to keep up.

Punching the man in the gut was not something he had been sorry about. The man had no manners or taste or more importantly sense. He had come alone. That had made him vulnerable and Kaeso knew it. He realised that Magnus could create a stink later about it but Kaeso would deal with that later. Right now he wanted this man away from Valerie and the rest of them. Kaeso glared at him, making sure his bodyh language screamed 'a don't even think it' vibe.

"Get out. I won't tell you again, Sir," he groused but somehow he was just not getting through. He didn't want to hurt the man more than he had to. After all, the man had a Senator for a Father and he understood they had to try and be careful. Rome was a swarming nest of vipers.

He glanced as Markus reached Valerie and helped her to her feet but it seemed Magnus was more spry than Kaeso had given him credit for. The man struck before he could stop the rock from being driven into Markus' head. Markus didn't rise. He didn't even move an eyelid. Kaeso frowned wondering how this seemed to have more of effect than violence did in the field. Then he remembered. This was domestic and unlike the midst of battle. A scream assaulted his hearing and he saw it was Aquila. He could imagine what Markus meant to the woman.

He went to drag the man back by his shoulder as one might pull a dog back by its collar but he was interrupted as his arm was taken and tugged upon. He looked at her as she cried and begged for him to help her. The Centurion found himself torn between kicking Magnus out of the grounds on to the street and helping Markus, who still wasn't showing any signs of coming around. He wasn't used to the wailing cries of upset women in this situation. he was used to it in the wake of battle when women learned their husbands had died or once the Legion had gone through a native town but this was not the same. He knew Aquila more than he had those people.

Kaeso knew however as much as he wanted to help Markus, there was still the threat of Magnus in the vicinity. Logic told him he had to deal with that first before he could submit himself to Aquila's wishes. He looked directly at the cause of Markus' unconsciousness and blinked. The man was staring wide eyed at Markus was papable and telling. He went to free himself from Aquila's biting hold around his wrist but there was motion from Valerie. Her roar of rage made him give pause, his fingers laying distracted over Aquila's hand as he looked at his friend. He could not help his grin of pride when she punched him and set him stumbling backwards. It was a good solid punch. It seemed the man lost whatever intent he had in coming here as he turned for his horse. The beast whickered, snorting in sudden srurpise when it was abruptly mounted and turned before being spurred away.

Kaeso breathed heavily, the whole affair too close and rough for his liking. They were like to see Magnus again but he knew the man would play it more smoothely than how he had played it just now. Kaeso shook his head and turned to Aquila. "All right, you can let me go now," he said to her, nodding with his tone indicating that Markus would be the sum of his attention now. he squeezed her arm, trying to reassure her before he moved to the downed man opposite to the side Valerie had chosen. He could hear Aquila's sobs as she stood closeby. Seemed his unconsciousness was not to last for long as he stirred. He smiled in relief even as Valerie gently pushed Markus back down.

He couldn't help but glance at his friend at the strange word she had said. He wasn't sure what she meant by the word but he knew she was a scientist and that she probably knew what she was doing. He trusted her completely. He looked at her when she turned her attention to him and spoke. Kaeso nodded, "That's a relief," he breathed but he moved, easing Markus' arm around his shoulder. "Come on, lad. You can sit out your duties for a while," he didn't care what else had to be done. He would do them himself if needed. The man was in no fit state now to do them. He lifted the man, compensating for most of his weight before helping him back inside the Villa with Aquila leading the way in a mix of tears and sobs, most of which were that of relief.

Kaeso made sure he was comfortable before Aquila moved next to her friend. He reached out to her, gently squeezing her shoulder, "If you need anything done that he would normally have done for you, you let me know, okay?"

She looked at him and nodded, smiling through her relief and her grief. They were lucky. Magnus could have killed Markus with the strike he had made and Kaeso was happy that Markus was going to pull through. He needed the man and there was a level of trust they had over Valerie.


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

Once he was sure Aquila and Markus were all right and that Magnus wasn't loitering in front of the grounds or anyone else that looked suspicious, he went to check on Valerie. It had been a rough hour or so for her just as much as it had been for Markus and the rest of them. He hoped it would not be too out of society's norm to just move out of Rome and take her to Misenum. It was a lot quieter there and the lifestyle was just easier in terms of how much you needed to keep up with the local politics. Rome was just too much. He wasn't sure he could ever keep up.

He found her by the fountain. She was looking at her hand. He could imagine it was stinging, especially for one that was not used to violence let alone meting it out herself. Valerie's world had never been the rough slog that he was more accustomed to.

Kaeso cleared his throat gently as he sat next to her sighing deeply, "Markus is in good hands. Hopefully Magnus will think before he tries anything again, but I doubt it. Probablym just his head more than he had today, I expect."

He looked to her hand, the knuckles were sore and the skin broken. He frowned and reached out to gently take her hand, "You all right?" He wasn't just asking in reference to her hand but he wanted to make sure she was handling all of this. A lot was happening. He couldn't blame her for feeling overwhelmed by everything if that was so. He was still struggling to comprehend everything too.
 
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