"That's good, I hope you're not hurt. I didn't mean to startle you like that."
"Oh no, it's fine." she was still embarrassed about the fall, but none of it was Lexus' fault. He had merely given her a warning. It was not on him that her dress was fully impractical for nature exploration.
"I thought I heard someone, but maybe they turned around or maybe I misheard. I'm sorry. Let me help you up... I'm really sorry. It really wasn't on purpose."
"I know. Thank you." she blushed a little as she accepted his hand, making sure to free her feet first before she attempted to stand up. Once she was back on her feet, she dusted her dress off; it had some grass stains and some dirt on it. She sighed. "I wish I could wear short tunics." she noted, then caught herself and blushed again "I mean... I wish... I had more practical clothing for... exploration."
Septima was well on her way to a very embarrassing faceplant when Lexus grabbed her arm. His intentions were noble, but the rescue only half succeeded. Septima managed to not fall face first into the ground, but she did drag Lexus down with her. They both landed, him on his back and her right next to him, in an awkward heap in the grass.
“Ow… Are you alright… Septima?”
"Fine, I'm fine..." she scrambled back; the stola and the tunica she was wearing were not making it easy to gracefully get back on her feet, but at least she sat up, looking around, her cheeks dark with embarrassment. She had not only fallen, but she had also dragged Lexus down, and now she was rolling around in grass, shamelessly close to him. She looked around, trying to see whoever was coming down the path.
"Did they... You said someone was coming?"
"Your underworld sounds nicer than Hades."
It really did. It was not the main reason why Septima followed the Great Goddess, but it filled her heart with a warm feeling when she thought about the afterlife by her side. Roman beliefs of what happens after death were bleak, to say the least, unless one followed the older, Greek traditions of the Elysian fields, hoping they would be worthy of being numbered among the heroes of old. What the cult of Isis promised was something much... better. It was just hard (not to mention forbidden) to fully explain to the uninitiated.
"I didn't mean to offend you. It's nice, that you know things. Someone has to, right?... I think someone's coming this way."
Everyone knew things. Different people knew different things, and had different skills. Septima liked learning from various people, especially the ones that didn't have the same upbringing as her. Lexus, however, seemed to believe that he did not have much to offer.
At the warning that someone was coming, Septima, sprang up, trying to make her way out of the flowerbed without stepping on the flowers, or the beetle. Unfortunately, it was not an easy feat of balance, and she stepped on the edge of the stola instead, tripping forward, about to fall flat on her face. "Oh no..."
"To be entirely honest, domina, neither do I. She is not the type to read much,"
The other Clio looked uncomfortable. And a little ashamed of asking these questions about the books, even though Septima did not mind at all answering them. She wondered whether a domina who did not read much would disapprove of her slave reading books about Roman history.
"Nevertheless, if she should grow curious about these stories, it would not be wise to have them mention fugitive or rebellious slaves in a good light... Or, for that matter, star-crossed lovers and secret affairs. She might think it is these things that drew my attention, or that somebody of weak morals gave me the books to convert me to their way of thinking..."
"Oh. I don't... well. Numa Pompilius, according to some, was the lover of the nymph Egeria. But it's all very respectable... She taught him about laws. I think this writer is trying to make a point about greatness and tradition... star-crossed lovers are more of a... Greek thing, with the adventure stories and such. But if you are not sure if she would approve, I can read through them... or maybe find something that is... safer to read?"
Maybe she had spoken too soon, or said too much. Septima sometimes got carried away when she was talking about things that interested her. She was still keeping her eyes on the scarab beetle, and now she had made Lexus watch it too, crouching by the flower bed. And now that had moved on to Isis.
"So kind of like Hades and... uhm... his wife?"
"Sort of." she nodded "But... better. More... alive. No shadows lingering, drinking the waters of Lethe and forgetting life. You get to... stay yourself."
"I'm sorry, you seem to know a lot more about these things than me."
"I am sure you know a lot of things I don't know." she ventured. Thalia sometimes told her her talking made other people feel... less smart. She tried to cut back on that, which was why she often did not talk at all. "I just... read a lot."
"I suppose... Do you believe in rebirth then? Like, are people reborn? I don't know if I follow anything... I just... am."
Septima looked up, seeing Lexus crouch down next to her, and gave him a curious look. One didn't often meet someone in Rome who was not paying at least lip service to some deity or another. It was dangerous not to follow anyone; gods were jealous and easily offended. It came with their power. He did seem curious though, as if he would believe in something if he knew where to look. Like with the insects.
"Reborn?... I suppose, in a way. Followers of Isis send their eternal souls to her where she rules in the life after death. Her husband, Osiris, is King of the Underworld. So it's... life, but in a different place?"
"Thank you, domina... Romulus, that was the founder of Rome, wasn't it?"
"He was" Septima nodded. She had not read through many of the Parallel Lives yet, but she had read lots of other works of history. "And Numa Pompilius was the second king, after him."
Clio looked hesitant as she held the scrolls, as if she was trying to tell which one to buy, or if she should buy one at all. Some slaves had their own money, and it was not illegal for them to buy things, even books. But a lot depended on their master.
"Domina, is the text in these, um... is it, um, proper? Would my mistress be angry if she found these and read them?"
Septima was surprised at the question, but she gave it honest consideration. She did not want to dismiss the other Clio's concern.
"I don't see why she wouldn't approve... these are great figures in history. Numa Pompilius was said to be a very pious man. But I don't really... know your mistress' taste."
“I’ve heard about that, I think. I don’t know why though… It sounds like you do, Septima?”
Spetima knelt down to get a better angle as she watched the scarab slowly work its way along the flower bed, rolling the ball of manure along. She noted Lexus question in the background, though.
"I do " she admitted, as if it had been obvious "Sol, or Ra as they call him, the Sun, is rolled along by a scarab in the sky. The beetle is a symbol of time and rebirth. The pharaohs of old were buried with scarab amulets." she mused about the distant world of the gods she worshiped "I wish I could go to Egypt one day. I'm a follower of Isis, but I have never been there. Look, Lexus! This beetle is doing a really great job..."
"A surprise indeed. It is an apt name for you, domina, with your knowledge of such stories. For me, not so much, but nobody ever bothered to change it."
Ah, there it was. Septima noted that this other Clio probably had another name, a name she used to wear before she became a slave, maybe, or the name a previous owner gave her. She sometimes wondered what it would be like to be given a name one did not choose. She did not feel it was appropriate to ask about that.
"Do you think these 'Parallel Lives' can be bought a pair at a time?... I heard the tale of the Argonauts many times in my childhood, but somehow it was always a bit different every time. It would be nice to have a definitive version, I think."
"As much as Apollonius of Rhodes can be called a definitive version... he crammed way too many people into one ship" Clio smirked, one of the little literary inside jokes no one around her tended to understand except for her granfather. She browsed the shelves, looking at scrolls of Parallel Lives. Some were quite small and thin; she suspected those were the abridged editions of one pair each.
"Domina, how do you know where to find what you seek?"
"Practice" Septima admitted, pulling some of the scrolls from the shelves. If the other Clio had done it, the bookseller might have intervened, but Septima was one of the best customers of the shop, and they knew she could be trusted. "I come here a lot." she added, offering some of the smaller scrolls for Clio to inspect "Here. Parallel Lives, in Greek. This one too. Theseus and Romulus... Lycurgos and Numa Pompilius. That sounds interesting."
It occurred to Septima that it may have been insensitive to ask about Lexus' prospects. Maybe what he wanted to do was not attainable to him. He wasn't a slave, but that didn't mean he wasn't in some position where gardening was the best he could hope for. Spetima mentally chided herself for the question.
"I'm maybe not sure, now I think about it. I would love to learn properly how to read and write and maybe do something... important, sometime. Or I could join the military, but I don't know if I have the skills. But for now, I am learning about gardens."
Reading and writing. It was natural to Clio, but she had been an exception, compared to many other people in Rome. She only had vague ideas about what it took to succeed in the military. Lexus seemed very young to go into battle... "Gardens are fascinating" she noted lightly as she crouched down among the flowers. Lexus didn't follow her; she was not sure whether he was trying to keep watch, or simply did not see the point.
"Any catarpillars here? Or anything else that's interesting?"
"Some rose beetles" Clio observed with a smile, noting the early visitors to the gardens "Oh, a scarab! They must have put out fresh dung." she noted, crouching down to watch the beetle push a small ball along. "You know, in Aegyptus they are sacred to the Sun..."