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"I'll....manage. It's just some lost skin and a little bruising. How are you holding up?" Her voice was soft, words spoken as barely a whisper when his fingers gently took her hand in his grasp. She sucked in a breath as a particularly bad patch of skin pulled with the movement, her teeth clenching as a hiss of pain left her lips and she flinched in an effort not to pull her hand away reflexively.

She was trying to put on a brave face, downcast eyes slowly rising to meet his from where she had previously been looking at her hand. "His face was harder than I anticipated. I didn't realize I had porcelain instead of bone for fingers, that was quite a weak effort at taking a stand against someone who is bound to give us more trouble. Sooner, rather than later I would think."

She sighed heavily, nostrils flaring as the breath left her in a huff. The girl seemed to deflate, head cocking to the side before she spoke again. "He doesn't hold the Emperor in great regard. From what he said about speaking to other senators or his fathers acquaintances I'm thinking that he might not be the only one who thinks so."

She placed her hand over his, noticing how she had started to become more tanned to a tone that was closer to his own skin tone. The sun in Rome worked fast, it seemed. Almost as fast as politics had come to invading her very existence in the city.

What has Hugo and his plans gotten us into? Did he know this was all going to happen? Does he have some insight that we lack? How are we going to navigate our way through this when he is only feeding us tidbits at a time?

The questions came to her like darts flying at a cork board. Her head thumped with the possible answers, too much to comprehend all at once and definitely a large load to manage after all that had already happened since their return from the Emperor's estate.

The sun was already setting, casting the room in orange squares of light that came through the low set windows placed in each of the alcoves lining the atrium. It gave everything a fiery glow, including the top of Kaeso's hair where strands caught the light. It struck Valerie as a strangely idyllic scene, considering the violence and future danger they were discussing and had been exposed to only and hour earlier.

"He's going to be back, Kaeso. He'll come back with force next time and a well thought out strategy with little room for error once he's calmed down enough to think straight. I've bruised his ego just as much as I've possibly ruined his face temporarily and that's not a slight he'll soon forget. He'll be more dogged than ever to ensure he exacts revenge and does so in a way that does away with you and has me under his control and subservient to him."

She gulped quietly, placing her other hand ontop of his where he held her.

"I think, if my head isn't too muddled after recent events, that if Magnus' undermining the emperor is a trend present in other members of the nobilitas, that it might be part of the reason why we're here. I still haven't figured out which side Hugo is wanting us to play up and what he gains from all of this."

Valerie paused there, wrapping her thin fingers around his wrist and squeezing lightly. Her eyes darted between his, looking carefully at his face in a studious manner. He's all that I have here, the only resource I can rely on. My only friend...soon to be more than that, at least by everyone else's standards. Marriage. It was going to be happening and regardless how they felt about it, Valerie knew that it would assist them in staying together and being a strong unit. Like a group of soldiers, a squadron of two members. That thought amused her, given that the military reference was something familiar to him.

"Regardless of what has happened or is going to happen though, that doesn't lessen the help I got from you today. Things would have been much worse if you hadn't stepped in. Thank you, Kaeso. You've saved me once again. I seem to be making a habit of getting us both into sticky situations and I have a feeling that today might not be the last of it."

She smiled then, weaving the fingers of her injured hand between his. The feeling was comforting, a strength that was pulpable beneath her skin and keeping her grounded. Her stomach stirred, fluttering inside with nervousness that had nothing to do with thoughts of Magnus but rather the simple feeling of his warm flesh between hers. It perplexed her, but strangely enough Valerie still did not want to let go. To cover herself, she spoke again.

"So then, Prefect, if you were Magnus Callamis, what do you think your next move would be?"


A small distance away, with navy growing on the horizon as evening melted into night, a lone rider arrived into a well-paved courtyard with rage emanating off him in waves. A servant, a small woman oblivious to the man's angered state, arrived from the nearby stables framing the courtyard where she lived with a few others of the Callamis estate.

"My Lord, you were gone for so short a while, supper had been left for you, your father insisted we not wait and that..."

He dismounted, landing heavily before spinning furiously to face her. The angry welt on his face was like a red flag, made all the more glorious by the redness of his features which still hadn't abated since leaving the previous estate belong to Valeria.

"Sir! Your face! What happened? Should I fetch?-" The woman gasped as she was struck, Magnus heaving as he back handed her with enough force to send her sprawling a few steps away. The woman clutched at her face, cowering in a bent-over manner with the shock. Being beaten was not an uncommon occurence for a servant of the Callamis family, even when unprovoked despite the tireless efforts of the staff. However, the woman had not even seen the strike coming and was loathe to get any closer to the furious young man should he insist on taking out his temper on her further.

"Fetch me herbs and cold water, along with my paper and writing material! Speak to no one and stop for nothing until this task is complete!"

He stormed into the villa of his family, making a beeline for his quarters without thought for supper or socialization. There was work to be done and plans to set into action. Plans which would need to be pushed forward after his loss at the villa he hated would think would soon be in the hands of a low born soldier rather than under his control. The villa was a minor detail in fact, but it was more the power, businesses and wealth that came with his name on the ownership of the house and lady occupying it that fueled him.

The servant of before didn't tarry, arriving almost the same time he did with the required supplies. She darted in to set the items down before scurrying away before any further violence could fall upon her.

Magnus seated himself at his desk, harshly scraping his chair in before furiously beginning his letter.

My comrades, the meeting has been moved up from next week to tomorrow evening. The Emperor has gone to far with his latest move and clearly shows his weak spine and frivolous thinking in allowing the nobilitas to be passed down to a common thug who wears the military colours. It is high time we take back the power and authority that so rightfully belongs to us, before the Emperor brings any more weakness to our ranks and with that takes all of Mother Rome down with him. Same time, same place as usual. Do not be late.

Ever yours for Rome
Magnus Vicinius Dominica Callamis.

It was a short trip to the aviary on the grounds, Callamis' fury only abating the slightest as he watched the wings of his messenger bird disappearing into the starry sky.
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the Hugger Troll
Kaeso frowned gently as she seemed to react in pain despite her words and he carefully loosened his hold to her hand. He often forgot how much more rough his hands were from a lifetime of warfare and hard graft. He knew hers were far softer by comparison, and not for the first time did he hate the fact of what happened had been done. "Apologies," he said gently, but he didn't remove his hand entirely. He nodded, "My head's in a bunch of places right now, but I'm just angry he's pulled that and hurt both you and Markus. None of you deserved this, none of it..."

He gave a sigh, this was going to be a problem. Magnus wasn't the type to just let this go. This would bite them again somehow, Kaeso just didn't know when or how. He reached and rubbed his temple with though, a finger catching on the old wound where Valerie had first treated him back in that tiny room.

Kaeso looked back to her as she met his eyes and as before he could not hold back the smile of pride as she relayed about her strike on the Senator's son. "I don't know, you have courage. I'd not call that weak at all."

The now-Prefect looked down as she rested her hand atop of his and he forced himself to relax despite his frame wanting to jump up and sort this problem out. There was no denying Magnus was going to be a thorn in their side and he wondered if it was worth writing to that Imperial Freedman about it. Surely they had their spies on Senators and their offspring since getting everyone to like an Emperor was nigh on impossible regardless of how much Claudius had done for the improvement of Rome.

"That's more than likely. I seem to recall him dropping hints of his discontent with our Emperor back at the party before and I don't there aren't more who share his views,"
he agreed, it was a dangerous nest of vipers they were landed into and he knew that Valerie and himself would have to be careful in stepping past.

The question was how they were going to tackle this and resolve the situation. After all, they had been tasked with ensuring the Emperor lived and if Magnus was against the Imperial Household then perhaps it was Magnus and his cronies they needed to take out. He realised then his sword was likely to get bloody but on home soil and that unsettled him. If he did so by himself, it would be nothing short of murder. He was a simple civilian whilst he was within city walls and no Legion to answer to. Not for the last time did he wish to be back on frontlines in the simplicity of battle. Killing where there were fewer rules to mind was an easier affair than this. Only way he could kill here was either with the backing of the urban cohorts, the Praetorian Guard or in self defense.

Valerie spoke again and he listened as he usually did and he could not find fault in what she was saying. Again, she was proving how he had come to respect her for her intelligence and wit as well being able to recognise she was very pretty. He valued her friendship and they had a bond no one else could share or relate to. No one else aside from her brother had been pulled and pushed through time like they had. Even if he had been an accident and her being her was wholly by Hugo's intents and purposes. Purposes of which weren't all that clear.

He had no doubts Magnus would endeavour to do something about them and the Emperor's decision, although Kaeso doubted it was solely Claudius' doing, and likely would do something sooner than later. Kaeso would be surprised if Magnus did nothing at all and more so if he did something alone without others backing up his crazy schemes.

"I think we can count on him doing something. He'll certainly feel affronted being struck by woman, never mind our match made by one of whom he clearly hates." His mind was still reeling on that prospect but he knew also it was perhaps an easier way that they had reason to stay with each other. It was clear that Magnus would want him out the picture and free to lay claim to Valerie and Kaeso knew then that he had to stay alive and protect her.

He felt something grip his wrist and saw it was her hand before he looked back to her, resolute in his knowledge that he would lay his life down if it would protect hers above all others. It had been unfair of Hugo to bring her to his world where women were less than men and expected to obey their word when she was a far more intelligent person than he was. The fact she had already worked out and reasoned what Magnus might do was testament to such prowess. Again, it stirred feelings that he didn't quite know what to do with.

"I'm not sure we would have dodged that arrow regardless of me stepping in or not... but I'm very glad you're not hurt and that Markus will be all right. We're for each other now, I'm not going to leave you alone, I don't intend on breaking my promise I made to you next to that hedge." He spoke with feeling even as her fingers interwove themselves with his and he was not entirely conscious of his own wrapping gently around her fingertips, a thumb absently stroking in a small circular motions.


It was going to take a while to get used to being called that in as much it had when he had made it into the Centurionate. It brought him into the world of the equestrian where his social status had now been raised and made possible for him to have Valeria as a wife. It also meant more duties and paperwork no doubt and he would be expected to have show more initiative. He couldn't help feeling a mistake had been made even if it made things easier for them.

"If I were him... If I had friends that held similar grievances about the failings of the Emperor, if I had been so cuckolded by a woman and a man of lower class? I'd certainly react, bring any plans I had forward, especially now I've been given a deadline.'

"We can be certain he'll do something sooner than later.... Wedding ceremonies will take a little time, ones organised by a royal household sooner still if they're using us as a peace to appease and raise loyalty with the people of Rome.... I doubt Claudius and his Freedman will keep this a private thing. With the war in Britannia on the edge of a blade in terms of likely victory, I imagine he'll want to keep them happy and distracted."

He sighed deeply, knowing that much of what would take event was something no person from Valerie's time had likely ever witnessed let alone been a part of. There was much to take in about all of this and he was aware that some of what she was going to have to do, what they both would have to do, may not be something she was going to be all that familiar with.

"We can't act before he does anything... although, we could warn that Freedman from the palace, that Callamis' son might do something. After all, if Magnus is planning something and it involves the Emperor, that may well be what Hugo wanted us to prevent...I don't know... All of this is a headache," he rubbed his face, trying to think things through whilst his brain was tripping over itself.

OOC: Welcome back ^^


Valerie huffed again, blowing air from the corner of her mouth to whip a strand of hair away from her eyes. " A headache is a pretty accurate description. We're walking blind here, trying to achieve a goal which we don't even know about because Hugo has said nothing except to follow the Emperor's order."

She let go of his hand, standing up slowly and beginning to pace in along the mosaic floor alongside the fountain. I need to approach this the same way I approach any problems in the lab. What do I know, what do I not know and what solutions will help me fill in the gaps to reach an end goal?

Valerie folded her hands on top of her head, stopping for a moment to stare at the ceiling before moaning irritably and continuing her pacing. "I mean, I know what fate the Emperor Claudius is supposed to live out, he'll produce descendants despite his death, but I don't know if that death is supposedly still to come or if it's already supposed to have passed and that's where the error lies for Hugo's plans."

She stopped, again, agitatedly running her fingers along the length of her hair and cursing loudly when her fingers caught in the snags and knots. While pulling the hairs from where they'd trapped themselves along the rings on her fingers she spoke again. "Hugo simply said to follow the Emperor's orders, but by following his orders do we ensure the Emperor's eventual death or bring it forward ahead of time or finally bring it about when it's supposed to have happened already? The next Emperor comes regardless or else history books would have noted an end to the Julio-Claudian dynasty with Claudius...."

What does the Emperor's order have to do with this? I mean following it is beneficial for us, I'll take Kaeso over Magnus any day, but why does it matter? The Emperor's order....

A thought struck her, the girl pausing in her pacing and suddenly swiveling towards Kaeso. The movement made her tunic spin wildly around her ankles looking like an angry flame where the orange of the setting sun caught the fabric. "Rome is a powder keg waiting to blow. Even before our arrival, bold talk like that belonging to Magnus is a sure sign of a power struggle to come. If other nobilitas and future praetors or people who will hold power are already speaking like that without fear, it's not a matter of if Claudius will be removed but when. Tell me, the woman besides the Emperor when he met us, was that Agrippina or Messalina?"

When he responded, telling her that it had been Claudius' niece and now wife, Agrippina, in the counsel room, a few of Valerie's thoughts fell into place. Her face lit up, her hands waving about in the air as she spoke at the same time her thoughts formed themselves. The words came out fast, almost melting together in her excitement.

"I've been looking at this wrong - well, maybe I'm wrong already but hear me out...Hugo's last message was about the Emperor's order, but I don't think he meant his order as in his commands, I think he meant the order as in the order of the Emperor's that follow after each other within Roman history! With Agrippina's age, her son Nero should have been announced as the heir to the throne by now and been present within any meeting such as ours that required the Emperor's court and freedmen council to be there. He wasn't though. The only reason an heir wouldn't be present is if he's too young - which means Britannicus, his legitimate son, must be the one who holds the power as the future heir!"

She stopped in front of Kaeso, eyes lit up with her discovery as she placed her hands gently on each of his forearms. "That's the problem Kaeso! That's what isn't fitting with what's supposed to happen according to history. Hugo said he's a descendant of Caesar....but it's not Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, it's Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus! He's Nero's descedant! However, if Nero never becomes heir then something must happen that removes him and his possible bloodline all together!"

She chuckled smugly, throwing her hands around his shoulders so roughly she almost cast them both backwards off the ledge and into the fountain. Correcting her balance she sat back down, pulling away slightly as another thought occurred to her. "Why wouldn't Hugo have said that directly though? Why the ambiguity? Unless, there is a double meaning to the message, one that has to do with why I look so similar to the real Valeria. Which means that Magnus is still tied into this somehow and we have some digging to do."

Despite not solving the entire puzzle it felt like a start, Valerie's face beaming brightly now that she felt like she had some control back. Magnus was still a problem, but at least they had a possible lead to go off of now. It meant getting to the bottom of Claudius' eventual demise and how Magnus, Nero and the real Valeria tied into the equation.

The sound of a voice being cleared sounded behind Valerie, the girl awkwardly realizing the compromising position she was in with her arms still wound around Kaeso. She released him, redness crawling up her neck to her cheeks as she turned to see Markus standing in one of the alcoves. The Domina adjusted the way her toga lay across her, fidgeting with her fingers in her lap before she realized Markus was waiting for her permission to speak. "Ah....I...um....yes, Markus?" It was then she noticed the scrap of paper in his hands, clasped between his thumb and forefinger like it was a diseased thing.

"I....sorry to interrupt, my Lady, but a notice from the Emperor has arrived. It's an invitation to sit within his circle at this weeks games at the colosseum, your first public event for your wedding announcement to Master Marcellus." The man shifted awkwardly on his feet, feeling as if he had intruded.

Valerie was unsure if she had broken some social decorum, the red on her cheeks brightening as Markus handed her the letter and she read it herself quickly. "I see. Thank you for bringing this Markus, I appreciate it. I wish you a pleasant evening." The man spun on his heels and left as soon as he tone turned dismissive, looking like he had a plane to catch with his hurry with leaving as soon as the last syllable left her mouth. Valerie turned to Kaeso, wringing her fingers after handing him the message so he could read it himself.

"That's soon. After the eventful party here just the other evening I don't feel ready to weave myself in socializing and political intrigue so soon. I get a feeling though that to decline the Emperor's offer would be a grave offense indeed. The last time I was at any sort of arena it was to spectate a sports match between college teams and my brother and I drank beer out of plastic cups and shared a massive hotdog. I don't think this will be anything like that." Her elation dulled, the threat at hand and enormity of the task at hand suddenly dawning on her.

A public announcement of our betrothal....will that incite further rebellious and violent behaviour from Magnus or even his father this time?


the Hugger Troll
Walking in blind was one sure way to describe their situation too and something he was a tad more familiar with sometimes given the nature of his rank. Well, his past rank, anyway. That was another, albeit minor, addition to the headache he was having right now. Regardless, he was more or less used to a prospect of walking into situations blind with minimal sets of orders. His last set of orders had been practically of this type and one that had been painfully unrealistic. His mind drew back to his Optio and his men and he hurriedly kept that thought away. He ran a hand through his short crop of hair.

He looked up as she stood and began to pace, his eyes following her for a moment unsure of what she was doing but it was apparent she was thinking about something. He could remember his Greek teacher doing the same thing, which could mean she was doing some serious thinking. This situation was more than he could mentally handle and it was coming clearer and clearer the more that things were happening. He was better aimed at something in all truth but he was also good at listening and Kaeso couldn't deny he did like the sound of her voice when she spoke. Her energy and manners were entirely refreshing and he welcomed that. Why any man would want to quieten such a woman and force her to be a obedient puppet was beyond him.

Kaeso remained attentive. As a Centurion, he was used to listening to the daily briefs the Head Centurion, Prefects and Legatus gave out and this was no different except in that what she was talking about was something was his current time period and her history. His Legatus would have died to know this level of knowing who and what and where about a situation. On the other hand, it was a little unnerving that she knew but he knew she was likely keeping a lot to herself.

His back straightened as she swirled upon him, her energy seemed boundless when her mind was at work, which it clearly was. "Uh, Aggripina... his niece before I think, now his wife. Messalina was the previous one," he could remember his father writing about the scandal Messalina had so caused but he wasn't entirely sure what that was since his father had heard about it from someone else and gossip rarely survived long without being warped. He recalled the woman back in the palace room, the way she stood and acted, she reminded him of a hawk, calculative and watchful.

He nodded as she spoke to hear her out, no problems him doing that in the least bit as she spoke Emperors and sons and their lineage. She was dead on with Britannicus owning the legitimate standing to become Emperor but he had a frail father. Kaeso did know what the boy was like in personality either. Nero was Aggripina's, an illegitimate addition to the royal household as far as he was aware. All that came with their Freedmen, also vying for power and they had at least met two of them now.

Kaeso listened to her reasoning and relevation in total wonder before her arms going around his neck make him rock back a little with surprise, he chuckled and grinned, "Remind me to never get into your bad side; if you plot as well as you reason, I'd have much to fear." His words were gentle but genuine as he took a minute to process all of what she said before he nodded. It made sense. If there was power to the throne, it was through either Nero or Britannicus.

"In some ways, wish we were back in barracks, my father's letters are there. He's said some of what's been a feeling in what times he's visited Rome," he racked his mind for a moment. "Not everyone's happy with Rome being an Empire... I know some might wish to go back to how it was before Julius Caesar took power... A Republic. Yet... even us lower lot know those days are done. They might try the same, but through the legitimate heir, which would ally with your reasoning that Nero's life would be under threat by them. Claudius can't have much left in him as it is, they could wait him out... Take advantage of what's to follow... But if Magnus is bring things forward... Then we need to protect Nero as well?"

Kaeso paused and then listened after she sat down and spoke again and nodded, "I think there's much digging to do... He should have been more direct, he knows you know m-our history wouldn't have hurt," he sighed before the treads of feet distracted him and he glanced up to see Markus looking nervous as a lamb. How long had he been standing there?

He looked between Valerie and Markus before Markus skittered away, he surmised it had been a quick moment to get away from a mothering hen that was Aquila. He couldn't exactly blame the man but he hoped that Markus would get some more rest in. "Hm," he took the letter offered and read it, his lips moving slightly as he did so. The letter was direct and yet equally polite in its wording but none the less, the summons had been made.

Kaeso paused from reading and glanced towards her as she spoke and reached out to take her hand again. He gave what he hoped was a reassuring squeeze, "I'm sorry this happened to you, and I wish my time wasn't so... bloody and complicated. But you're not wrong... we can't turn this down. And if we have to keep our end of what Hugo's tasked us with... then it gives us sights on Claudius and Nero. They say he has a liking for it." He reasoned, otherwise protecting him would be harder. There was also the matter of his promotion to Prefect and that could be within the Praetorian Guard or back out in the frontlines. "I'm not going to let that wimp of a man hurt you, I vow that."


He read the letter, lips muttering as his eyes followed the lines on the page. Valerie watched him quietly, worrying her hands in her lap until he was finished and confirmed her suspicions. So, to the games we go. Violent, bloody and the ultimate entertainment of Rome. The infamous activities of the colosseum will be gory indeed, but I'll get to see it in person. I feel strangely privileged and nervous at the same time.

Right. Colosseum shenanigans it is this weekend. Quite different to the usual movie night or cocktail hour one might do for fun back in my time." She was trying to make light of the situation, lessen the tension she was sure they both felt at watching their steps and words around the nobilitas once again. It couldn't be helped though, since it was also the prime opportunity to observe Claudius and his sons, as well as how Magnus interacted with them and the other authoritative figures among Rome's most powerful.

"We'll make this work, we have to. Even without the complication of Hugo's plans, we're here now, I don't know how to get back and we face threats from outside forces that will do what they can to put us both in graves or under thumb. I don't plan on letting Magnus do what he wants, when he wants and let the self-indulgent prick have me leashed and following him around. Especially if it means harm to you in the process. That's my vow to you, Kaeso."

She stood then, taking one last look at her injured hand before dropping it to her side. "It's been quite an eventful day, best we get some rest. I'm sure there will be plenty to do in the build up to this weekend. If the Emperor plans to announce our betrothal, as Aquila will know if Markus was the one who gave us the message, we'll need to be presentable to the public. She'll be priming and prepping like the mother hen she is as soon as possible."

Valerie waited as he stood, wide-eyed in the twilight thickening around them. Knowing he would be there with her that weekend made all the difference, especially since they now had more opportunity to remain together as befitting the role the Emperor had given them and the new position thrust upon Kaeso. Prefect was a position fitting him, and Valerie could think of no one who deserved it more after all he had done for her. With the stars beginning to prick the navy sky she wished him goodnight, perching up onto her toes and on impulse laying a quick peck of her lips on his temple.

"Thanks again for everything Kaeso, goodnight." She turned quickly and left, not waiting around to see his reaction before scurrying to her quarters.


Under the cover of darkness, a man rode towards Rome on a dark roan steed slick with sweat. The beast had been ridden hard and was foaming for rest at the city stables. The large man patted the animals neck, whispering promises of sweet barley and soft hay as soon as possible before returning to a stony disposition. Cloaked, with his hood drawn up over his head, his strong features were barely visible under the dim half-moon's light. As with any visitor to the city he was stopped by the guard gates much as Kaeso and Valerie had been stopped their first day there.

"Halt, sir! Present papers or explain your arrival please for the log."

The man drew back his the rough-hewn fabric covering his shortly cropped hair which had grown out somewhat in the months of his travelling. His strong nose, wide jaw and green eyes lightened somewhat as he leapt off the horse, but not enough to charm the officers standing guard.

"Greetings, officers. I come with news for the freedmen under the Emperor. I was part of the unit sent on a mission of his to retrieve the late Lord Corvinus of the nobilitas-"

One of the officers interrupted, eager to have the man on his way with the late hour. "Ah, yes, the unit that rescued Lady Corvinus, word of the event has already reached us and the rest of the city about her arrival back in Rome-" He continued speaking, not noticing the confusion crossing the younger man's features opposite him.

But, the mission was a failure? Who is this imposter in Valeria's place?

The other officer was still speaking though, signing away at the log book for the man's arrival. "- quite fortuitous that she survived, given the hounds baying at her father's wealth for a piece of what he left behind. Caused quite a stir among the nobilitas, especially with her betrothal now to the Centurion of your unit....well, now Prefect. Lucky bastard, I haven't been able to rise in rank for years now and I'm stuck with gate duty."

That caught the man's attention again, confusion still wrought in his mind. Centurion? I was the only one on then mission, Hugo made sure of that... Betrothal? How can a woman who is dead have returned to Rome? I'm the only one and I came to report on a failed mission and then move on to whatever I must do next for Hugo, which is a massive unknown since the pager shut down and broke after the fight with the Britons damaged it.

The officer finished up and waved him in, allowing the man entry into Rome.

He kept his confusion carefully masked though, simply nodding and passing through while leading his horse by the reins.

"Well, at least I know where to start to get to the bottom of things: the Corvinus household to see and expose whoever this imposter is and then try and fix the pager Hugo left. Lots of strange variables at play here that need figuring out, but I guess time will tell." He muttered to himself quietly, the horse nickering beside him as if in agreement.

Caleb Corvell continued into the city, stopping at the nearest stable where he cared for his horse before passing out in the nearest hay stack.


the Hugger Troll
Colosseum shenanigans indeed he mused with a nod of agreement. He wasn't sure what a 'cocktail hour' was but he could guess that it was some sort from of entertainment or something her people did to take a little steam off like his people might with going to a tavernas. He knew she was trying to add humour or make light but he wasn't feeling it too much. The summons brought a great deal of what ifs and further playacting considering Valerie could only draw from what was her history and his present. It was complicated. He smiled gently apologetically anyway before she continued.

She made him a vow too then and he inclined his head. He had no interest in being put 'into a grave' as she so put earlier than the gods intended for him or to let Magnus get his way. It would not end well for either of them if the Senator's Son got his way.

"He can try,"
he said with the surety of one who was determined that Magnus was not going to prevail no matter how hard the man tried.

Kaeso nodded as she stood and spoke. She wasn't wrong, he could only imagine how Aquila was with the whole matter even if she didn't appear to like him very much. Perhaps a bit more since Magnus had shown his colours around her. He rose to his feet a few moments after she had in the agreement that rest was called for, especially after today.

"I will check in on them both before I turn in, but I think rest will do us both some good before we go through more crazy things," he nodded. He glad was he wasn't alone in this crazy life of events that was being thrown at him. It had been one crazy event of being pulled from his time but it had been something else in returning and her being thrown back with him to a world where no modern person had seen or experienced before.

She kissed him as she wished him goodnight and he looked after her as she walked back to the house. "You're welcome" the move had caught him entirely off guard. His stomach churned and he was almost a deer in headlights before he gave a small smile. "Good night, Valerie," he breathed before he eventually followed in her wake.

True as his word, he checked in on Markus to make sure he was all right and did the same with Aquila before he turned in at his own quarters.


The morning came with the usual fare of movement and activity with people collecting the morning needs such as bread and other fare. As usual, Kaeso was up almost at dawn, perhaps a little later before he got himself ready.

He went for a slow walk around the grounds just to have the moment to think about what was going on in his mind and about current events. Their prospective marriage now that Claudius had decreed his betrothal, his promotion to the rank of Prefect, Magnus and his prospective allies that would undoubtedly get in their way, their task to stop Magnus on Hugo's behalf to ensure the life of Nero if even that was what Hugo was wanting of them. He sighed and rubbed his face, trying to not feel overwhelmed by it all.

Kaeso wasn't sure how long he had walked for but even just the act of walking helped to calm his thoughts and make sense of what had to be done. They had to keep an eye on Nero regardless, ensure Magnus and his potential allies, of which Kaeso was sure there were plenty, either carry on with the betrothal or not should the first two requisites were filled depending on he and Valerie were feeling... he reached to touch where she had kissed him the night before.

It caused him to stop by a tree clad in flowers as he was distracted by this memory.


Valerie woke the next morning, feeling for lack of a better description like she'd been hit by a bus. Opening bleary eyes she blinked against the bright morning light coming through the high-set window, rolling over on her hard palette and remembering how much she missed her mattress.

Ugh. There are some modern perks that I severely under-appreciated when I still had them.

She pushed herself up with a moan, wincing at the throbbing in her hand which had connected with Magnus' face the day before. The woman knew she might have fractured her knuckles, but it was a pain she was willing to tolerate for the outcome of defending her knew home. Although the incident had been a surprise, she was glad that everyone came out in one piece with the biggest injuries being a concussion and bruised skin.

After some dressing and fighting with her tangled hair, she meandered into the rest of the villa. Aquila was already in the kitchen, sweeping away with a sturdy broom. Upon her entry the woman smiled politely, waving her hand in the direction of a small collection of food items for breakfast.

Valerie hastily grabbed a chunk of bread (probably made fresh that morning given the smell in the kitchen), smothering it liberally in olive oil before taking a bite. Between chewing and swallowing she glimpsed around, finding the villa oddly quiet other than Aquila's sweeping.

"Where is..."

Aquila interrupted her, stopping her ministrations with the dust momentarily. "Master Kaeso? Markus has gone to check if he cares for any food this morning a while ago. He should be back shortly, I saw him wandering around the grounds and garden."

Valerie couldn't help but notice the title she had bestowed upon Kaeso, no longer sticking to simply "Centurion" or "the soldier". It was a pleasant change, one she could only assume was driven by the ugly side Magnus had finally revealed the day before. He had now crossed them all....even Aquila couldn't ignore the facts staring her in the face with Markus' bandaged head now acting as evidence of Magnus' terrible temper.

"I'll meet him on the way back, then perhaps we can all eat together on his return." Valerie threw the last bite of bread into her maw, dusting her fingers of the traces of flour while resting the temptation to wipe her fingers on her dress.

It was probably against social decorum to have Aquila and Markus join them, but she didn't care. Things were bad enough without needing to act like she was a superior master and them mere slaves. It grated against her nerves and she was tired of it.

Aquila seemed ready to argue, but an unspoken thought crossed her mind as she watched Valerie placing her hands on her hips in preparing for the older woman's response. She simply nodded instead, much to Valerie's surprise, and continued on her sweeping.

Valerie turned on her heels and left, heading out into the bird song and early morning breeze scented with jasmine and citrus from the vines and orange bushes growing along side the home.


The man watched from the outskirts of the villa's estate, shadow and foliage of the thick forest bordering the Corvinus land concealing him. He noticed the slave, a middle aged man dressed in simple attire, approach the other who he assumed by his stature alone was the Centurion, now Prefect, the gate guards had spoken of the night before.

"Hm. Curious indeed." He fidgeted with a small knife in his agitation, the sharp tip cleaning out the weeks of travel's dirt from his fingernails. Eyes, similar in colour to Valerie's light green but darker, carefully followed the two figures as they spoke beneath a flowering tree. He couldn't make out faces or features from his position, sorely missing the binoculars he had once owned in a different time.

Movement caught his peripheral vision, the man turning to see a young woman exiting out the villa and making a beeline to the two men. His heart constricted with tension at the sight, the girl's gold-hued hair catching in the sun so much like the picture Hugo had given him as a reference for the Valerie Corvinus he had been charged with saving. Caleb had always wondered at the striking resemblance to his sister, but that was a thought best left alone lest he wished to feel his chest tighten and his mind haze over with memories.

"Whoever the imposter is, she's good. Just close enough to the girl who died to pass but with little enough difference to explain any changes that may have happened in the years since her capture. I wonder which of the power-hungry families sent this lamb to the slaughter, simply so they could gain some more influence or wealth with the Emperor?"

He squinted, wishing he could see better from his vantage point but not being willing to get any closer with the open, grassy grounds before him offering little cover.


the Hugger Troll
Markus moved out into the gardens and the fresh air peering at the olace where Magnus had shown his colours to all and had struck him. He hadn't been expecting it quite that hard but he was glad now Aquila seemed more on board with the idea that Magnus was bad news whereas before it had been a bone of contention between the two of them. They were both bound to this house and their futures lay in with the prospects of those who owned and commanded their lives now. He took solace in that he was happy here, his masters had been firm but never cruel and that trend seemed to continue in the Domina and in their new Dominus... For Markus that was also a sense of familiarity.

Kaeso was also a soldier and seemed quite new to a prospect of having a slave around yet was familiar to having staff beneath him and that was how the soldier seemed to be treating him. With respect. He smiled to himself as he searched for his Dominus and then paused slightly when he found Master Kaeso stood and staring at a rosemary bush. The man seemed held in place, fingers slowly touching his forehead. It was quite uncharacteristic from what Markus had come to know of the soldier that had come into their lives.


Markus had to get closer, clear his throat and speak the man's new title of the household a second time before the soldier startled and turned towards him with a little alarm before he calmed on the spot. Definitely out of character, Markus mused as his head dipped in deference and in his own mark of respect.

"I'm sorry, Markus. I was worlds away," Kaeso apologised knowing from experience having to wait for people to notice you whilst you were stood there for some reason or other was an awkward situation at best.

"Aquila has breakfast ready should you be hungry, Master,"

Kaeso rubbed behind an ear, he was still so unused to these numerous new titles, all of which he had never really asked for or expected for himself. He nodded, "I supposed I've done enough thinking; let's go. Wouldn't want to waste Aquila's hard work, after all." Kaeso smiled and nodded before he moved. Markus fell into step behind him and seemed surprised when Kaeso indicated for him to match his stride alongside.

For Kaeso, he preferred having eyesight on people as best as he could and he did not consider Markus much of a slave but rather as a fellow soldier who had fallen on hard times. He was glad when Markus seemed to accept this oddity perhaps recognising that they were both used to life in a Legion they were both now bereft of. "How 's your head today, Markus?"

"It's just throbbing a little, Master. I'll be fine,"
"Mhm, moment you feel light headed or anything, you go and lie down or let us know. You're a part of this... unit. I need you. You, Aquila, Valeria... you're all important in surviving this."
"Yes Master," Markus replied in feeling, glad they had a friend and protector in Kaeso. After all, the man was now their Dominus despite being from a lower class than their Domina. Even to them, it was a crazy set of fortunes.

Markus dipped back a couple of strides as they got closer to the house in their return and Kaeso was about to question the necessity as he looked back, unaware they were being watched, before he looked in the direction Markus was looking and saw now the reason. He smiled as Valerie joined them, the expression heartfelt and warm in nature.

"Markus tells me breakfast's ready... I had come out for a little process think," he explained with a nod as he fell into step with her, offering an arm should she wish to take it. After all, they still had to act as if they were both from this way of life rather than one of them being from the future and the other more versed in warfare in another land that Rome was in a process of conquering. The deception had been for Aquila's and Markus' benefit in as much it had been to fool the people from outside the household but in some ways Kaeso wondered whether they could trust them with the truth. Of Markus, he was sure he could trust the man to keep the secret but Aquila he was not quite so sure. She had only just come around to accepting he was more of a boon to them all than a hindrance. For the moment, perhaps, it was safer they both knew nothing of the truth.

"You look very radiant this morning, I have to say, Valeria," they had plans to discuss and there was also the matter of what posting or station his promotion to Prefect was going to land him at. If they were to go through with Hugo's mission for them both, then a position within the Praetorian Guard would be the optimum way of achieving this goal. It would be harder to do from the outside and harder still if he was still to frontlines. He hoped that would not be on the cards; such a foreign posting would make Valerie all the more vulnerable to outside opposition such as the enemy they had unwillingly made in Magnus. He glanced back at Markus and then thought perhaps they could stand to have some more slaves so that the house had a better means of security. Kaeso knew he would want those who had known life in the Legion, knew how to fight and protect a charge. That wouldn't be too difficult. Whilst it was customary to punish deserters and other criminals found within the army with death, sometimes commanders were persuaded or felt it kinder to sell them to traders instead. It was a doomed life perhaps, but it was still a life where they could earn their freedom one day.


Valerie approached the pair, Markus and Kaeso making a striking duo in the relative peace of the garden. They seemed out of place among the greenery and frail flowers, muscled individuals better suited for battle and hard work than strolling around the landscape frivolously. The dichotomy was comforting though, since Valerie knew she would need strong friends with even stronger minds for the upcoming struggles. She joined Kaeso and Markus, Her bright smile dimming slightly as she noticed Markus taking a step back.

I wish I knew how to convey to him that he does not need to submit himself to me, or to Kaeso. He’s been so helpful and loyal since the moment we got here, even putting himself in the way of harm to protect us and stand up for the members of this household. The family must have been very good to him to deserve such respect. He need not act like a slave around me though.

She greeted Kaeso first, smile brightening once more as she inclined her head in his direction. “Good morning, seems we’ve been graced with a lovely day.” She intentionally stepped around Kaeso to greet Markus as well, inclining her head in much the same way she had greeted Kaeso. “Good morning to you too Markus, I hope you are feeling okay. How is your head?”

The man lifted his gaze from the ground, giving a small but genuine grin in her direction. “It’s fine today, My Lady. I’m sure I’ll manage just fine regardless.”

Valerie nodded gratefully, placing a careful hand on his shoulder. “You be sure to take it easy. At any sign of pain, rest. Any duties can be put off or covered by one of us.” She returned to Kaeso then, taking his offered arm and responding to his comment on breakfast.

Indeed breakfast is ready. I have already acted like a scavenging vulture and pillaged some of the fresh bread that Aquila has made. It’s quite outstanding. I thought we could all gather in the atrium and eat together.” Her free hand fell naturally to rest on top of his arm that was laced through hers, only half her subconscious brain making an effort to put on an act.

It’s easy to pretend at being friendly with someone who you already consider yourself close to. She thought carefully, ignoring the slight fuzzy feeling in the pit of her stomach at feeling where the sun had warmed the skin of his upper arm.

Kaeso complimented her appearance, the female’s complexion glowing with his kind words. She lowered her eyes, a warm blush creeping to her cheeks. “Thank you for your kind words Kaeso. Looks like I’m adapting quite well to –“ She caught herself before referring to her new surroundings, remembering that Markus was right behind them and in earshot. She untwisted her tongue, recovering fairly quickly. “…to being back home. It’s good to be back.

Caleb watched from afar, his chest tightening the longer he watched the woman approaching the two men. She looks so much like her. The resemblance is rather frightening. He was so transfixed with the girl he almost didn’t notice the slave stepping aside from the other soldier with her approach. Caleb’s eyebrows drew together with his growing frown, rubbing at his chin with calloused fingers.

“Strange. So very strange. Gods how I wish I could get that damn pager to work so I could get some advice from that forsaken man. He would tell me what my next steps are.”


the Hugger Troll
Kaeso smiled not in the least bit surprised when Valerie stepped around him to greet Markus and inquire to his health. The man had taken a nasty falling and beating at Magnus' hands and he doubted either he or Valerie could begrudge the man a few days off to recover. However, he also wasn't surprised the man was already back at work. Kaeso knew he'd be doing the same were their roles reversed and he nodded with reaffirmation as to Markus taking what time he needed should he feel under the weather.

He laughed, he didn't have to play act that reaction. It was something he could make a mental imge of her doing and he could see Aquila's reaction unfold. He grinned, "I can imagine the face she made in reply if she caught you in such an act. You're making me hungry."

Eating did seem so far away now that he thought on it, not that he was all that used to eating regularly. Sure, an army moved better on its stomach but it was standard fair no noble would be caught dead eating. Often, soldiers would keep biscoctus to snack on during the day alongside other portable foodstuffs such as jerky. The twice baked snack would often also be good addition to mealtime. Kaeso liked soaking his in the broth the cooks gave out when meat was running low and he also liked them with wine. It made it easier to eat them.

"Well, I'm looking forward to it now," He nodded, matching her stride as they moved on. "Sounds like a grand idea, actually. We do need to be more at home with other, I think. I know I'm still much of an outsider to all this," he said softly, knowing Markus would still hear his words regardless. He knew his entry into the Corvinus household had not been easy on either of them, and he didn't want to make it any harder given what the fates had decreed for them.

Kaeso dipped his head in response to her gratitude, "I cannot deny the truth. Could you, Markus?" he looked back to the other and Markus nodded with agreement. Kaeso looked back at Valerie and grinned, aware it was cheeky for reasons Markus would not understand. "For that, I am glad. Those back in Britannia that dared harm you must feel worlds away now that you're here in your rightful home."

He glanced behind them, getting a funny feeling of being watched before he shook the feeling. He knew Magnus was plotting and he was wary of what was involved in that. The man would surely have people watching the place. The soldier realised he was going to have to look at the budget and increase their security. It would mean more slaves, which he knew Valerie might dislike but it couldn't be helped. At least he could see if there were other soldiers that had fallen to hard times... their loyalty to a Centurion turned Prefect would also be easier to gain.

"Let's not keep Aquila waiting. Her wrath scares me," he wasn't entirely joking.


Breakfast was a quick affair, if somewhat initially awkward with Aquila and Markus being unsure about joining Kaeso and Valerie. They were soon put at ease though, once Valerie inquired as to some of Aquila's favorite memories of her (or rather, of the original Valeria) as a child.

The woman had brightened quite quickly, regaling them with tales of a small but feisty child who had kept her on her toes. The bread baked earlier went down a treat, especially dipped in small pottery bowls of olive oil and honey Markus had acquired from the market a few days previously.

The jovial gathering was soon interrupted though with the arrival of a messenger on horseback, bearing more notices with the Emperor's seal and written on specially made paper. Markus was soon to hand over the letters to Kaeso, rather than Valerie, after receiving them.

The letters would entail details that needed to be decided upon for the wedding, guests lists of those who needed to receive an invite (on the emperors orders) as well as specific businesses to call upon for arranging food, drink and wedding attire. Valerie read the letter over Kaeso's shoulder, brows furrowing with concentration as she went over the specifics. "Not even three days and we've already got some decisions to make. More than likely, they'll need to be decided before seeing the Emperor at the games in a day's time. So much to do, so little time."

Aquila left them to wash up after the previous meal, leaving Valerie and Kaeso alone after Markus rose and joined her after gathering empty plates and other cutlery.

"What should we tackle first? Is it worth the risk of going into town after the events with Magnus?" Valerie looked to Kaeso for guidance, knowing the pressure they were under by the Emperor to get things done while also facing the threat from the scorned man.

Caleb sat shrouded in shadow, shifting uneasily from foot to foot to ease the numbing in his legs from squatting for so long. There was still movement in the house, clear through the windows lining the villa, but they were too narrow to actually see what was going on.

The man sat musing to himself, fiddling with the object he had extracted from his saddlebag a moment earlier. The pager was a slight weight, passed from palm to palm as he ran through his options.

"I still need to get to the bottom of who this girl is. Sure, she strikes a remarkable resemblance to Val - wherever in the future she may be - but I'm sure any rats running the power struggles in Rome know just as well as Hugo did what the original Valeria Corvinus looks like."

He paused a moment, allowing his brain to wonder to thoughts of his own sister who had left in a very different time. "Very likely she looks the same because what ever genes we share with the original Valeria, the same genes that aligned enough for us to pass through time, is also what makes my Val look so much like the original Valeria...I wonder if..."

He stopped himself there, shaking his head as he enclosed the pager roughly within his fists. "Thinking of her won't help me here. She's in her own time, safe, and I need to work out what to do to keep her time safe. With that aside...I'll be able to start answering my questions by finding out what this imposter has got to gain from being in the position. Is she hoping to get a financial gain from whoever put her in the original Valeria's place? How does the soldier fit into all this? Are the slaves involved?"


the Hugger Troll
He could tell Aquila and Markus were not used to this experience of dining with who were effectively their lords and masters of the household but he felt they appreciated the nod to their importance within said household. He doubted he or Valerie would have had it any easier without them to run teh background processes that he especially took for granted. Everything he had needed up till this point had been provided for by the army. Admittedly, it was paid for out of his own wages but he didn't have to worry about where he would sleep, where his food came from or when he'd get it. Now, whilst he knew Markus and Aquila would be able to still make sure that side functioned... it was now his and Valerie's task to ensure it was paid and provided for.

His move into the equestrian level of society that the promotion to Prefect would grant him would aid in that and he didn't doubt that the gifts the wedding was likely to give them would be a huge bonus to the household coffers. Kaeso thank deeply as breakfast was consumed, drumming over questions he had been asking himself since Claudius' announcement of his promotion and their subsequent marriage. At least the food they were eating was delicious, especially the bread and he made sure to compliment their hard morning's work in maiing that happen.

Kaeso had been a firm Centurion but he had also been fair and rewarding in his own way. He understood loyalty to your name was something money couldn't always buy and had to be earned through hard merit. he wanted to make sure he could win the loyalty of both Markus and Aquila before whatever plan Magnus was plotting bore their rotten fruit.

Kaeso blinked when Markus held out a number of letters to him. "Thank you, Markus," he nodded, wiping his hand clean before he took them. He watched Markus turn and gather the remains of their breakfast for a moment before he sat up, using the couch to rest most of the letters before he began reading them. He wasn't too surprised at the haste of which these had come... Claudius was going to need to wave that triumph soon... The war in Britannia was off to a rocky start and he knew he was going to need to keep dissenters at bay and the mob of Rome happy. Kaeso knew Caratacus was not going to make the conquest an easy one.

He felt Valerie's presence over his shoulder and took comfort from it, everything about his match with her namesake made him nervous and anxious. His father was going to be ecstatic when he found out and that added to his nerves. He nodded in agreement, "His Freedmen don't hang about, it seems... Thought I imagine this won't be too hard to complete."

Kaeso felt the guests of whom Corvinus would have invited to his daughter's wedding day was something Aquila would have known and could provide the names for easily enough. For himself, there was only his father to consider since he had no siblings and his mother had died when he was young. He had a cousin but the location of which was always unknown since he was something of a write off to his father. They didn't get on. As for others, that was left to the Emperor's Freedmen's digression.

He didn't reply to her immediately, taking a moment to think before he nodded, "Neither you or I are going to be held prisoner to this house out of fear of whatever he or his associates might do, or plan to do. Besides, I know you don't like it... but we also need to up the level of security for this place, and that will mean slaves. It's just Markus and Aquila... I can't expect either of them to hold their own."

"Hm, I expect the tailor would be first port of call... Lot of eyes are going to be on us with this so we'll need to look the part,"
he was dreading that and he didn't hide the inflection. He was honest with Valerie, this was a time that was not hers and knew he was pretty much her own known thing of his world. "We can worry about catering and such after... expect Aquila can help with that in as much as adding to the guest list. I have no idea who Corvinus was friendly with outside of the Imperial household."

"But yeah... At least you can choose whatever dress takes your fancy, seems the treasury is aiding with footing the bill for this."
Good thing too, he mused as he looked up at her, slouching a little. He reached for another letter he had yet to open and it made him subconsciously straighten again. It regarded his promotion to Prefect and his posting. She wouldn't be able to join him for that meeting however, and that made him uneasy.

"What I do know regarding us and this Magnus plot is that I don't want you being alone at any point... He's likely to make use of that if you do. So, keep Markus with you when I can't, please?" he turned in his seat to look at her. He was scared it would be something Magnus would be looking out for and use to his advantage in whatever plot he was planning. If that happened, she would be used as leverage and he doubted she would matter that match if used as a threat to Claudius or the conquest of Britannia.

Not for the first or last time did he curse Hugo's existence.

He offered her a smile, "I'm not going to break my promise I made to you, but this meeting I can't bring you to. However, that's tomorrow's problem. We can go and sort out the other things today, if you like? I need to get some paper, write to my father. We can also find some place to have lunch at too if we get hungry..."


Clothing, catering, guest lists...it was a lot to think about. Sure, Valerie knew she would be able to at least some say in how things would go for her "big day", but she knew that the Emperor would have a heavy hand in final calls and important details. There was so much to do and not much time to juggle it all. Markus and Aquila especially were going to be invaluable additions in the upcoming time leading to the wedding. She thanked whatever godly presence, whether from her own time or the Gods of this land, that she could blame memory loss on whatever details the original Valeria might have intrinsically known.

Kaeso discussed their plans for the day: most likely the tailor and other stops along the way. At least most of the financial load of the wedding will be off their shoulders, since Valerie had no idea how quickly they were going through any funds left for the household or if there were any funds coming in.

In her exploration of the villa she had found a few business papers detailing farming and trading operations run through the old Lord Corvinus, but she didn't know if those were still valid or how much income they actually provided. Seems the original Valeria's father had mostly run business away from the household and his family.

Kaeso's words were a comfort. He didn't want them to hide in the villa like foxes in a hole, but she still didn't like the prospect of needing to purchase more slaves. It sat ill with her, turning her stomach and souring the breakfast they had eaten earlier. She knew he was right though - Markus had barely been able to step in, and he almost was gravely injured for it. Perhaps some extra muscle would be needed. She lowered her voice before answering him.

"You know how I feel about having slaves, but I do see your point. I don't know who or where you go to inquire about such things, but perhaps that should be a priority for today as well as all our other chores. I don't want to see Markus or Aquila hurt or....or you especially, because we didn't plan ahead."

She looked down a moment, swallowing hard before looking up again. Valerie felt oddly embarrassed at admitting her worry for him, but she covered up by trekking on ahead with their plans for the day despite the redness climbing up her neck to her cheeks.

"So, to the tailor we go then, followed by wherever we can acquire as to some new employees for the household."

The idea of her not allowed being alone also was an irritation. She was used to her independence and freedom, being allowed to go wherever and do whatever she wanted in her own time. She needed to remind herself though that she was not in the future anymore and had to play by the rules of Rome now.

"I promise to not wander anywhere by myself if it will give you peace of mind. While I try my best to be able to handle myself and my problems I know I am just physically not capable of defending myself, especially against anyone bigger or more than one person. I'm simply not strong enough. However, I do intend on looking around for something sharp and pointy I can keep on my person and concealed - it might be prudent I have something to protect myself with. The same for you, I think it's high time you continue wearing your weapons belt when possible and retrieve your things from the armory. "

She straightened then, taking a deep breath to clear her mind as she set her shoulders straight. "Should we get going then? Lots on the to-do list today and it's not even mid-morning." Valerie gave him a slight smile, one corner of her lips turning up cheekily before she tightened her sandle straps and headed for the door. "Should we take horses?" Lowering her voice to a whisper she added, "Am I allowed to ride by myself?"


the Hugger Troll
He did know and on some level he fully agreed with her but for Rome to stop having slaves in their current economic climate would mean collapse for many businesses and the effect would ripple across the empire. It just wasn't feasible to get ride of the practice overnight.

"Well, there's a market... and I'll try and scope for those with a military background. Many will continue to have a loyalty for the Legion and hopefully me," he nodded, smiling softly at her thoughts for his wellbeing. To him, it was unnecessary but he appreciated the thought nonetheless. He realised the only people he had to worry about him was his father and now Valerie. He supposed to some that would be a sad thought in itself but he was just simply used to his life by now. Well, save for recent months. His life had been a jumble of events in the last couple of months.

And as he looked back at Valerie he realised that it had not been entirely for the worst.

Kaeso blinked as he realised he was staring but she was talking and he wasn't sure she had caught him out. He understood her offense to the idea, he had gotten the impression she was a strong and independent woman from the first day he had met her. Ordinarily, he would not have worried quite so much but he also knew his world was a man's world and a cruel one at that. It was then her last comment clicked before he nodded.

"I'll imagine that'll be a part of my meeting tomorrow, Prefect's wear different gear to what I'm used to," he nodded, though he knew he'd still have to get something to wear for the big day. Whilst within the walls of Rome, he was a civilian just as much as Valerie was so going around in full kit unless he was due for duty was a general no-no.

He nodded, collecting the papers together and stowed them away for safe keeping before he rose and moved to join her, "Let's."

"Uh, normally, you would ride a litter... but we don't have the staff to lift one, even if we had one... I'm not sure you do have one,"
the question had caught him off guard. "I mean, sure... Think looks wise, it'd be better if we rode the same horse... but I'll leave that to you. Theoretically, you rode one whilst coming back to Rome along the way..." he scratched the base of his neck in thought, he didn't want to hamper her too much.

He led the way to the stables where three equines stood in bays. One was a mule, which Kaeso figured was used by Aquila or Markus. There was one was a dapple-grey mare with a light grey mane and tail and the last a bay gelding with black mane and tail with white socks on three feet. "Which one would you like?" he asked as he saw to the tack they'd need for the ride.


Heading through the front door to the villa, having spent a short moment collecting a shawl to throw over her head to protect her from the sun, Valerie turned towards Kaeso at the threshold.

The girl straightened, tilting her head to the side before speaking to him. "I'm sure there will be a large number of those loyal to you and the Legion. I found it very easy to consider you a friend and have little doubt that your returning a daughter of Rome will win you favors among any ex-soldiers in the city. Finding people who will listen and trust you shouldn't be too difficult a task. I'll just view them as employees, to take my mind away from the discomfort of owning slaves."

She furrowed her brows when he mentioned a change in uniform, placing her hands on her hips while waiting for him to join her outside, setting off at a reasonable pace towards the stables once he had caught up. "What does the new uniform look like then? I can't imagine it will be too frivolous if its intended to wear during war. Or are there different outfits for different occasions?"

Her face scrunched up at the thought, the girl rummaging in her mind for any pictures she might have seen as a younger woman of Praetors in battle. She came up empty though, stopping in her walk when she reached the stable doors. The air smelled faintly of manure, but robustly punctuated by sweet hay and the scent of living creatures occupying a small space. It was comforting, the girl thought, watching as dust splatters wondered into the pieces of light creeping in through the opening in the wooden slats making up the walls of the barn.

He made mention of a litter, the girls nose crinkling in disapproval at the thought of needing to be carried around as she was for the Emperor's meeting. She would definitely prefer to ride, even if she might need to make the pace slow and her riding stature elegant enough to not draw attention.

Kaeso offered her two options, the woman's eyes already drawn to the stomping dapple grey mare who snorted in her stall. Valerie approached the beast, the mare throwing back her head at her approach before Valerie hushed gently under her breath. The mare's ears swivelled, perking up at the quiet tones Valerie mumbled under her breath. "There now beastie, no need to throw a tantrum." Valerie stopped short of the stall entrance, the mare staring for a moment before stretching her neck out curiously. The girl tickled at the horses snout, the horse's ears relaxing before nickering quietly.

"I think I quite like her - I wonder what she was called by the family before?" Valerie chuckled quietly, pulling back the hooded shawl before stepping forward to pat down the grey's neck. The horse snorted through her nose, leaning into the touch.


the Hugger Troll
Kaeso nodded lightly, happy for them to be considered more as employees over staff even if they didn't really get paid. He supposed he could wing them all a few as or sestertii here and there. It wasn't uncommon for slaves to get money, it was how they saved up for their freedom even though it could take them several years. "Well, it wouldn't be incorrect as far as descriptions go."

He was sympathetic to Valerie's view, he still found it mindboggling to some lengths her world had no need for slaves, that everyone worked for their coin no matter who they were, although he presumed there were always exceptions. Exceptions wasn't a concept he was foreign to. She spoke of his new armour and he had to think for a moment before he nodded.

"Nominally, there's two sets... One that's more ceremonial... wouldn't likely to even see a combat situation. Then there's the functional set which would. Both are a cuirass, which are much lighter. The functional one will be more durable and protective. Helmet's different too; won't be the transverse crest you first saw me wearing. Would be one with a crest that runs parallel to my face," he used his hand as a gesture to show his meaning. "However, at the wedding... I'll still be in a toga. Soldiers are still civilians when we're not away at war, end of the day. So, you won't be the only one shopping for new garb," he added, rubbing a nervous finger behind his ear.

"Jupiter knows what my father's gonna think about this... Be over the moon, probably,"

He caught the wrinkly at the talk of a litter and he smiled, he supposed after a while of having her own car, ws that what it was called, his world was perhaps a slap to the face for her. He was happy for her to ride her own, who was to say the daughter couldn't have developed a liking for it in the time of her disappearance and rescue.

She seemed to pick her horse and he moved to get the tack for the mare, layign the saddle on its back gently. He wasn't the best rider himself but he knew how to ride well enough. It was something he had to learn as a Centurion for a few missions he had been sent on or for those Tribunes and other important persons he and his unit had been tasked with accompanying.

"I can ask Marcus later, depends how long she's been in the family for," he replied , carefully leading the mare out before moving to tack up the gelding, leading him out afterwards as well. He then moved back to valerie, taking hold of the bridle before gesturing to the saddle. "I'll make sure the stirrups are to the length you need," he smiled, "Unless you want to do that yourself?" he added, thoughtfully, he didn't want to squish all of her independence if he could help it. He respected the time she came from.


Valerie gave him a smirk, striding up to the mare and adjusting the tack as needed, cinching up the stirrups and tightening the girth around the horses undersides. "I'd quite enjoy making the final adjustments myself, last time a rode a horse was probably summer camp when I was eleven." She grinned fondly at the memory, adjusting the way the bridle sat on the mare's face before grabbing the reins hanging towards the ground.

The woman led the horse to a nearby stump, usually used for cutting up logs she guessed, and used the added height to swing herself up and onto the horse's back. Gathering the reins into one hand and placing the other on her hip she looked down at him with shoulders back and heels tucked into the stirrups. "I'm quite looking forward to this over a stuffy litter."

While he was preparing to go, Valerie thought over what he had said about his father. The prospect of meeting someone who was so close to Kaeso was a little unnerving. Even more worrisome was of course the development that she was to marry him.

If I had to meet some strange person meant to marry my child, I might be a little perturbed at having been able to meet them and assess them before hand. I wonder how Kaeso's father will feel? I wonder if he'll like me?

She continued to muse to herself, clicking her tongue and lightly tapping the mare's sides with her heels to move her forward once Kaeso had mounted. He seemed comfortable on the gelding, but not completely at ease. Riding horses was probably not something he did very often she surmised, considering his previous position in the Roman army.

"Will your father be able to travel here in time for the wedding? Have you sent word or do you think that is something the Emperor's administrative freemen will do for us? Do Roman's send out fancy wedding invitations even?" Once they were off she continued their conversation, running through the list of things they needed to do now that they had left the villa. First stop was the tailor's, or perhaps the slave market? She was not familiar with Rome's layout and figured that Kaeso would know which would be closest to go to first.

The road was dusty and dry, clouds of sand drifting up from the horses steady pace and sticking to the perspiration already dusting her brow from the heat. Valerie adjusted her shawl around her head, trying to keep the sun off her face with the make-shift hood while drying her sweaty palms on her dress skirt.

Caleb saw movement, the loud neigh of a horse not his own lifting his head from where he was concentrating on the pager once more.

He watched the girl and soldier exit, his head turning quizzically at the sight of the young woman astride her own beast rather than sharing a horse with the soldier or, more likely, being carried within a litter.

"She's....not even riding side saddle. Wherever she grew up, this imposter was definitely not apart of the Nobilitas despite her uncanny resemblance. Most wealthy patrons of Rome are taught side -saddle riding as females. How odd. Very...modern of her dare I even say, for this time at least."

He stood carefully, keeping to the shadowss, before scurrying back to his own mount and launching up onto the creatures back. The stallion snorted, stomping its feet and eager to leave after sitting bored in a spot with little in the way of grass or foliage.

Caleb urged the animal on, the horse swivelling around and launching back down the wooded trail they had previously come down.

With any luck, I'll manage to reach the head of the trail in time to tail behind them at a reasonable pace.


the Hugger Troll
Kaeso smiled, nodding in reply and left her to make her own adjustments before he turned to adjust the stirrups for the saddle on the gelding. It snickered and shifted as he worked. He knew most would not appreciate a forward thinking and independent woman, but he found it refreshing. He was used to a simple routine, or way of looking at things and perhaps that was why.

He took the rein and lead the gelding out into the open air, patting its neck as he went, "Easy there, lad. Easy."

He looked towards her as she mounted up and smiled, she clearly warmed to the beasts more than he did. Another reason to take liking over a woman of his period too caged by the bars of what society demanded. He was just aware there was not much a man of his stature could or should do to change that. "So I see," he grinned back at her, nodding before he finished up, making sure the gelding was comfortable. It seemed a little skittish and perhaps unused to the idea of a soldier riding it over its usual master.

Looping the reins back over its head, he gripped and launched himself up and into the saddle. Riding was sometimes he was unused to, he was happier on his feet but now that he was to be a Prefect and now part of the Equestran class as a result, he knew he'd have to learn to master his horsemanship. Perhaps he could get himself a horse that didn't feel like it was ready to bolt. It shifted under his weight, moving sideways as he grumbled at it. He eventually got it to stop being as fussy and match the mare's pace.

She asked about his father and he glanced to her as they rode down the hill, hooves clattering on cobblestones, "They probably have, but I plan to do so regardless... and they do, by a royal messenger or one through the Praetorian Guard. As for travel, it will be easy enough. He can either ride via horse or tag along on a ship coming into Rome. Misenum is practically in Neapolis... I'm not sure if those names have changed in your time or not."

Having his father at the wedding filled him with feelings he was both alien and anxious about. Without this funny turn of events, as he had told Valerie back in her living room, he would have remained a Centurion of which weren't allowed to marry without special dispensation. He wouldn't have taken one regardless, if not for the transport to Valerie's time, the Briton he had been fighting would have had his head for a trophy by this point. So, a wife was a foreign concept for a man so previously accepting of a life he had chosen and now his father would have that as a surprise.

The dust and hustle of Rome soon shrouded them both in the dust and noise, Kaeso was more used to dealing with just carrying on as if it didn't exist. At least his gelding had calmed itself and perhaps hadn't been taken out for a while. He would rectify that in coming days if he was to practice his horsemanship. With a discussion of their day's itinery, he steered them to the tailor's first as that would likely take them a longer time to complete. Despite his annoyance at the Greek's manner, he aimed for the one they had used before knowing they could perhaps haggle the price a bit more.

After all, gossip travelled fast in congested places and undoubtedly the Greek already knew of their betrothal. "Don't worry about choosing colour, by the way. It will have to be white," he breathed as they soon arrived. He dismounted once they arrived and took the reins once she had dismounted as well.

"Back again so soon, my friends? Marvelous! Oreon! Quit picking your nose and look after their horses!"

Kaeso blinked and turned as the Greek addressed them, stepping out of his little shop. He supposed that was just coincidence but he couldn't help but be naturally suspicious. If there were two sorts of people that could easily make you lose coin, it was Greeks or Jews. He snorted before he spotted a young boy, not one that seemed to have reached his coming of age, come over to take the reins from him. Kaeso turned the reins over to the boy and offered a hand to Valerie.

"My lady?"

"I'm sure you have been swamped, but it's all over the city! It has a caused a sensation, I quite approve! I am honoured you would come and return to old Archelaus' humble shop! Come in, come in!" he smiled at them, waving them in gently with a hand. Kaeso arched a brow but stepped so that Valeria could go before him.

"After you, my lady"


The ride to the tailor wasn't too eventful, but was far more pleasant now that Valerie could se her own pace and wasn't stuck inside a litter where she couldn't see the scenery. The mare seemed to enjoy herself as well, ears perking up at bird song and steps eager along the gravel road leading into the city.

Arriving at the tailor, Valerie swung down from the horse with a huff. The ride had only been short but her legs ached, reminding her just how long it had been since she had needed to ride a horse. The female walked stiffly towards Kaeso, allowing him to hand the reins over to the young child assisting the Greek.

The shop owner greeted them cheerily, making it obvious that their betrothal had quickly taken a turn through the gossip mill all throughout Rome. Valerie grimaced, forcing a smile as she took Kaeso's offered hand. Perhaps this will be useful though. Sure, the nobilitas are surely going to take advantage of the fact that we have the Emperor's favor and that our wedding is going to be a public spectacle useful for furthering their own agendas. However, store owners will not be inclined to take advantage of us without risking the wrath of the Empire. Not that it matters too much since the palace will be paying for just about everything anyway.

The store's interior was dingy, most of the light only seeping in through the front entrance and high, narrow windows set into the walls. The contents within were as varied as she remembered though, her eyes assaulted with choices in textures, material, patterns and colour. Her grip on Kaeso's hand tightened slightly, smile tightening as she waited for the shop owner to follow in behind them.

"Yes, we're quite honored ourselves. Very pleased with the promotion that my....my ah, fiance deserves after all his efforts. We could not have asked for a better outcome. We're both very excited." She patted Kaeso's arm, looking up at him and proceeding with the image of a newly betrothed couple. Her stomach twisted as her eyes met his, tight smile loosening somewhat before her sights returned to the shop owners.

"We'll need a....ah...." She struggled to think of the word, remembering in a flourish the discussion she had had so long ago when she was learning the latin wedding attire terms. "A tunica recta. Preferably in white. Of course, the zona girdle and veil...perhaps yellow for the veil? I can't quite remember what the Emperor suggested...." she sheepishly looked to Kaeso for assistance, shuffling uneasily from one foot to the other.

Caleb spurred his horse on, managing to exit the trail in a cloud of dust just in time to spot Kaeso and Valerie before they disappeared behind a forested left turn on the dirt road. Patting his horses neck, the animal breathing deeply, he urged him on in the direction the pair had gone.

It was difficult trailing them in such a way that he remained unseen but could still follow what direction they were going on, soon finding that his methods were unnecessary since they were taking a popular route towards one side of the main part of the city. They eventually ended up at a tailor, the man dismounting a safe distance away only once they had entered into the store.

Caleb kept his hood up, watching the store front through the darkened underside of the head covering. "Wedding shopping, I presume..." he muttered quietly to himself, eyes rolling as he adjusted the bridle straps on the stallions cheek. "The imposter gets to play dress up with money from the Corvinus family coffers."

He stood watch, trying to appear as a casual bystander waiting from something outside one of the other shops lining the busy street.


the Hugger Troll
For Kaeso, it was irritating to have news go around a place so fast but he also knew that people were just that and thrived on whatever little bit of news to make their day worthwhile surviving through each day. He had to admit; the decision to promote a Centurion and then match them with a returned member of nobility had been a shrewd move of the Imperial Freedmen's part. Whilst it might have offended those who were concerned with breeding and social differences, the move had warmed a lot of the citizens of Rome from many runs of the social ladders.

He just didn't like the attention the Greek's words meant would come to them. Undoubtedly, Magnus was plotting with his like-minded friends within Rome and this made the soldier wonder if this had been another reason for the match. He doubted Narcissus and the rest would be that unaware of the Senator's Son's favour of marrying into the Corvinus line... Kaeso was aware Freedmen were horribly well informed considering their need to keep their one benefactor alive. Kaeso wondered if the match had been a way to bring any dissenters of the Claudian line and succession out of the shadows and to lure them into a trap.

If that was the truth, it made Kaeso feel a little better about their situation.

He felt her grip on his hand tighten and tried to calm his own nerves in the only real way he knew how. By facing the situation to hand, worrying about other things after. He didn't stray from her side, knowing how much of a rock he represented for her.

Valerie spoke to Archelaus who listened to her with rapt attention, as if nothing else in the world mattered. For that, Kaeso was thankful... not for any feeling of importance or nod to his promotion in both rank and social standing but for that he became a fixed point in a battle of commotion from everyone else around who was clearly trying to catch snippets of gossip. He looked to Valerie as he patted his arm, reading it as a social cue and he put a smile on his face despite not entirely feeling it. That stemmed from the need to act and that alone was unnatural for him in character but the smile was not completely false either.

He looked back to Archelaus and nodded watching the Greek positively bouncing off the balls of his feet. No doubt the man was excited to be the one providing the garments for a couple in the Emperor's favour and limelight. It put his name out there and was something for him to hold over other competing merchants in his trade. However, Archelaus seemed to have lost none of his manner in dealing with customers. Attentive and clearly listening as he looked between her and the soldier.

Kaeso smiled, grateful she had some knowledge of his people's ways and culture; women's things was not something he ever thought he'd have to learn about. He relayed what the Imperial Household had requested through their communique before and the Greek nodded excitedly.

"Oh, yes, yes! I have just the thing suitable for such a grand occasion, my lady. Just the thing!" he clapped his hands together before he bustled off within his shop. Kaeso could hear him rummaging, talking to himself almost in third person and raised a brow. He would never understand Greeks, he mused. They grew stranger every time he met one.

He appeared a moment later with clothes lain across his arms. He moved to a central table before laying the garments upon it. He lifted the white garment and held it up for Valerie to look at. "We will need to tailor this to suit your height a little, but this will be to Imperial standard." He then moved, gently moving to offer it out to her, as if to hold it against her.

"As for you, Sir, this would be fitting for the grand occasion," the Greek nodded towards him and then the garments he had picked out for the soldier as he helped Valerie, a smile on his features. Kaeso glanced towards the garment and nodded lightly. It was recognizable in the style of what was worn at the few weddings he had been to. He noted it was fancier, but not excessively so. He nodded with approval, he knew he was never going to lose his heritage of coming from a lower social level and other nobles would know that as well. To choose one that was excessively fancy would he rubbed it in their noses too much.

"Thank you, Archelaus. You have a good eye, it's to be commended," he put forth.

"You are most welcome. Part of the trade is reading those who brighten this place with their patronage, I'm glad I have not failed you in this ability," Archalaus beamed, clearly elated by the compliment.