Dear readers, tonight with me are two women from a world reminiscent of our Ancient Rome, but with one distinct difference: she is a sorceress, a mage of Spirit and Fire.
Tell us a little about growing up in the Temple of Juno. What was it like there?
Latona: Blissful. Not all the priestesses and acolytes live in the house behind the Temple, of course, but my family thought it best, since my magic was so strong, that I stay with Gaia Claudia so that she could guide me. I missed my mother and my sister Aula, but Claudia was everything I could’ve hoped for in a mentor — and it was exciting, to be so small and yet feel a part of something so big. The most important people in Aven would come to consult the High Priestess of Juno, and Claudia let me observe at her side, even before I was really old enough to understand the politics of it all.
Any cherished memories from that time?
Latona: The first time I served as Claudia’s acolyte during the Cantrinalia. It was held at the House of the Vestals that year, and everything was so graceful and immaculate. I was only seven, the youngest girl there, and I’d never been around so many mages working in concert before. I only saw glimpses of the colors of the elements in action — I’m still a bit shaky with that particular talent, I’m afraid — but I could feel all of it, everyone’s hopes blending together. It was… euphoric.
You left the Temple after Gaia Claudia’s death a few years later. How have you been using your magic since then?
Latona: Oh, the… the usual ways. For a patrician wife, I mean. Just… just little things. I use Fire magic to keep the house’s hypocaust running properly in the winter, and little Spirit charms at parties and such, to liven up the mood. But that’s really — (A deep, long breath) It was made quite clear to me that, outside the purview of the Temple, I needed to take care and remain within… appropriate boundaries. (A thin smile) It wouldn’t do to appear ostentatious, after all.
Because we heard that Dictator Ocella had asked for you to use your Spirit magic at his behest.
Latona: No. No, absolutely not. I– I am not capable of the sort of manipulative magic that Ocella requested of me. And even if I had been, I would not have sullied the gods’ gifts in such a way, whatever rumor may fabricate to the contrary.
What did you first think when you received news of the Dictator’s death ?
Latona: “Thank Juno. Now he can’t hurt anyone else.”
What can you tell us about your latest adventure?
Latona: I can’t imagine what you mean. Adventure is not the purview of a patrician matron.
(A second woman joins Latona on the couch)
Aula: Look, if you’re going to be modest and boring, I’m going to have to do this for you. (A dazzling smile, a toss of her curls) We are very busy working to secure our father’s election as censor, and we’re trying to drum up support for the Iberian venture. Our brother Gaius is fighting a war practically by himself out there, and the Senate isn’t taking the matter seriously enough. Latona’s been weaving for him — Fire magic for protection, you know — but it’s not as though she can create an army out of whole cloth!
Latona: I don’t think weaving quite qualifies as an adventure, Aula.
Aula: Well, maybe not, but we’re also working to forge advantageous alliances in the Senate, of course, and Latona has been invaluable in that regard. Take Sempronius Tarren, for example–
(Latona’s cheeks redden noticeably)
Aula: Of course our families have been Popularist allies for some time, but Latona’s quite charmed the good Senator, and I think–
Latona: Yes, Aula, I think that’s quite enough Senate intrigue to be getting along with.
What is the worst thing about your current circumstances?
Aula: Her husband.
Aula: Well, I’m not wrong. I don’t know what Father was thinking. He ought to have divorced you from that lump as soon as it became apparent how utterly useless he is.
Latona: I am of course grateful for the protection that Herennius provides to me and to the family’s reputation.
Aula: (snorting) “Grateful”. There’s a fine word for a marriage. She could do much better. Much. So we’re working on convincing Father of that.
Latona: We are?
Aula: Well, I certainly am. Anyway, if I keep him focused on you, he might forget he intends to find someone else to marry me.
And what’s the best thing going for you right now?
Latona: It seems unlovely to celebrate death, but… Ocella’s demise has opened up a great many opportunities. Aven is free of a stranglehold. Mages, in particular, had to hold their powers quite close under his reign. He coerced so many into serving him, and those who refused, or those he thought were a threat, well… A great many came to messy ends. With less to fear, now, we may have the chance to discover how we can better use our gifts to serve the people of Aven.
Tell us a little about your friends.
Aula: Me, of course.
Latona: I have the good fortune to be exceptionally fond of both my sisters, yes. Aula can always make me laugh, and Alhena is growing so insightful. Then there’s Merula, my attendant. She keeps me grounded.
Aula: And keeps you alive. That bloodthirsty little wildcat would happily disembowel anyone who looked at you the wrong way, I’m sure.
Latona: And Ama Rubellia, the High Priestess of Venus, is a wonderful friend and mentor. She’s been helping me with some… refinement of my Fire magic recently. As wonderful a confidante as Aula is, it’s nice to have another mage to discuss such things with.
Aula: Wait, what are you discussing with her that you can’t discuss with me?
Latona: Nothing, dear, truly.
Considering that Rubellia is the High Priestess of Venus, might it have to do with any romantic involvement?
Latona: I’m a married woman.
Aula: Well, that’s not an answer.
Latona: It’s enough of one.
Aula: Herennius is as romantic as stale bread. Now, if you divorced him, and if someone else caught your fancy, perhaps a dark-eyed Popularist Senator who practically has to be dragged away from your couch during dinner parties–
Latona: Sempronius is an excellent conversationalist and a good friend–
Aula: Who said anything about Sempronius? I didn’t say anything about Sempronius.
Latona: And I socialize with many men at dinner parties–
Aula: You see where her mind goes though? And I’m just saying, if the opportunity arose–
Latona: Do ignore her; she’s quite ridiculous.
We’ve heard you’re seeking allies among the other senatorial families. Who are your opponents?
Aula: The Optimates are bound and determined to keep Aven mired in the past rather than embracing the future, and I vow, it’s going to be the death of Aven, and– Oh, sorry, Latona, he was asking you.
Latona: No, you’re completely right.
Aula: As always.
Latona: Lucretius Rabirus, in particular, is… vile. He was the Dictator’s right hand, and now he’s trying to convince everyone he was only acting for Aven’s good, as though he were checking Ocella’s worst impulses. But I know better. Whatever his long-term plans for the city are, they won’t be for the common good. He’ll seek to keep the Optimates entrenched in power so they can continue enriching themselves. He sees no value in the common citizens of Aven, and certainly none in the newcomers from elsewhere around the Middle Sea. And he’s demonstrated he will have no scruples in achieving his desired ends.
What’s your favourite relaxing pastime?
Latona: Hm… Going to Davina’s bathhouse is always a delight. She charms the waters, you know. It’s impossible to leave there without feeling more relaxed than when you came in.
Aula: Plus it’s the best place in the city for gossip.
What does the future hold for you?
Latona: It’s occurred to me that the female mages of Aven are… at a disadvantage. So few of us have formal training, unless we stay in the temples, but I feel there’s much we could learn from each other. I’d like to nourish that somehow.
Aula: Why, Latona, that sounds almost ambitious of you.
Latona: I’ll thank you not to let anyone else hear you use that word.
Can you share a secret with us, which you’ve never told anyone else?
Latona: (looking sideways at Aula) You really think I could have any secrets, with this one around?
Aula: I’ll tell, then. A secret I’m not sure you even know, yourself. She’s so much more powerful than she’s ever let herself realize. She could set this city on its head, if she wanted.
Latona: Why would I want–
Aula: I said if. And I think you are starting to figure it out. I’ve seen all those books on magical theory you and Alhena have been hoarding.
Latona: Intellectual exercises, only.
Aula: (snorts) And I’m just a demure widow who would never engage in political maneuvering. I think you want to test your own limits. (A positively enormous grin) And I simply can’t wait to see what happens when you do.
Cass Morris works as a writer and educator in central Virginia and occasionally moonlights as a bookseller in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She completed her Master of Letters at Mary Baldwin University in 2010, and she earned her undergraduate degree, a BA in English with a minor in history, from the College of William and Mary in 2007. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart. Her debut novel, From Unseen Fire: Book One of the Aven Cycle, is a Roman-flavored historical fantasy released by DAW Books.
You can find Latona and Aula on the pages of From Unseen Fires.
Keep an eye out for our special mid-week SPFBO interviews! Join us next week to meet a woman in a coma, drifting between realities. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.