My group has started a Fate short campaign that we’re calling Magica Romae, a campaign set in the Roman era with light magic. I missed the first session, in Gaul, with undead; my character joins on the second. She is Naevia the Holy, once a Vestal Virgin who finished her 30 years of service with distinction, became a patrician landowner in Rome, and now is traveling to Gaul with her retinue on some kind of secret business, probably in service of the Vestal Virgins.
Vestal Virgins are a group of six women, recruited between the age of 6 and 10, who are charged with maintaining the sacred Fire of Vesta, and who are punished brutally for allowing it to be extinguished or for sullying their virgin status. They served for 30 years, and after retirement could own property and vote, unlike the majority of women in Roman life. During their service they were charged with many tasks and entrusted with many responsibilities, and enjoyed a reputation for purity and trustworthiness. Naevia was selected at 8, served to 38, and is 42 at the time of the campaign; she has spent the last 4 years since her retirement building up political connections and power in the city, and maintains a connection to the College of the Vestals and to the other Vestal Alumni. It is through these connections that she finds herself on a mission to Gaul.
Naevia, being a Vestal, has magical powers related to healing, protection and divination, though she deploys them sparingly and as much as possible avoids using them for her own benefit. She prefers to exercise temporal rather than supernatural power, and is usually accompanied by a retinue of servants and bodyguards who act on her behalf. In Rome she usually travels incognito, avoiding public displays of her presence, since people who recognize her will tend to make a big fuss at her presence. Naevia is a short, slender woman with tumbling dark hair and somewhat coarse features, marred by childhood illness, but she has a rich, commanding voice and the natural charisma of a woman used to being listened to. Her eyes are remarkable: deep violet pools with a strange power of fascination over lesser people. Naevia is not an actor or a seductress – she deals with people honestly and in the frank and direct manner of a woman entrusted with many spiritual responsibilities and great wisdom.
Naevia does not usually have to deal with others, though, for her extensive retinue deal with most daily irritants. While traveling in Gaul, her retinue consists of the following people.
- The Lictor Curiatus: Naevia’s chief bodyguard, Rufus Faustus Varro, a dour 30-something pleb elevated to lictor status and entrusted with guarding dignitaries on foreign duties, is an old friend of Naevia’s from her travels in the latter half of her period of service. He is only a little taller than her, squat, heavily muscled and heavily scarred, dressed in traditional Roman field armour but armed with an outlandish German axe. He seems to spend much of his time lazing around, drinking wine and directing the guards, but he also appears to be Naevia’s confidante and final executor of her will. It is rumoured that he is her lover, but he scoffs at such rumours – after he has soundly scourged the fool who uttered them.
- The Illyrian Scourge: Naevia’s retinue includes four bodyguards, freed gladiator slaves originally from Illyria, who are fiercely loyal to her and Rufus Faustus Varro. These four men are whip-thin, lean, tall, blonde-haired men with wild eyes and fast fists. They never speak, and it is generally accepted that their tongues were removed before they entered Naevia’s service. Rumour has it that she personally imposed upon the authorities to pardon them of their crimes and put them in her service; darker rumours suggest witchbonds they cannot break. There is little point in asking the Scourge their opinion, since they cannot speak and are quick to do violence to those who impugn their vestal sister.
- The maid: Known only as “the Greek”, Naevia’s maid accompanies her on all her travels, and is never far from her side. The Greek is a luscious young woman from Greece, a lascivious creature made entirely of curves, tumbling dark hair, and flirtatious looks and touches. Aged perhaps in her late teens or early twenties, the Greek is everything Naevia is not: wanton, cheerful, sexual, and extremely shy. She is also rumoured to be Naevia’s preferred assassin, the tool Naevia uses on unsuspecting local lords to work her most vicious wiles, trained in some cruel Macedonian fastness in all the secret tricks of poison and blade. Challenged on such stories, the Greek will demur and blush, and hide behind her indulgent mistress. How could one so innocent and shy be mistaken for anything except a simple maid?
- The accountant: Lazy, wine-sodden, cynical old Gnaeus Paterculus Flaccus, known to one and all as Flacco, is rarely far from Naevia’s retinue and almost never at her side. He cares for her money and worldly affairs, keeping careful track of her holdings and earnings, helping her to buy oddities and trade goods during her travels, and keeping her informed of the latest machinations of the councils to which she is not invited. Flacco has a penchant for young boys, though none would consider it a weakness, and is rumoured to have bedded the serving boys and slaves of almost every noble family in Rome and its most important satellites; whether he does this for his own pleasure, or to maintain a complex web of spies and eavesdroppers, is a matter of much debate. Certainly though, everyone agrees that over his long life he has elevated those of his boy lovers who served him well to positions of high status, while those who disappoint or betray him have inevitably disappeared. Darker rumours suggest that in amongst his books and ledgers he keeps another, secret ledger that records the fate of all those who serve him. But how could such a silly old accountant accrue such power, and why would he end up in service to one as noble as Naevia the Holy?
- The Hag: Known universally as just “her”, the Hag has her own wagon and supplies, and attends Naevia’s retinue almost as if she were wilfully pursuing the younger woman, rather than a servant. Sometimes she and her blind dwarven manservant, Puggus, will disappear for days, rejoining the retinue at some later point and giving no account of their deeds. Naevia and the Hag almost never speak, meet or even make eye contact, and for much of their journey together Naevia appears blissfully ignorant of her presence, but occasionally they will draw together for counsel and scheming. Rumour has it that the Hag is an old and disgraced vestal virgin, who was sentenced to be buried alive for her transgressions but was somehow rescued by a young man who she subsequently ate. Others say she is Naevia’s grandmother, or actually a Siren or Medusa who has joined Naevia’s retinue for her own reasons. Some whisper that Naevia needs the hag as a tool to cast dark magics, which are outside of Vesta’s pantheon but almost certainly within Naevia’s power. If anyone knows the secret of the Hag, they do not speak of it. Only a fool would meddle in the affairs of such a sinister crone.
This retinue, and a few hapless slaves dragged along for the duration, came as far as Gaul with Naevia. Unfortunately they were separated in heavy weather, and attacked by Gauls. When the adventure starts Naevia is a captive of these Gauls, and her retinue struggling to catch up and free her. If only fate would deliver unto her some heroes who could free her, and help her in her secret mission …