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Shifts of Fortune [Closed] Read 11963 times

Krystal Itzume

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Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« on: September 21, 2013, 02:06:41 am »
"The beginnings of all things are small."
--Cicero

Aemilia Pullus liked gardens. She liked birds, and all sorts of things to do with nature. Plenty of her studies were taken outdoors, but the one she walked alongside was not a paid tutor. Aemilia would never dishonor him by thinking he was not a teacher, though. He was a relative, great-uncle or something of the sort. She didn’t keep track, not the way he did. He’d become a father to her, as her father had passed when she was young, leaving behind the remnants of his faith and his name.

Aemilia had continued correspondences with Theron over the years, initially because it was polite, but later because she came to love him as kin.

He chuckled,
“Is that what he tells you?”

Aemilia nodded,
“It is.”

Theron shook his head, continuing to chuckle. Blond hair now seemed silver in the sunlight. He was aging, but it was graceful. Laugh-lines and silver eyes still demanded he not be treated as an old man. There was life in him, despite what his fair skin suggested.
“I see that despite his praising words in the senate, Winston remains ever suspicious. I suppose I should praise his dedication to disliking me while retaining such respect,” perfect enemies. “I do wonder what he is teaching you.” A smile was on his lips, “I worry he is corrupting you.”

“Not at all!”
She shook her head to deny it, a few strands of black hair shaken loose from the up-do. He was a good teacher, even if he opposed Theron. She rather liked having the different view.

“No?” Eyebrow arched. Little escaped his notice.

She frowned,
“Asking one honest question about how long you intend to remain dictator does not make me a dissident.” Though she had known the answer, even if Theron evaded honesty. The war was made to give Theron the illusion of being necessary. When it came to an end, it would be hard to maintain his grasp. “How goes the war? What was the latest report?” She had wanted to go along with it, had started to officially train along other would-be soldiers, the goal of being an officer in sight, but then she was called here by Theron. He still hadn’t been clear in his reasoning, except that her education needed refinement—apparently under his enemy, and apparently not military training.

She was pretty sure she was just being used as a spy, by both of them.


“Oh,” Theron seemed to remember something. They paused in their walk, “Actually, we should be getting a report from the esteemed field general himself.” He couldn’t help but smirk as he saw how her eyes lit up. “I see your hero worship remains,” he chided, and it faded as she looked down. “No, I understand.” He hid his jealousy well. There was a reason for him calling the man back from the field, and it wasn’t just to give him the needed break (though certainly his friend needed the pleasures of luxury). The war was nearing its end. Theron would not let the general claim glory.

He had it planned to word it so his general would not think himself being slighted too much. The man could not lose his grip on the political aspects by spending all his time in the field. He was losing influence and respect, being thought of as a simple warmonger—he needed to regain the respect of the senate. Theron would be doing him a favor. Aemilia also needed the experience, of course. He did not trust his general as a teacher in the art of war, skilled as he was.

At least, that was how he intended it to appear.
“I almost forgot that was today.”

As if on cue, one of those finely dressed courtiers came out into the garden. He bowed his head,
“Periander, the general has returned.”

And Theron smiled and shook his head.
“Right on cue.” That’s how everything seemed. He was adaptive, his strongest skill. “Come, we should go greet him.” Theron motioned and walked on to escape the nearly labyrinth-like garden, and return back to his lavish estate. Aemilia followed in his footsteps, though she took one last look over the lovely garden before being parted from it.

She’d never told Theron that Winston’s garden was better. Her blue eyes quickly lost sight of it as she turned back around, and sprinted to catch up with the long-legged man. Despite the luxury, the man himself did not fit his own environment. His attire was modest, dark blue the major hue, and not made of outrageously exotic material. He wore only one bit of jewelry, his wedding band. He still had no children of his own, at least, none from his wife. He’d grown increasingly cold to her, but he still wore the ring despite it all. There were servants that were dressed in more expensive clothing.

Beau

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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #1 on: September 21, 2013, 02:12:32 am »
Lucius Antonius understood war.  He’d been born fighting and likely would die that way.  Just because he understood it, didn’t mean he liked it; one doesn’t need to enjoy what they are skilled at.  There were moments that Lucius hated war, but those were few and far between.  He defined himself by battles won, the adoration of his men and the thrill of victory.

The general stood in his command tent, studying maps when Iason Karras arrived.  Iason was a brilliant strategist but clearly he’d not come to offer his brains to compliment Lucius’s brawn.  Orders were that Lucius return to the capital and brief Theron personally on the campaign.   One look from the younger man confirmed that arguments would not be tolerated.  Delegation was also unacceptable.

“Have my curriers failed to impart the necessary information?” Lucius asked. His ice blue eyes held a hint of malice towards Iason, and it was not completely due to the message he carried.  Iason was treated to Theron’s ear, while Lucius often received the back side of his hand.  Strange that he wasn’t closer to his Uncle given their heritage and common interests.  There had been a time when Lucius had sat at the Theron’s feet and hung on every word.  Those days were fewer and farther between.  Distance might be responsible – Lucius was often on campaign.  He suspected something else and the jealousy ate at him.  The emotion manifested itself with a drumming of his fingers on the metal goblet he held.

Iason accepted a glass of wine with a nod to the server.  Lucius wasn’t suffering.  Morale was good and the casualties less than feared.  He might admit to a touch of confusion over the request himself, but he wasn’t here to speculate.  “Theron wants the details from you personally.  He plans to come.”

Lucius’s eyebrows rose in surprise.  Theron maintained the main seat of power with an iron hand.  The senate needed control.  Lucius had been placed in charge of the campaign because Theron was too ‘busy’ to do it himself.

The twisted smile held no mirth. There was no danger now, victory nearly assured. How stupid do you think I am…  Orders were orders however.  Lucius dutifully said, “I’ll leave at dawn.”

It took three days to return to Sylvestre.  Lucius left Iason behind, and rode to the capital with only a handful of his own men.  A battalion would have been more suiting of his rank, but each man at the front was needed, his escort thus small and only what was necessary.

The men joked as they rode.  The mood was good even though Lucius was quieter than usual and they’d been riding for some time.  They’d camped lightly, left early.  The armor they wore superfluous, but still in place, a combination of leather and metal meant to protect and yet be light enough for the speed of attack.   Swords at their sides, they still wore their helmets even as they crossed through the city gate.  The red plume on Lucius’s head was a symbol of rank - not that he needed such to identify him.  His broad shoulders and chiseled features were well known.  He shared the same blond hair as his uncle and had a certain fame from past exploits that carried through to the senate and the market place.

Conversation came to a halt as the small party approached Theron’s estate.  Lucius would have preferred to ride on to his own home, perhaps bathe and change after the journey, but his orders were clear.   He dismounted at the base of the marble steps, and told the men to rest in the shade while he met with their commander.

Lucius took his time walking up the steps.  He removed the helmet as he knocked and was allowed entry into the cool shade of the home.  Although she’d not opened the door herself, Theron’s wife Cassandra moved to greet him.   She offered a kiss on both cheeks, standing on tiptoe to place a hand on his shoulders.  They always addressed each other by first name and with warm affection even though Lucius was fifteen years her junior.   

She said with a gusty sigh, “Lucius, let me look at you.”

For the first time in days Lucius actually smiled.  He appreciated the attention.  He’d not been near a woman in several months; refused to take from the conquered more than their land.  “Have I changed much?”

Cassandra shook her head.  “What are you doing here? “

 Her surprise in seeing him was evident.  Theron wasn’t known to confide in her, but that she knew nothing made him wary.  “I’ve come to see Theron, is he here?”

“Yes, he’s…” She hesitated and looked over her shoulder as though afraid to be overheard.

Lucius followed her gaze to the garden and tried to understand.  “He’s what?”

“He’s with her.” Was the answer he received.


« Last Edit: September 21, 2013, 02:17:25 am by Beau »

Krystal Itzume

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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #2 on: September 21, 2013, 02:17:33 am »
Aemilia tended to become an observer when ‘business’ was to be handled by Theron. Her demeanor shifted, calm replacing the earlier happiness as she fell a step behind. She would not walk at his side, even though he had told her it was acceptable to do so. In his eyes, it might have been, but there were other eyes.

Cassandra was one pair of eyes that Aemilia watched for. Though Aemilia found no flaw with the woman, she understood that the woman had little to no love for her. The word ‘family’ did not seem to remove the woman’s jealousy, and it showed through the strained smile Cassandra offered when the two of them stepped into the room where Lucius was getting his once-over.

Theron’s hopes and dreams no longer rested with Cassandra. He barely acknowledged the woman he shared a home with. Their marriage had never been one of love, but of political gain. He did not leave her, though she was his second wife. Two wives and no heirs. Theron was not a daft man to think the fault lied with the two women, when he also doubted any of the mistresses he’d had bore his children. Children they had, but they also had other men.

It was Lucius he acknowledged with a smile that grew on his lips,
“Lucius,” he walked forward though Aemilia paused some feet away and didn’t intrude on the space of the two. No word of greeting passed her lips as she clasped her hands behind her back.

A hand was clapped on the man’s shoulder,
“You left everyone outside,” he didn’t need Lucius to say as much. He knew the man hadn’t come alone. “I’m certain they deserve fair treatment for coming so far. Aemilia.”

“Yes?”
She already knew the directions. Good soldiers would never be left out to wait. He could have sent a servant, but she imagined he wanted a few words alone with Lucius.

“Go find the men who escorted Lucius home,”
he said as he did a half turn so he was facing Aemilia, though his hand remained on Lucius, “And tell them they are free to return to their own homes if they are in Sylvestre, or to come inside to rest and eat. Then, you may join myself and Lucius. We’ll be in the parlor,” he noted.

Aemilia offered an inclination of her head before sprinting off, one hand lifting the burgundy skirt to make such movement easier. Theron shook his head, such haste on these floors unnecessary, dangerous.
“Cassandra,” he spoke, voice sharp. He didn't quite approve of how close she seemed to Lucius on his moment of entrance. Naturally, he was the only one allowed to see others in the relationship, “Tell the servants to prepare a feast for this evening, and to bring some wine and snacks to the parlor.” His hand slid from Lucius’s shoulder and he stepped aside, “I have missed your presence here.” Even if he was covered in sweat and dirty from the road. Lucius was far more honest than those who lauded false flattery upon him in the senate, or tried to earn his favor for their own selfish gains.

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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #3 on: September 21, 2013, 02:18:20 am »
The ‘she’ Cassandra was eluding to became clear as the doors to the garden opened.  He knew Aemilia on sight.  She’d become Theron’s shadow. Last he’d heard though she was being educated elsewhere so her presence here set his imagination afire. He took a guilty step away from another man’s wife as Theron approached.   He greeted his commander with a traditional salute.

Lucius was greeted with criticism, or at least that’s how he heard it. Unexpected given the success he knew to claim.  His eyes narrowed under the hint he’d let his men suffer or cared not for their welfare.  Before he could rectify the omission Aemilia was sent to make them comfortable. 

Dutiful Aemilia

Lucius watched her go without offering a hello or goodbye.  She didn’t need him.  He didn’t need her.

He turned his focus to Theron, after all that was who he came to see.  He matched the man’s smile as he turned towards the parlor.  “I understand you want to know more about the campaign.  I can only assume that you wish to lead the final victory charge?”  No point in dancing around the obvious.  “I will always defer to you.”  He knew the need for it.  “If you’d come, rather than issued this summons, we could have proceeded without this delay.”

The parlor was full of books.  A servant followed them in.  Lucius said no more as the wine was poured. He let the scholarly atmosphere sooth his nerves and he rolled his shoulders, closed his eyes and took a breath.  “Forgive me, I’m tired.”  He accepted the glass as the servant scurried out.  “And you needn’t waste finery on me.”

Krystal Itzume

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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #4 on: September 21, 2013, 02:19:25 am »
Theron knew Lucius as honest, and so he hardly expected the man capable of hiding much, particularly offense. He would have never guessed Lucius took his words as critical once they began to walk towards the parlor.

The smile remained as Lucius seemed aware of his intentions. He had not told Iason as much, though he wouldn’t be surprised if that was what Iason deduced, the mention of Aemilia in his letter to the man likely telling. He was getting worse at keeping things secrets, it seemed.
“Wherever did you get that idea?” A note of approval, and perhaps surprise. Lucius wasn’t wrong. Perhaps he was too obvious in his glory chasing. Into the parlor, “I might have come myself, but as I need to be made aware of the situation there, you need to be made aware of the situation here.” Politics, he did not believe, were Lucius’s strong point.

Or perhaps he was finally starting to believe Winston.
“You will be staying here in my stead.” There was no one else he could trust, though he did not say as much. He’d faced betrayal too many times for admitting trust. It should be unspoken between them as it was.

Lucius seemed to fall silent for a bit. Wine was poured for both. Theron accepted his cup.
“I prefer to ‘waste’ finery on you than Winston,” a smirk as Theron took a seat, “And he is the constant thorn.” Someone too beloved to remove, unfortunately, or Theron would have dealt with him years ago. He learned to bow the knee and praise Theron in public, but he made every effort to demean his various supporters. Lucius was not the only one to face his harsh criticisms. “Part of the reason I brought you back. His words against you are starting to stick. You need to be here to defend yourself.”

Aemilia walked into the room then, and Theron couldn’t help it,
“And what things have you been telling Winston to make him demean my general so much?” There was a reason to his madness, though he'd never explain it.

Aemilia didn’t even appear surprised to be placed under such an accusation upon returning,
“Winston is no fan of war and holding power through force, that is the extent of it,” any praise about Lucius’s capabilities didn’t earn favor when Winston thought the war was absolutely unnecessary in the first place. It wasn’t the extent of it, of course, it was a personal matter. Door shut, “He believes the war was handcrafted by you and Lucius, after all.”

“He believes we assassinated the ambassadors at the embassy?”
He pretended offense well, believably angry at such an accusation, such a thought. Aemilia had told him this before, and she gave him that same look of doubt and boredom, the one that did make him concerned about how well he could keep secrets.

Theron was beloved by the people who were ignorant of how dirty his hands were, of how much he orchestrated, starting with the break of his first alliance. However, that was not what she said,
“He believes plenty of crazy things, Theron. I’ve told you them.” She did not grab a cup of wine. She didn’t drink if it could be avoided.

Before sitting, she let her attention turn to Lucius. Despite the years and kinship, she’d never gotten into the habit of referring to him by his first name,
“Antonius,” her respect for him was different than for Theron. It was from a distance, “Your men have been seen to, and the servant Corvus has been informed of their names and locations for when you need them again for the return trip.” She had the information presently memorized, as well.

“He won’t need them, Aemilia,”
Theron said. “You will.”

And for once, Aemilia was blind-sided, speechless, though she masked it almost as quickly as the surprise came upon her face. At least now she knew what she was doing here.


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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #5 on: September 21, 2013, 02:24:22 am »
Lucius didn’t sit.  He paced like a caged lion as Theron spoke of his reputation and politics.  He rolled his eyes, but he didn’t drink, the position of the cup over his heart a telling gesture that he was bothered by the discussion.

“I’m not worried about Winton’s opinion,” he growled.  Truth told he didn't give a 'fig's ass' but he saved the colorful commentary in deference to the audience.

The ice blue eyes hardened as Theron went to press his point, using Aemilia as the messenger.  His jaw clenched as he was lumped in the category of conspirator and assassin.  He wouldn’t put it past Theron, but Lucius didn’t kill for sport.  He spent far too much time doing it for ‘legitimate’ reasons.

He might have thanked Aemilia for seeing to his men if there had been a breath in the conversation.  His mind was spinning under accusations, but he wasn’t completely without manners and training.  His cup remained untouched as Aemilia was informed on her new role in things.  Lucius set the metal goblet on the fireplace mantle with a delicate touch.  He wanted his hands free of civilized things, and one moved to the hilt of his sword as Theron’s last instructions were uttered.

“You,” a pause and a swallow.  He controlled his anger with stillness and a voice deadly quiet.  “Are taking her…” longer pause and a cold glance rather than a finger that pointed out the offender, “to the front?”

His eyes returned to Theron needing to see his lips move and repeat the words.  He’d seen the girl fight before and judged her skills far better than most women, but she was still of the frailer sex.  Lucius disagreed with Theron’s proposals for equality but that was a discussion for another day.

“Will she be taking many golden eagles into battle?” The comment might have been humorous if not for the laced malice under the tone.  Amelia knew the last man Lucius had seen her attack had been felled by a hurled statue. The small bust was Theron’s symbol, a token of her identity on a past campaign.  Lucius offered no credit for the desperate move or accurate throw that saved Theron’s life.  Instead Lucius laughed dismissively and turned away to study the library decorations.  He ignored the books and focused on the weapons mounted there.  His quick eyes searched for something lighter than the sword he carried.

Let’s see what all that fancy tutoring has bought you…

“I’m not letting you leave with some chit of a girl unless I’m sure she can hold her own.”  Let Lucius think he was concerned for the man’s safety.  Deep down the anger was morphing to fear.  He’d not sentence anyone to death under Theron’s over confidence.  “I’ve already admitted I’m tired. I’ve been fighting and malnourished for months,” He’d lost at least ten pounds. “My left arm is still recovering.” He offered the injury as additional justification as he selected one blade from the wall, lifting it from the scabbard and testing the weight with only a quick glance in Aemilia’s direction to assess her size. 

Lucius turned and extended the sword towards her.  “You don’t have to beat me.”  His own arrogance showing as he let a twisted smile that dared her to refuse show on his face.  She’d have to touch him to take the blade and he wondered if that alone would stop her.  He continued the challenge, “But you do need to deflect every blow I send you before I consent to…remain behind.”

Krystal Itzume

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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #6 on: September 21, 2013, 02:28:22 am »
Theron allowed them both the opportunity to truly speak at last. Lucius was not pleased, but Theron did not expect this hostility. He knew he should have when it came, Lucius had an opinion in general about the fairer sex. His eyes caught Aemilia’s quiet displeasure as she did sit. She might speak freely to Theron, or to Winston, but she held her tongue now.

‘Because words won’t help.’


Lucius was a man of action. “She’ll be bringing a proper bow this time, with arrows.” Apparently that was where she was best, with a bow in her hand, though he knew quite well she could fight with a sword. “I think she’ll do better if she is properly equipped, and she has to learn somewhere.” That this war was nearly done was the perfect opportunity.

Aemilia allowed Theron to defend his decision without words. The fact Lucius doubted her was still grating. Lucius laughed, and Aemilia sucked in air. He spoke, seeming concerned for Theron’s safety, but Aemilia knew what he was doing as he walked around the parlor and took a sword from the wall. She rose before it was even offered as he made excuses for how his performance might be poor.
‘So will this even matter?’

Apparently she did not have to beat him. She only had to defend. She’d done enough of this at the academy, and with the servants Winston put her up against. Theron would probably be annoyed he had her doing such things since he was supposed to teach her rhetoric, but he wanted to train both a healthy mind and body.

Her hand went back to the laces of her dress and deftly undid them, letting the heavier material drop. A white slip was underneath, lighter, easier to move in, and she showed little embarrassment for dressing down when she stepped out of it. She wouldn’t be fighting on the frontlines in such a thing, after all. The length of it was bound to trip her if Lucius moved quickly.

After calmly laying the dress over the chair she’d earlier occupied, she turned back to Lucius. She walked forward, alert in case Lucius tried to strike her while she was unarmed. She would take the sword from him, had no issues with that.
“I can do that,” she agreed to his terms, contemplated if it would be good to strike him in the process—a cut along his arm, nothing truly damaging, just something.

‘Play by the rules.’


Theron sighed,
“Are you sure you’re capable, Lucius?” After all his complaints about his own state, Theron wondered if the man was more afraid of being beaten by a girl. A bit of a drawl, he was annoyed with the man for challenging Aemilia, but if she was going to accept he would let her answer the challenge. It was still his decision, not Lucius’s.


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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #7 on: September 21, 2013, 02:33:44 am »
Prowling like a lion was not a misnomer to describe Lucius.  Even standing still there was something cat-like about him – a predatory look as the mouse stood in response to his challenge; a flick of a tongue against his lips.  Something flashed in his eyes as Aemilia partially disrobed.  He was a man after all, and the girl attractive.  Noting the curves revealed away from the heavy dress, he adjusted his opinion to ‘woman’ as he imagined what lay beneath.  How pale her skin would be.  How her dark hair would fall, scattered across the white linen pillows of his bed.

His fingers unconsciously clenched as her soft hand touched his. Temptation hardened his heart as he released the sword to her care.  He banked the lust knowing it inappropriate, and writing it off with a dismissive shake of his head, his too long blond hair brushing his shoulders.  Hadn’t Cassandra hinted at Theron’s interest in the girl and how she feared her role replaced?  He could certainly see why. Perhaps his mentor was undaunted by the blood relation?  The family link only made Aemilia more untouchable to Lucius, but he couldn’t help the flare of his nostrils as she stood close and he was allowed to smell the well oiled perfume of her body.

“I’m sure,” he ground out in response to the question.  Injured or not he had the skill to test Aemilia’s. He could best anyone one-handed, save perhaps Iason.  Another strike against the absent second favored.  Lucius turned his thoughts towards Iason to distract himself as he moved towards the garden doors, his mind fashioning some suitable revenge. 

This room was often vented with fresh air and Lucius chose to leave the double doors open as he stepped from the parlor out onto the patio. He removed his sword from the sheath and metal on leather made a sharp his.  He twirled the blade in his hand, the golden handle slipping along his well callused palm.  His legs spread wide, knees slightly bent as he assumed a ready position.  Lucius well knew this didn’t matter much, but if she proved inept he’d argue the point if only to alleviate himself of guilt over her eventual demise.  And if by some random chance she was any good, then he’d have some fun. 

Anticipation caused one side of his mouth to lift.  “Ladies first.”

Krystal Itzume

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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #8 on: September 21, 2013, 02:37:04 am »
Theron was not blind, even if others might be. He recognized in his general the signs of lust, something he couldn’t approve of at all. He did keep meticulous mental records of his kin lines, was concerned about reputation. There were rumors. There were always rumors, but he was at least glad to say that those about him and Aemilia were exaggerated, even if that wasn’t usually the case when it came to women. He might have to give Lucius a stern reminder. ‘Why aren’t you married yet?’ Not that such ever stopped Theron, but a wife might at least keep some sense in Lucius’s head so his eyes didn’t wander to impressionable young women. Or perhaps a decent female servant.

Aemilia’s hero worship also needed looking at, now that he thought of it. Yes, a method to his madness, necessary wedges. He supposed he needed to talk with Aemilia on the subject of marriage as well.
‘Or have Tarpeia do it.’ His niece used to play matchmaker for him and other politicians. As the girl’s mother, she should have some influence on her—though he knew that was a sore subject for them. ‘No, bad idea.’ Tarpeia wasn’t what one would call a modest woman. Or moral. She’d probably approve of such nonsense; he was quite certain she did approve of the rumors of Aemilia and him. ‘Winston then.’ He didn’t want to ask the man a favor, but Winston had sons, and he needed to be tied more strongly to him as it was, keep Winston from thinking of acting rashly. A familial bond would keep him in line. Aemilia listened to Winston, as well. Too much.

Theron rose with a sigh as Lucius seemed certain he was in a condition to fight, though. What else was he to expect of the warrior?

He followed Aemilia out, did not shut the door. The young woman removed her shoes and set them aside as well, apparently deciding they were also inappropriate for combat. Bare feet wasn’t the best, but it was better. She’d feel the ground, and wouldn’t slip as easily. Theron walked several feet away from them to give them space.
‘Don’t kill her, Lucius.’ He wasn’t actually worried the man was inept. Lucius had a reputation, and for good reason. He had age and experience to back him. Aemilia had natural talent, but she had years to grow into it, and experiences to gain before she eclipsed the general.

Aemilia had seen Lucius fight. Truth told, she wanted to test her own skill against him to get an idea of where she was at. One on one, warfare, combat in general, the man was a legend. This was not meant to impress though. She merely needed his approval.
‘First?’ Aemilia nodded to acknowledge she heard. Now the question was, did she feign being inept as he thought to draw him into a trap, or did she show him talent?

Lucius’s reputation for being intuitive got the better of her. He’d see a trap. It was better to not hold back lest the plan backfire. She had speed and size, though she knew depending on either would become obvious. It could not be a battle of evasion—he wanted her to deflect. She would stay close and fight toe to toe.

Aemilia sprinted forward, but the moment she was in melee distance she stepped right, dancing on her toes. The second hand went to the hilt of the blade to add strength to the slash at his side, fully anticipating his parry. Though, she was also mentally prepared to pull back if he did not parry—these were metal weapons. One wrong move and either one of them could end up dead, even in armor.

If Lucius did not go on an offensive assault, Aemilia fully intended to. It was better to be on the offensive than defensive end of things. Defensive left things to chance, the hope of an opening, and the hope one would survive until that opening came into being.


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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #9 on: September 21, 2013, 02:39:53 am »
Lucius could almost hear the wheels of Aemilia’s mind turning as she joined him on the patio.  She took off her shoes.  The further disrobing action distracted him from seeing Theron’s face and thus reading the man’s knowing look.  His focus was on the woman.  There it would remain.

She didn’t insult him with a lie.  The sword moved swiftly in an attack.  Lucius’s feet remained planted, although he stood straighter, swinging the sword to his side.  He halted the blade in a protective pose, not continuing the follow-through to fully engage her sword and slide down and over.  He hoped the forced  jar of metal on metal hurt.

Then he swung back and up, freeing his blade and slicing down.  He moved forward in a drill pattern: side, side, backhand, overhand, thrust.  Attacking all quadrants of her body would test her range of motion and agility.  Then he would step back, survey her for a moment with a look and say.  “I will repeat that pattern,” if she’d payed attention it would serve her well.  “Faster.”

Only this time he’d add something.  He’d see if she would relax under his assertion of a pattern or parry the final uppercut.  He almost hoped so, earlier resentment fading. He liked her face.  He’d hate to see it scarred.

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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #10 on: September 21, 2013, 02:40:57 am »
The jarring had a certain sting, a pain Aemilia did not think she would ever truly stop feeling. Theron told her practice would make it less painful, a more calloused hand would be good. It was always more practice. At least Aemilia saw results. She didn’t push for an offensive. It seemed the first swing was a test, before Lucius ever proceeded further.

The drill pattern was familiar, and Aemilia followed it.
‘More efficient to dodge.’ That wasn’t the name of the game. Blade followed the pattern though her mind ran designs of its own of how to break the pattern. It was good to know how to guard in every situation, she understood that, but she did get so tired with the drills. It wasn’t challenging.

He moved faster, claimed to perform the same pattern. That was her tip-off to the fact he wouldn’t. If he broke the rules would it be acceptable for her?
‘Yes.’ Not according to a certain instructor at the academy, but she'd had fun. Lucius was underestimating her, or counting too much on her being obedient to the order. She watched his actions, as if each one were new and not part of a set pattern. She saw the motion of his arm, his wrist. Her eyes smiled as the pattern shifted, something new. He would have sliced open her cheek if she wasn’t alert. She didn’t block, though. She evaded.

The move put her in a position to try and sweep him from his feet, and she didn’t waste time debating if it was a good idea. One deception earned its reward. Getting him on his back would be a victory on its own, and so she kicked her leg out in order to do just that, the plan fully formulated in her mind to put an end to this ridiculous game of parrying blows, which she hoped she showed she was more than capable of doing.


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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #11 on: September 21, 2013, 02:48:22 am »
She interested him.  He had to admit that he appreciated her hand and eye movements.  Certain things like observation and anticipation could not be taught.  He realized belatedly that his own eyes gave him away, a look to her face to foreshadow the final swing.

And then he was on his back.  In the field you never fell.  Falling was death either by passing horse or your opponent.  But this was a game and he knew Aemilia would be satisfied with her small victory.  Lucius had no such hesitation.  He gave a shout to distract and shock.  Taller and wiser he used his own feet to grab her ankle and pull.  In the same motion he came to his knees and planned to pinned her, falling across her body, chest to chest.

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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #12 on: September 21, 2013, 02:51:04 am »
Aemilia had been quite satisfied with herself, too much so, or she might have followed through with a blade’s threat and pointed question. She did not, however, at least not quick enough. The shout did startle. She saw too late the move Lucius made, not to rise, but to trip. She was pulled from her feet with a cry, only had enough time to make it so her head wouldn’t strike the ground hard. Her back and shoulders took the blow instead.

‘Ow.’
Her eyes shut, a moment too long, a wasted second that allowed Lucius to pin her securely beneath him. Eyes opened, one hand released the weapon as the other moved to his shoulder. The original intent was to try and shove him off, but the rest of her body soon registered the futility. She couldn’t pull her legs forward to use them as leverage, and so her hand ended up placing itself on his shoulder without the strength of a push.

The anger relaxed away. She could appreciate the trick. She’d let her guard down. There was no resentment as she felt warmth spread across her that wasn’t just his body heat pressing down on her. There were reasons for her own distance that ‘respect’ didn’t sum up, though was forever the vocalized reason, and this sudden closeness was a rather cruel reminder. Every inhale now held his scent rather than the fresh air.
“You win.”

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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #13 on: September 21, 2013, 03:00:14 am »
He wasn’t breathing hard.  It would require more physical exertion to break a sweat.  But he found his lungs filling and his body rising and falling as she breathed.  Nose to nose he noticed that her eyes had small flecks of color in them.   Her hand touched his shoulder and he wondered for a moment exactly what he won.

Interesting indeed.

He smiled.  He lifted his left hand to show the dagger there, an item he’d snatched from his boot as he flipped over.

“Never forget that your opponent has more than one weapon at their disposal.”  He could lecture more, but he found little fault in her footwork.   Lucius’s right hand was pinned between them, sword discarded and forgotten.  His palm flat and fingers splayed against the silky material of her slip.  The smile faded.  He fought his own attraction with a whispered criticism.  “Stick to the bow.”


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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #14 on: September 21, 2013, 03:04:29 am »
Aemilia let her gaze shift as attention was brought to a dagger. Not an unexpected move. Low weapons were useful. ‘I’ll remember.’ Anything could be made into a weapon, even if the opponent didn't have a dagger neatly tucked away. She told herself in a true battle this wouldn’t happen. She wouldn’t have let such a small victory overwhelm her. Next time, it wouldn’t either, though she’d probably never manage such again.

Tired, wounded, and malnourished. Still critical, and it was a necessary coldness to remind her. Lucius liked fighting, and that answered earlier smiles. Yet, hers remained even under the criticism,
“That was the plan.” She didn’t take it ill. She had finally gotten to see where she was in comparison to Lucius, and she was pleased with the results. Iason should be out at the camp. Perhaps there’d be time for him to teach her a thing or two more. She'd do better, next time.

Theron was not so unimpressed. Twenty years old, and the girl had floored Lucius. He read the situation much as Lucius did, and guessed on a battlefield it would have ended quite differently. He was annoyed with how they lingered, saw whispers exchanged. He finally intruded, walking forward with a heavier footfall than necessary,
“Are you able to get up, Lucius?” He offered a hand down for his general, imagined it’d be brushed aside. “Aemilia, you should get dressed again, and think of what you need to bring.” She had parried all the blows, save one, which was evaded.

Aemilia’s hand dropped back to the ground besides her head to let Lucius get up.


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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #15 on: September 21, 2013, 03:27:03 am »
The moment was broken by the approach of footsteps and shadow.   Theron loomed overhead but Lucius didn’t look up as the words bit into him.  He chose not to accept the extended hand, nor offer one to Aemilia.  Lucius hopped to his feet with ease and put the dagger away.  He bent and picked up his sword, securing it in its sheath.   Theron’s intent was clear and the earlier irritation returned, imagined insult replacing the excitement of finding he had something in common with his replacement. 

By the time weapons were secured the general’s mask was back in place.  The bright light in his eyes dimmed to the usual coolness.  “You expected a briefing,” Lucius said with a nod.   He remembered a map had been laid in the parlor.  He could share the troop positions and proposed attack strategy.  Iason might have changed tactics, but he doubted it.  The other wouldn’t pursue victory until his commander arrived.

Lucius started back towards the communicating doors only to find his way blocked by Cassandra.  She was out of breath, obviously having run here from some other part of the house.  She looked quickly at the scene, one hand placed over her heart.  “You’re all right?” although her eyes first went to Lucius before Perinder.  “I heard a shout,” she explained, perhaps noticing her own omission on where the concern lay. 

Lucius was oblivious to the extent or reason for her concern, and waved a hand dismissing the noise as trivial.  Theron would explain if he wished; his mind was already on other things.  He wanted to get the details over with so he could go home.  He’d decide later if he’d return for the feast Theron planned.  At the moment he honestly wasn’t sure he was invited and didn’t much care to ask.

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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #16 on: September 21, 2013, 03:29:40 am »
Lucius rose, and Aemilia gave a two second count before rising herself. Theron’s gaze was clearly scrutinizing how dirty the slip was from so little activity. White did stain, though, “What will your mother say?” A quirk of a smile.

Aemilia couldn’t return it, shook her head as she picked up the sword, recalling where Lucius had collected it from.
“She'll complain.” Yes, sore subjects indeed. Theron didn’t know what the wedge was between the two, but he imagined it had quite a bit to do with Quintus Flavius. Aemilia was still Aemilia Pullus, after all.

The young woman walked off to follow his instruction to get changed, picking up her shoes and beating Cassandra to enter the parlor without questions or odd looks. She heard the question as she was sliding the sword back into its sheath, and into place. She turned back around and retrieved the dress to put on, lacing it up as Theron offered an answer.


“The youth still have too much energy,”
he gave Lucius a look, meant to be friendly chiding. He had initiated the situation, after all. He returned his gaze to Cassandra, “Everything is quite all right.” There was no need to hurt anyone’s pride by mentioning the events of the spar. “You may return inside now,” she wasn’t invited to join them in the parlor, of course, as Theron lightly touched her to move her away.

He walked in to find Aemilia had gotten dressed again, although the shoes remained discarded. He’d never understand women. They liked the pretty shoes, then they hated them. Lucius mentioned the briefing, and so he walked to the map. Aemilia approached, steps slower, the caution returned with the ‘meeting’ demeanor restored to the room. Theron waved his hand over the map,
“Inform me of the situation, Lucius,” there were already markers on the map from previous letters, but he knew how quickly things could change in a war, even near the end of it.

Perhaps especially near the end of it.


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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #17 on: September 21, 2013, 03:30:24 am »
Cassandra left them in the parlor.  Lucius didn’t watch her go.  He stepped up to the table with the maps and started studying the pieces.  It had the feel of a game board, colored stones and figures representing the battalions and cavalry.

Lucius moved a few pieces, but not many.  He explained the movements of the last few days, and how they were circling the remaining force.  “We’ve drawn them out.  Cut off the supply lines.  I estimate the force we are facing is less than a thousand at this point. “ They seemed determined.  He didn’t think negotiating with their leader would work.  “We outnumber them, and our casualties have been lower than expected.  I have not tried to find terms for their surrender.”  He’d been told to finish them, not parlay for peace. “You should expect to lose two hundred in the final assault.”

He glanced at Aemilia.  She was dressed now, appearing more the dutiful servant and aid.  He wondered how she’d react to sentencing men to death.  Would the numbers appall her?

Eyes back on the board, Lucius explained the direction of troop movement.  “Iason will be here, planning to take this hill for cover and then charge down.  We have enough horses to mount a hundred.  The archers will be here.” He pointed to a ridge line, and then another. “And here.”  They would use colored flags to signal the charge and retreat.  Lucius explained the system, more for Aemilia’s sake.  He’d made a few coding changes, but not enough to make a difference to Theron.

Questions would come, he knew.  He’d answer, keeping calm over the second guessing.  He asked his own first, “Of the senate – is there any pressing issue I should be aware of?  Any new concessions or laws that require my personal attention?”  Lucius was not looking forward to a month of pushing paper while Theron claimed the laurels of victory.  He hid the burden he felt as best he could.  He could always claim fatigue and walk away if the details numbed his mind like he suspected they would.

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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #18 on: September 21, 2013, 03:35:03 am »
Theron and Aemilia listened, Theron interested in the moving pieces and the numbers more than anything else. Decisive victory was what he wanted, though he would make a ‘peace offering’. The terms would be acceptable by Sylvestre standards, but they would not be accepted by the enemy. His eyes studied the pieces as Lucius estimated losses.

‘Is it necessary to launch an actual attack at this point?’
Aemilia wondered. A thousand was not much in the long run. If the supply line was cut off, they could likely be starved into submission. She did not know what defensive structures were in place, or how the leaders might be situated. There were no indications on the map, apparently not a concern of Theron’s. Two hundred men were nothing to him. An assault to claim a decisive victory was the best way to take it. Glory and blood, sacrifices not made in vain—the victory was that much sweeter than anything underhanded.

Though Aemilia’s mind ran the possibilities of hit and runs, quickly lowering the numbers of capable fighters without much loss. She’d have to see the structures where the main enemy force was located. She made a note of where the archers would be, but doubted that was where she’d be.


“You have done a fantastic job,”
Theron commended. If the force was that small, he wasn’t terribly worried. This would be done quickly, unless they were forced to into a siege situation. "I can bring more horses. We can mount more men than that. This line of archers can join the infantry after we've engaged," a motion to one of the ridges. Lucius ought to understand the troubles of friendly fire. If the force was so small, he didn't see the need for the extra line to remain.

A question came then, and Theron thought on it a moment.
“Winston and that tribune,” ‘that tribune’ was always the annoying one, the one not bought. It wasn’t for lack of trying this time, this one just seemed to genuinely believe in the nonsense it spewed.  “Have been trying to press the issue of land and how it has been divided up. They seem to think it belongs to the senate, for the senate’s use, and believe it has been wrongfully given over to my veterans. It is old noise, but it is loud. He seems to think Sylvestre is no longer making enough money to support itself.”

‘Technically, Sylvestre isn’t.’
But there was money from deals Theron made, his cut of black market trades, bribes he accepted—Sylvestre was dependent on him to find money and keep the treasury stocked, which was where he wanted it, of course.

“I’m not sure how he’s convinced people to listen, but he has,”
always a mystery to Theron. “And I am certain he will be far more noisy when I leave and he sees that he has only you to contend with. Don’t feed him too much of your time, or give him much room to speak when you must call the senate. Honestly, if you can just allow nothing to happen in the senate, that would be for the best.” It was boring. It was tedious. He knew Lucius would hate it, since his job was basically to prevent action from happening. Veto everything.

Lucius could be trusted with that much...he wasn't certain about finer details, but those could wait.

Aemilia tapped the map near what had been established as the headquarters of the enemy.
“What are the structures like here, Antonius?” She asked, not looking up but keeping her eyes on the map. “How is it actually protected?” He had mentioned the numbers, but nothing about noticed strategies, walls, patterns of movement in, around, or out—only that they were being drawn out, supply line cut off. They’d grow hungry and desperate. ‘Theron won’t want to wait.’ Glory didn’t come in starving an enemy, even if it saved lives.

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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #19 on: September 21, 2013, 04:10:34 am »
‘That tribune’ was a woman.  Theron brought the issue on himself, in Lucius’s opinion.  He shouldn’t complain that he couldn’t control his gender figure-head.  Valeria had something to prove and being in Theron’s pocket meant she couldn’t do it.  So she chose vocal, and visible.  Lucius put his mind to what leverage he could apply.  A different tact might work.  He’d have to set a few men to the task of watching and seeing what she thought important.  Pretend he was on her side even if he found the lie distasteful.

“We will need to divide the land again.”  Pay the troops for service.  Theron had made promises that apparently he might not be able to keep.

“Stall.” Lucius frowned.  Another waiting game where his commander would move him aside and claim victory.  “I’ll do my best.”  Lucius knew he couldn’t fight forever.  A time would come when he’d have to master the art of politics.  He knew what to do, but hated to do it.  It might be time to form some alliances of his own if this campaign ended and there wasn’t another. 

Aemilia asked a question, returning Lucius to the topic he loved.  He thought he knew where she was going with the query.  “Canvas tents mostly.  Nothing permanent, and not spaced close enough together to burn.  They post guards on all flanks.  They didn’t at first, only monitoring the south We tried a few raids via the unprotected river, but there isn’t much ground cover.  The plain is flat here,” he pointed to a section of the map, “which they use to their advantage at night.  After our initial raids they posted sentries at all hours.  They work shifts and they move position.”   

He confessed.  “Iason suggested we poison the water supply.  I’m reticent about touching the river.  Ultimately the water is a valuable resource.  I don’t want to wait a season for the rain to make it useable for irrigation or fishing.” 

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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #20 on: September 21, 2013, 04:11:31 am »
‘Canvas tents?’ It sounded impossible that just canvas tents were even putting up a great resistance, set too far to burn or not. Her brows knit as the geography was explained. Poison was possible, but she was also adverse to poisoning an entire water supply. Mistakes could be made, land damaged for a lengthy period of time, and land was evidently important.

Theron also shook his head at that,
“Although, I suppose when we take this land that might prevent the senate from trying to grab the land if the water was poisoned,” one thought to consider. Perhaps he’d lie, make the land not appear immediately useful.

She expected such weak structures to be guarded at all times, particularly given the numbers.
“Are the shifts staggered, or do they all switch at once?” There had to be some sort of pattern, even with the movements. There would be a way to take advantage of it.

Theron dismissed the question as he straightened up,
“By the time we arrive, such tactics may be changed. We can observe how the guards are being switched out when we arrive,” truth was, he was not concerned in the least. He hadn’t lied. Lucius had done a fantastic job. This would be little more than clean-up, and then he could push on towards other plans. This scuffle needed to end. There were better things in the near future, and he didn’t need this distraction. He could feel it in his bones. “At this rate, I may not even be gone a month. Pity,” he was looking forward to a break from this city. “Might have to do this again soon.”

Aemilia rolled her eyes, bit her tongue on a comment that would upset Theron. It wasn't an argument worth having.
‘Unnecessary.’ Theron would have his victory, his legitimacy would be restored, the people would cry out if the senate tried to shorten his term. Even so, war was only a temporary solution. He could not keep picking fights.

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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #21 on: September 21, 2013, 04:14:38 am »
He could tell that Aemilia didn’t believe his assessment of the enemy strengths.  She might be surprised how a mobile base aided in defense, allowing them to draw his own forces in different directions while leaving traps behind – the occasional trench or barricade laid in the dark to impale a horse.

Lucius was considering sharing his lessons learned when Theron interrupted, dismissing additional information about the sentry rotation.  It wasn’t just position but manner of armament that kept them guessing.  Sometimes swords, sometimes arrows.  The unpredictability of the point of attack and how much distance was required.  She’d learn – it was obvious that Theron intended to teach her – but she would not learn from him. 

Fine by me.

Theron was already plotting another offensive.  Lucius felt a sense of relief.  War he was familiar with.  Anticipating another would make his stay in Sylvestre tolerable.

“I have heard the Perthian’s are jealous of our trade with Hellest. Bandit activity.”  He shrugged as he shared the rumor.  Pointed to the eastern neighbors on the map. “Might be worth scouting the woods near the border and seeing if they are fortifying or building ships for future use against us.”  He smiled, “Assuming you have time of course, and aren’t planning to return before I can plan the victory celebration.”  A month indeed did seem short.

Theron seemed satisfied.  That was all that mattered.  “Will there be anything else?” Lucius said.  “I would like to head home and get some rest.”  He decided to poke fun at himself.  Use humor to mask his own discomfort with the audience in the room. "I'm not as young as I used to be."

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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #22 on: September 21, 2013, 04:16:06 am »
Theron smiled. Perthia was a dream. They’d been a thorn in Sylvestre’s movement east for a long time, and held a monopoly on the trade of goods from out that way. Traveling through their waters was a pain. “We should investigate the situation with Perthia more closely,” he consented, “Once we’ve returned.” Soldiers needed pay and work. The professional army had its flaws, but Theron was grateful for that innovation years ago.

Lucius needed to be kept busy as it was.
‘With Perthia?’ He wondered. Lucius also needed to be slowly faded out. Not removed, but settled. The word stuck in his mind. Yes, Lucius needed to become something of a backbencher in the senate, maintain his hero status but be in ‘retirement’ as it were. He had Iason to move forward into his place. ‘And Aemilia….’ But her place was not Lucius’s place. “Planning the celebration shouldn’t be too difficult. We’ve done this often enough,” appropriately and inappropriately. Oh how Winston moaned when they celebrated the defeat of another Sylvestrian—improper or some nonsense.

“There will be nothing else regarding the war, but I would like to talk on another matter that I’d rather not discuss at dinner,”
Theron said, walking to his forsaken goblet. He watched as Aemilia walked to fetch her shoes, recalled she had other plans. He forgot what, exactly, “Aemilia, do see your mother before dinner.”

Aemilia crossed her arms,
“I have lessons with Winston today.” She’d also promised to have dinner with him, though that would have to be moved aside.

He understood why it was mentioned, but wasn’t detoured,
“I want to see your mother here this evening,” Theron spoke calmly. “Quintus as well, if possible. Do not forsake to invite her. I don’t want you dashing off without telling her.” ‘Again.’ Apparently Aemilia hadn’t informed her mother ahead of her leaving for the academy. Tarpeia had perhaps an hour’s warning, and Theron hadn’t heard the end of it yet. Apparently it was his fault. He wouldn’t have her complaining about no warning before Aemilia went with him to war. “Understood?”

Aemilia nodded,
“Go on, then,” he dismissed.

“I’ll see you this evening,”
it was to both of them before she turned to leave, grabbing the shoes rather than putting them on.

Theron waited for the sound of the door. He refilled his cup, added water to the wine this time. He didn’t need to be drunk at dinner.
“Lucius, though I’m sure your own parents have lectured you about wanting grandchildren,” he brought the drink to his lips, sipped, “You should use this time to find yourself an appropriate wife.” It was not mere advice though. There was a sternness to his tone that suggested it was something of a command. “I will not have you leering at Aemilia again.” Blunt. Cold. He hadn’t taken this tone with Lucius in some years, and then he’d just been upset with a political blunder.

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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #23 on: September 21, 2013, 05:21:59 am »
Theron seemed content on the war details.  Lucius rubbed his eyes finding them scratchy and tired.  He rolled his shoulders with fatigue as the man hinted there was ‘something else’.  Lucius couldn’t think what it was.  It seemed that Aemilia was now the target of his displeasure.  He listened for a moment, finding the issue petty and beneath Theron.  Why did he care about Aemilia’s relationship with her Tarpeia – why ask to see her? 

Future mother in law perhaps?

Lucius moved to the table and his discarded goblet as well, needing something to occupy his eyes and hands while he pretended not to be present.  Aemilia dutifully scuttled out of the room.

“And?” Lucius prompted only to have Theron say something so outrageous that he would have choked on his drink if he hadn’t swallowed already.

He laughed.  He couldn’t help it.  For a moment he thought the man joking until he looked at his face.   The serious expression and posture caused Lucius to rethink his reaction.  He set the cup down with a click, and let the silence stretch.  He covered his anger and embarrassment under the icy veneer.

Really Theron, if you’re going to f*ck her yourself do it someplace other than a tent with the troops looking on.  It’s bad for morale.

He said no such thing.  Theron was his superior officer.  He thought he was his friend.  Perhaps he needed to rethink the role and relationship.

“As you wish, Perinder.”  He stood a little straighter, refusing to be baited into discussion, or justify his ‘behavior'.  “If that's all, I’ll be going.”

Indeed he started to move towards the door.  This conversation was over.

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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #24 on: September 21, 2013, 05:22:27 am »
Theron waited patiently until Lucius realized he was being serious. He wouldn’t shrug off what he had seen so easily with a laugh. When Lucius finally came to understand it, the silence that stretched was what Theron expected. The man was not someone who accepted humiliation well. Calling him out on this no doubt registered as such in his mind. ‘Be grateful I waited until Aemilia left.’

Theron did not call him back when the man turned to leave. There was nothing else.
“I will see you for dinner,” he noted, and heard the door close. He let out a sigh and placed the goblet back on the desk. His eyes found the map, the markers. The thought of leaving set him at ease. Life had been easier when he had his allies, Pompilius and Catalina. ‘It had to end.’ He learned plenty from those days, but wished they had lasted. The three of them had been powerful. They’d shared the burden, until Winston got his claws into Pompilius.

Spare markers were taken from a drawer and set in Sylvestre. Yes, Winston had to be dealt with. Tarpeia’s presence was to discuss that, not at the dinner, but afterward. He would not break the idea to Aemilia in such a way. She’d fight him on it if he did something so tactless. She was at least starting to understand the necessity of political marriages as an idea.

She'd accept her lot. Lucius would accept his and eventually stop sulking.


~***~

Winston Demos, sixty four years old, could only grumble his protest at the news,
“Theron just thinks he can snap his finger and people will come. Pompilius was once so arrogant.” A knight was moved on a chess board. Aemilia observed the set up,“You should just stay here. He needs a lesson.”

“No, Winston,”
she frowned. Now the board wasn’t in her favor. She didn’t see Winston’s smile.

“Stumped?”


“Not yet,”
her mind was too busy plotting out moves and trying to anticipate what he would do. Her hand moved to the pawn.

“And then the knight will take it, you will move your other pawn, and I’ll take the bishop you’re forgetting about, putting you in check.”
Aemilia winced and moved her hand away. “You’re distracted. What did he do today?”

Aemilia shook her head,
“Not him. Antonius is back in town.”

“I heard,”
Winston didn’t sound happy.

“He’s going to be staying while Theron and I head to finish the war.”


“Really?”
Winston saw what Aemilia didn’t seem to realize in that, or at least didn't mention. He knew why Theron was going out, to claim glory, but he could have easily done that by joining Lucius with reinforcements. He’d be heralded as the hero who went to help Lucius, delivering the necessary, final blow. The only one that mattered. He and Lucius would remain on top.

This, however, was curious. This spoke of opportunity. Aemilia nodded,
“Try not to pick on him too much.”

Winston laughed,
“Oh, I won’t, I won’t.” He would. He would make that man’s month horrible. “Are you nervous about the war then? Is that why you are so distracted?”

“No,”
Aemilia moved her hand to another pawn and moved it, stealing nothing but space. “Just Antonius has me distracted. We sparred. I managed to knock him off his feet, but still lost.” The loss wasn't what annoyed her. She was annoyed it wasn’t enough. His dislike was still palpable.

Winston shook his head. A pawn moved rather than the knight.
“Aemi, violence and war are not the only paths to go down in this world and it is hardly the best path.”

“I know that,” Aemilia noted, “But a good leader, a Magistrate or even a Tribune, was once expected to be proficient military leader, as well as an orator, with a family, intelligence, and wealth,” they were supposed to have everything. Times changed, of course. Very few had it all, but it remained an ideal. “I want that. I want to be as good as Theron and Antonius.”

Winston snorted,
“Which one of those man has it all, Aemi?” Theron had no children, and though he was good with the military, he needed men such as Lucius and that Iason. Lucius also had no children, and he questioned the man’s intelligence often.

“They have most of it.”


“Well,”
Winston sighed. He could see Theron’s plan on the board. Lucius was being moved aside. If Aemilia was to claim glory with Theron, “You will soon have it. I hope it won’t be too late then.” With every war fought, Theron grew more and more powerful, if only in the minds of the superstitious people.

Eventually, the games ended. Winston won them all, and Aemilia thought he ought to play Iason if Theron didn't lie about Iason's own skill at these games. Things switched to actual lessons, arithmetic today. As evening drew closer, Aemilia left his presence, and he decided to write a letter to Valeria about the matter of Theron leaving. They might have some luck, yet.


Aemilia gave her mother twenty minute’s warning. Needless to say, Tarpeia was not happy, but it faded with the realization that she was going to see her dear Theron. Despite being kin, Theron did not have her over often. Golden hair was quickly done up, and her golden skin was accented with red cloth, translucent sleeves decorating arms that showed little tone—she lived a life of luxury, and enjoyed it.

Quintus wore white, dressed more modestly than his wife, not as concerned with appearances. Quintus Flavius was one of those backbenchers in the senate, and had long ago given up on being anything more. Tarpeia ensured he was wealthy enough to hold a senate seat, but little else. It was the only reason he stayed with her despite how he knew the woman cheated. Modesty didn’t seem to be a virtue of her family line, though. He couldn’t say he was a fan of Theron, but he knew enough not to oppose. He liked his head where it was.


“Rabbit, can’t you dress nicer?”
Tarpeia sighed when Aemilia returned to the front room, changed out of the burgundy dress for one in blue. “Your hair….” She approached, turned Aemilia around with a touch to her shoulder and undid the updo. Fingers ran through the wavy locks until she was satisfied, and then she did it up once more, but this time a few strands were allowed to fall. Aemilia pushed some of the strands behind her ear, and Tarpeia set it right back, twirled it around her finger, and smiled when it corkscrewed. She turned Aemilia back around, tilted her chin up. Brows creased as her hazel eyes passed judgment on the look. Tarpeia wanted to do more, but accepted defeat based on time. At least Aemilia was learning; color painted the girl's face nicely, and the blue was not a poor choice. Her eyes seemed brighter. Tarpeia was pleased that her head wasn't being filled completely with political nonsense, and that her own lessons to her daughter seemed to be remembered. “I suppose that will do.” She took Aemilia’s hand in her own, smiled nicely at Quintus, before the three of them left.

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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #25 on: September 21, 2013, 05:24:54 am »
His horse was still ready to ride and Lucius resumed his journey home.  He made a stop at the public bathhouse and spent some time cleansing his body and mind.  Anger faded and incredulity returned.  Surely Theron wouldn’t stoop so low as to meddle in his personal affairs.  They’re friendship was too strong.   And yet, as he sat in the steam room the rueful smile became more of a sneer.  Theron had plans for the girl.  He’d always hinted that Iason was better at strategy and now this girl would ride at his side towards victory. 

Once upon a time, Theron hinted that Lucius would succeed him.  Lucius had only wanted glory and wealth – power came with obligations.  Theron was not known to be true to his word in any case, so Lucius remained true to himself, excelling at what he did best.

You can’t kill forever. Even though it is tempting to do so.

He lifted his shoulder and hand from the steaming bath water and rubbed the sore muscle.  There were many scars on his body, a testament to his endurance and strength.  If this war ended and another didn’t begin soon, he would indeed be at a loose end.

Lucius rose from the water and redressed.  He saw some other men he knew and exchanged a brief story about the fighting, saying only he was here to discuss things with Theron.  The war would continue, at least for now.

Fatigue returned as he walked the rest of the way to his house.  The horse walked beside him, the beast still full of energy.  Lucius preferred to take his time.  He was debating now about answering Theron’s request to dine at all.  He’d always been independent.  He didn’t like the implication that he needed to respond to both military and social requests of any kind.  The dig about marriage among them.

In the end, he decided he’d go, but he’d do it on his own terms. Lucius arrived deliberately late. He wore blue.  The color was deep and much darker than the color of his eyes, but it complimented the tan of his skin.  His hair was trimmed and brushed back away from his face.  He definitely looked fit and in control of the situation. The smile on his face as the door opened for him was light, not smug, but relaxed as though he were attending a party in his honor, rather than a painful family dinner.

He pulled the servant aside and made a special request with regards to the seating arrangements at dinner.  The man saw no reason not to accommodate the trusted friend and led him towards the parlor where the others were gathered over pre-dinner drinks.  The servant moved away to adjust the seating cards as Lucius repeated the morning ritual – an arrival in the parlor and a drink to share over polite conversation.

Krystal Itzume

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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #26 on: September 21, 2013, 05:26:26 am »
Tarpeia’s greeting was all smiles, as Theron was there to greet her. A kiss to his cheek was exchanged in the embrace, along with a backhanded compliment to Cassandra. It was true, what Theron imagined—Tarpeia certainly did wish to see her child wed to Theron. Such had been on her mind when the first marriage for Aemilia was cancelled. Five years, and nothing changed, though she imagined Aemilia was a mistress. Cassandra’s presence still annoyed her. She wanted the woman out of the picture.

It made no sense why her daughter had to play at all these war games and politics, though. It was no place for her. Tarpeia was still a traditionalist—women won while they were in the background. Poisons, sex, and rumors—those were the best weapons.

Aemilia stood with Quintus as Theron humored Tarpeia’s interests, clinging to the arm of her ‘uncle’ in a highly immodest way. They were led to the parlor once more.
“What are these pieces here?” Tarpeia couldn’t help but ask, unnerved to see markers in Sylvestre itself.

“Reminders. Nothing dreadful, I assure you. I don’t care for the taste of marshal law anymore than you,”
Theron answered her lightly, passing her a cup of wine. She accepted it with a brilliant smile. “Flavius, would you care for wine, or anything else?” They were not a first name basis, and Theron did not care to insult the man.

“Wine, please,” he answered. Theron nodded and poured a cup for him as Tarpeia walked over to where her daughter lingered apart. Quintus approached to accept the cup from Theron’s hand.

“And how writes your son?” Theron knew the man was somewhere amongst the soldiers now under Iason. He’d heard nothing else about him, though he barely knew Silanus. He did not stand out, would never be more than a cavalry unit.  All that he understood was that Silanus seemed to be the one member of the nuclear family that Aemilia got along with. Apparently, neither of them were pleased with their respective parent’s choice of spouses.

“He is well from what he writes. He writes more to his wife than to me,”
Quintus answered. “He would like to come home soon,” a hint, “He has an infant son to see.”

“Ah,”
Theron smiled, “Do not worry. I estimate a month or two is how long this war will continue, and no more than that. Your son will be back to spend time with his family soon.” Though it would not last. If he could manage it, they’d head off to deal with Perthia soon. He had not lied to Lucius, though he could not imagine the man would be happy with his plans to leave him here, again.

“Rabbit, why don’t you drink?”
Tarpeia offered her cup to Aemilia, but Aemilia pushed it back towards her. Tarpeia never learned.

“I don’t like the taste,”
she answered.

“You insult our host!”


“She does no such thing,”
Theron interrupted, “Tarpeia, you must tell me how you’ve been. You seem more vibrant today and I’ll not flatter my ego and assume this invitation is the reason.”

It wasn’t, of course. Conversation turned to gossip, Tarpeia’s latest ‘fun’ acknowledged as the reason for her cheer. A divorce seemed to amuse her, and Theron knew well enough to understand Tarpeia must have planned to upset the marriage and was boasting of her own success when she suggested the husband deserved the better and showed her sympathies towards him. Tarpeia had quite the network of freedmen and slaves to do her bidding, wealth well spent from her first husband’s death.

A few others arrived, notable for either wealth, military position, or lineage. Quintus managed to pull them over to him as Theron greeted them, but ultimately returned to his conversation with Tarpeia.

She broke off when the rather late Lucius showed up, rising from the couch she’d seated herself on and walking to embrace him,
“How handsome you look fresh from war, Lucius!” She complimented. "Better than I remember!"

Quintus let out a sigh of relief, broke away from his current circle and approached Theron.
“Is dinner about ready, Periander?” He didn’t mean to upset, but he didn’t exactly want to be there, and he was hungry. He’d prefer to leave sooner rather than later.

“It should be soon,”
it was already ready, a servant had informed him earlier. He was merely waiting on Lucius. He'd anticipated this much from him, and somehow wasn't bothered by the lateness. “Glad to see you could finally make it, Lucius,” Theron noted, rising. He approved of how the man had cleaned up for this.

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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #27 on: September 21, 2013, 05:31:36 am »
Tarpeia had claws like a cat.  She wrapped them around Lucius’s neck and he waited for them to rip his throat out, but apparently she was in a pleasant mood.  Indeed she looked rather smug, and Lucius was loath to ask why.  He simply accepted the compliment with the pleasantry required and offered one of his own, choosing her hair as a safe enough body part to comment on.

Theron didn’t react to his tardiness.  Lucius hadn’t expected it; his late arrival was to please himself.  The added bonus was that it seemed he’d get to avoid the necessary small talk this sort of party necessitated.  A few minor senators were in the parlor as well, and Lucius forestalled collecting a drink from his host in favor of a few handshakes with old acquaintances.  Lucius wouldn’t consider those here friends.  Even Theron was tottering on the category at the moment.

Aemilia was in the room.  He didn’t have to look her way to sense her presence.  Indeed Lucius made a point of not looking at the blue gown and artfully arranged hair, hoping that Theron was appeased by his lack of leer.  At the same time his skin tingled as he inched ever closer, completing a half circle of the room.   The anticipation was new, something he decided not to analyze, but rather enjoy.

Lucius nearly reached Aemilia’s side, one person away from a personal greeting when dinner was announced.  He wasn’t at all off put by the omission.  In fact, the twinkle in his eyes hinted at a secret as he moved to the door, swept on by the eager crowd.   Since he and Aemilia were partner-less, it made sense to seat them near each other and Lucius didn’t appear at all surprised that such was so.

He held the chair out for Aemilia as he neared the table.  If given the opportunity he’d offer a sincere whispered compliment against her ear, “You look beautiful,” before stepping to the side and taking his own chair beside her.

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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #28 on: September 21, 2013, 05:41:51 am »
Theron watched Lucius circle the room of faces. Senators and their wives conversed with him. Tarpeia returned to Theron’s side, and Aemilia seemed to be talking with Catalina’s son. ‘Perhaps.’ He had much to consider in case Winston refused, or Aemilia protested too much. Catalina’s son was wealthy, like the man himself had been. Of course, he had inherited everything. ‘Married.’ [/color]That was no issue, though.

Come to think of it, he was pretty sure at least one of Winston’s sons were married, as well.
‘And yet Lucius and Aemilia continue like this.’ Perhaps it shouldn’t amuse him, but it did. ‘And Iason.’ And all his enemies were forming their alliances, binding them in marriage and children. ‘Probably others.’ Perhaps he should enlist Tarpeia. It seemed like he had plenty of people to find spouses for. She’d be here with Lucius. She could introduce him to eligible bachelorettes—or decent women who could be convinced to divorce, and she could think of some for Iason.

Cosimo Catalina broke away from Aemilia to greet Lucius. The man had fought alongside his father, once upon a time—not that his father had been a great fighter. He just wanted the same glory that Theron and Pompilius had. Cosimo had no delusions, but talk of the war did interest him, and Lucius would have a bit of news about it, no doubt.

Dinner was announced then, and Aemilia walked alongside the man’s wife to the dining room. Seats were found, dictated by cards. The closer to Theron, the better. Aemilia and Lucius were both put close, but Aemilia had not anticipated being seated next to Lucius—right hand of Theron. To the left was Cassandra, and Cosimo besides her. 

An eyebrow arched at Lucius’s action.
‘Since when?’ However, she didn’t ask why he was behaving queerly. It may have simply been the public space. She accepted the seat, “Thank—” cut herself off at the whispered words. ‘What?’ Did Theron lecture him when she left? Was this Theron’s plot to make them get along? ‘No.’ Too sincere. “T-thank you,” she hadn’t stumbled over words in a while. Cheeks flushed as she took the seat, as confused as she was pleased.

She was pretty sure it wasn’t Lucius that was sitting besides her, though she could not recall him having a twin.

Tarpeia, of course, sat at her other side.

Theron sat at the head of the table, but he passed by Lucius, the last to arrive in the room. The look he gave him threatened,
‘I can make the people forget you.’ It would harm his own reputation to cast Lucius out, destroy him, but he’d done worse and survived it, been better for it. Theron was not amused with the man’s game.

However, he could not pay it any mind now. He had to pretend that everything was perfect, and enjoy the feast with the others as he filled them in about his coming departure and their expected duties if they wanted to remain in his good graces when he returned. Lucius couldn’t do everything…and if he wanted to continue spiting him, the man might be fool enough to try something stupid.
‘No one here would oppose him.’ He realized that belatedly.

Everyone trusted Lucius. Everyone loved him. He would have to hope his own trust was not misplaced and Lucius wouldn't let this interfere with what was important.


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Re: Shifts of Fortune [Closed]
« Reply #29 on: September 21, 2013, 06:42:15 am »
In that moment, if asked, Lucius might not have answered Theron with the correct words about what was important.  Something strange was happening.  What started out as a bit of a joke turned into something complicated.  Theron’s eyes shot daggers in him, but the smile he returned was lazy.  His look was without guile since obviously he’d had nothing to do with the seating arrangements.

He felt a quiver in his stomach as he let his knee touch Aemilia’s under the table. Foolish, really, to flirt with her, even without words.  Inappropriate to be sure, given their relationship and political futures.  At the same time Lucius gave into temptation and let the small contact remain.  He leaned forward to speak with Tarpeia about some frivolous matter, but he didn’t let his shoulder touch Aemilia, indeed the exposed area of his body was completely circumspect, his hands manipulating the silver wear with practiced ease.  He didn’t even look at her conspiratorially, instead focused on Cassandra and the other guests, responding to their questions about the war.  He ate the lamb that was served with its rosemary potatoes.  Commented on the wine which was excellent.  All the while, one small part of his body remained in contact with the attractive woman beside him.  He wondered how long he could get away with it. 

Cassandra made a comment about the garden and the flowers Theron loved so much.  Conversation turned to whose garden was best.  Which plants were the most fragrant.  Lucius let the others talk, his thoughts occupied elsewhere.  He shifted as one of the servants poured him another glass of wine and used the small motion to bring his calf in contact with Aemilia’s.  His foot lifted and his ankle brushed against hers.

He had to swallow before he could speak again. It shouldn’t matter, only hormones and spite driving his actions.  Logic told him she was nothing special.  He’d spent years in her company and never paid her any mind.  Today however, was different.  And she was leaving tomorrow.

He could have asked about the travel plans.  That discussion would have been simple, but it also would have highlighted that he was remaining behind, something else he was half tempted to defy.  Theron had already done a good job of issuing orders here at the table to all present.  No, he’d do as told, but on one matter he was still reticent.

“You haven’t shared the final command you gave me, Theron,” Lucius said.  “Perhaps Cassandra or Tarpeia can help in your absence?”  He paused, a half twisted smile on his face wondering if Theron would interrupt.  He turned to the table and announced, “I am supposed to find a suitable wife.”

He looked at Aemilia.  One eyebrow raised, the smile wolfish.  No hint that she wasn’t suitable.  “I’m sure my friend only has my best interest at heart.  I wonder Aemilia, if,” dramatic pause for effect, “if he has….requested that you do the same?”