I really love this scene. But during my third edit of Otho’s Regret I’ve had to face up to the fact that it has to go.
The third edit is the most brutal edit. It is the point where if a scene doesn’t push the plot along it goes.
This scene has plenty of good characterisation but we need to get to the very important banquet scene quicker, so it has to go. Sob.
Philo had just sat down and flipped open his note tablet ready for a morning’s work when Verenia appeared.
“Pompeia and Teretia have gone out,” he replied automatically.
“I know I waited until I saw them leave,” was Verenia’s suspicious reply. “I need to ask you something.”
She sat down opposite him.
Recalling the last time he’d be in her company alone Philo told her, “Epaphroditus has a wife.”
A response that fluxommed her and rather unfortunately left a gap that Philo filled with, “And when he chooses a mistress he always opts for a slave girl. Sorry, Verenia.”
“Why would I want to know Epaphroditus’ marital status? I met the man once, quite by chance. I came by to ask about Lysander,” stressed Verenia.”I was of the opinion that you might be the person to talk to.”
Her tone suggested that she was rapidly changing her mind on that score.
“Oh,” said Philo feeling a hot flush heading up his neck. “Sorry. What did you want to know about Lysander?”
Verenia rested her elbows on the table. “He has invited me to this dinner at the palace.”
“Oh yes he told me, it’s an engagement party for Otho and Statilia Messalina. It should be a nice evening.” He smiled at her. She did not smile back.
“The emperor will be there,” stressed Philo.
“I don’t know anything about him.”
“He is a very nice man, very friendly and chatty and always willing to help you out whatever.”
Verenia narrowed her eyes. “You’re talking about the emperor aren’t you?”
“Oh, well Lysander’s very nice as well,” said Philo rather unconvincingly.
Adjusting her stola she said, “There is a reason why I waited for Teretia to leave. I love my cousin, of course I do but she always sees the best in everyone.” Meeting Philo’s eyes. “I’m not criticising. I envy it. I wish I could. But I’ve been taken in before. I’ll not let it happen again. You and I, we’re different. You may look like you’ve just fallen off the latest boat but I’ll wager Doris that you’re not as naively dim as you appear.”
Behind Verenia’s rather insulting rhetoric there was a truth. Though Philo maintained an expression of benign mystification during every single conversation Verenia had struggled through with him, he had worked for Nero and it had been a rare month when he hadn’t been asked to source a good assassin.
“I know,” she continued, “that you will tell me the truth. Unadulterated.”
Mainly because Philo lacked imagination and was therefore a lousy liar.
Philo flipped his note tablet shut. “What do you want to know?”
“Start with his father.”
Which was one of the odd things about life on the outside, the obsession with who your father, mother, uncle, grandfather was. Not something that discussed at the palace where a large contingent of the slaves had no idea of their parentage. Philo though he’d had a mother lacked for every other category of relative. Verenia was in luck though because Lysander was a vernae, that is a palace born slave, and thus Philo was able to tell her with confidence.
“He was a singer.”
“Yes he was_,” Philo trailed off.
“Was?” repeated Verenia.
“Yes he was died?” Her scepticism at Philo misusing a verb was well placed and the freedman shuffled awkwardly on the bench. “What happened to him?”
“Well he was, he was. Well he was executed.” Then to Verenia’s rather shocked expression, “But it wasn’t really his fault.”
“What did he do to have such a fate?”
“He was a very good singer.”
“I’m sure he was, but you’re avoiding my question. Why did he get executed?”
“Because he was a very good singer,” repeated Philo. “And Nero was a singer and he wasn’t as good.” He shrugged. “That’s all there was to it really.”
Compared to some of the executions Philo had done the paperwork for the death of Lysander’s father counted as a more legitimate reason than most he’d signed off.
“His mother was pretty keen that Lysander not become a singer after that.”
“His mother? She is?” asked Verenia rather shakily.
“Oh she’s alive,” brightened Philo. “She was a very high ranking attendant to Empress Agrippina. She is currently married to Gaius Baebinus, they have a very nice house on the Caelian Hill. He is a most successful and well respected businessman,” he supplied more happily.
“Currently married?” asked Verenia. “What does that mean? Is she contemplating divorce?”
“Lysandria would never divorce Gaius Baebinus.”
She had a much cleaner method of disposing of husbands.
Verenia, with clear difficultly, let this pass saying, “You’ve known Lysander for many years.”
She fiddled with her shawl again before asking. “He is a good man?”
From her tone Philo could tell this was very important to her, crucial therefore he deduced, she’d be wanting a cracking answer.
“Err,” began Philo inwardly weighing up the relevant criteria to measure Lysander against deciding on several factors in his list before his thought processes were interrupted by Verenia.
“Oh for Juno’s sake,” she swore. “Is he emotionally cold?”
Philo blinked. “No.”
“Is he cruel?”
Another blink. “No.”
“Is he violent?”
“That’ll do,” she told him standing. “Thank you for your help.”
Philo was midway through saying “It was no trouble” when he realised she was most likely being sarcastic and stopped himself.