[parts one, two, three]
Torches and braziers lined the promenade, casting color and light in all directions, echoed a thousandfold by the temples across the city, a merry cascade of revelers making offering at one and then another, their hoots and hollering and laughter drifting on the wind; they’d be at it all night and then some. It was the nineteenth of Augustus, the feast of Vinalia Rustica; a harvest celebration sacred to Jupiter and Venus, to prepare to gather and press the grapes ripening all summer in the terraces and vineyards and turn them into wine. It was, therefore, a most auspicious night to hold a betrothal celebration, as marriage likewise embodied the promise of harvest and fertility and children, and at no less than the imperial palace. Gaius Flavius Cassianus, it appeared, might have cashed in that favor that Hadrian owed him.
Emma had never actually been inside the palace, though her father was often there for his work, and she could not stop looking around. Silk-curtained alcoves, reflecting pools, statues on plinths, gold and ivory and marble, halls where footsteps echoed, and the most extravagant court paid to her: legates and senators and proconsuls and praetors and their wives, admitted out in public for this most special occasion, ceaselessly congratulating her on her impending nuptials. It made her feel like a rat in a trap. Everyone in Rome now knew that she was supposed to marry Baelius after the Ludi Romani were over, and she could not shake the feeling that they also knew of her indiscretion with Killian in the gardens that one night. She had grimly avoided seeing him ever since, even if it felt like strangling herself, due to being quite certain that if she allowed that to happen for a third time, she was not strong enough to put a stop to it again. And she at least, no matter how much she had less than no desire to wed, had more pride than that. A slave.
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