Valeria and her sister were arguing in the atrium, making it difficult for Dorus to concentrate on the letter he was writing. Literate but no scholar, he found clear calligraphy and simple expression to be a burden when there was not complete silence. Despite the noise, he did not budge from the relative sanctity of the tablinum, distracted by whatever it was Valeria and Horatia were shouting about, he would rather put up with wasting papyrus than get involved.
Part of the problem was that he couldn’t really understand what was being said, they were too far away and on the other side of a closed door. At one point a particularly loud piece of oratory filtered through, and it seemed to Dorus that, Horatia was attempting to censure her sister for some sort of household mismanagement.
‘ … and what do you know about running a house or raising children!’ That seemed to be what had just been screamed by Horatia. An old slur that he knew would sting Valeria, who responded in more muffled but no less severe tones.
Dorus took his materials from his knee and put them on the desk in front of him; an ink and wax stained, surface cluttered with materials, wood and parchment scraps and other scribal impedimenta. There would be no peace for the writing of important business today, and on second thought it was wasteful to ruin perfectly good, smooth reed paper, destined for the hand of a man who wanted to build an expensive pleasure boat, just because he didn’t want to tell the women outside to be quiet.
‘Coward.’ He murmured, which had the unintended effect of immediately sending him to the precipice of a dark place. It had been three days since the nightmare had so worryingly interrupted his thoughts, but he feared it just was lying dormant, lurking somewhere, waiting to crash into his sleep again.
Frowning, Dorus reached for a wood tablet, intending to write some personal letters to friends and family and save important lines for when quietude returned. In particular, one friend from his navy days had lately arrived in Rome.
With any luck, Valeria’s grandparents would return from the town soon and put a stop to whatever was going on, as a former politician, Gaius Varus Torquatus, was not a man to allow discord to reign, publicly at least, in his home and he was of a thorny and venerable age that rejoiced in dignified calm, which meant he tended to crush all disorder as quickly and as violently as possible.
As he contemplated his opening address, Dorus realised how important letters had become to him. Until he left the navy, he never knew how many people there were to write to on so many subjects. Before that he had only written letters that had something to do with official business or the efficient running of the fleet, and they had not always been warmly received by superiors and politicians, especially towards the end of his service. Yet upon coming to the Torquatii estate, Dorus had been pleased to discover how many people were not only happy to receive a letter from him, but would gladly embark on a long exchange of correspondence thereafter.
Tired of attempting to write on his knee like a scribe, Dorus lent forward in the ugly bent posture of a mentally exhausted child that men of letters utterly abhorred. He dipped his pen and began to write.
‘To Silanus in Rome.
It surprised me to read that you were so displeased not to have received a letter from me since arriving in Rome. I cannot very well send things to people whose location I am ignorant of, for believe me the first I heard that you were there was when your letter arrived here. As if happens I know of someone who will be going into Latium and should I be fortunate, this should be in your hand, satiating your disappointment, before the end of the month. Trust me now that I know where you are I will never again give you an excuse to accuse me of neglecting to write.
All are well in this house, the elder Torquatus is here, taking his ease and will probably stay for as long as it takes him to undo everything I have done to his household in his absence as caretaker, but at least that means I don’t have so much to do with running the place and I can spend more time at the shipyard. It was the best decision I ever made, listening to Valeria and coming here after I left the Navy, it would be misery to leave the villa now and if I was ever to do so I would not be happy until I returned.
It might be mentioned that although everyone is healthy here we are not entirely peaceful, Valeria and her sister do not appear to be able to live under the same roof anymore. My esteemed sister in law Horatia having been too long mistress of her own house then to lose it after her poor husband died, and my wife never having had her own place long enough to become accustomed to command, for which I blame myself.
Please tell me of your situation and family, let me know what you are doing and what you intend to do about everything, but also what you know of the fleet and do not try to put me off, we all know the republic needs ships, and you most of all; they have been laying keels and sponsoring rams across Magna Graecia since we lost so many to the storms in the years before Drepanum, and the losses at sea to Carthage that year has kept the demand higher than ever.
There will be more to say when you reply to this, so for now love me and be assured I love you as a brother …’
Dorus paused, realising that the argument outside had been interrupted and in the place of the angry voices of the two Torquatii sisters, there now snapped the lower register of their grandfather. He had no notion of when the shouting had subsided, but was grateful for the return of the old statesman, as now he would be able reply to his client.