“May I?” the man said and Nymphias nodded her head, crouching down felt rather uncomfortable, feeling every bit like a toad. The moment he showed her the bronze coin, her mind went swimming elsewhere, even if she fought to pay attention. “Quadruplets,” said quietly Nymphias with a nod of her head. She didn’t know what a “prow of a galley” was but took his word for it so she nodded again.
And then the rest of what he said made little sense to her, she phased out. Numbers and coins were not her forté, sewing, dancing, and pretty things were. If one looked at Nymphias, she would have been noticeably bored out of her mind but trying to pay attention for her own sake. It was important to know Roman coins and handling money in general.
“Four quadruplets are same one asses,” said Nymphias with a nod of her head a third time. But then her mind wandered elsewhere and blurted out: “Are you in love with my sister? Do you have woman you love?” Was it improper to ask such things? But love was such a fun topic to her, not coins and surely they were finished talking about coins?
The world glowering escaped Nymphias’ understanding but the rest of the woman’s words made some sense to the girl. Raise one’s voice, speak up, stand straight, stop looking so hurt all the time, Romans really did think they knew everything about life. Her domina, as well as the rest of adult Rome, knew next to nothing about life at large, being cushioned by riches and touching shoulders with polite society. And still Nymphias listened because no matter how old she felt, she was really just a child still and looked at everyone else older than her to tell her what to do and how to think. Nymphias let out a sigh, perhaps it was her who knew next to nothing.
“I don’t have tears to wipe off,” explained Nymphias, her hands gestured at her eyes which were completely dry, no matter who sullen she looked otherwise. She cried going to bed, waking up, and looked a little lost when out of the domus, simply because she was a young girl trying to make sense of everything and survive.
“You say you want bounce ideas with me,” said Nymphias. She hoped she would be able to prove her worth. The faster she did that, perhaps the faster the family would free her. “I am very good with ideas. I have a lot of… image in my head.”
He had a way of making her feel desirable without even offering him her body. He didn’t seem to mind that she was not yet ready for such an endeavour with him and with the way he brushed her hair, she blushed, more than she had ever blushed before. Her stomach twisted in knots and she began to relax again. She lowered her head shyly, absolutely captivated and eating every single world he said.
It wasn’t that she did not want to go further when Helios, more that she wasn’t ready. She needed womanly wisdom, the advice of an older and much more experienced woman. Someone who would tell her what to do and what to say when she did get to that point. She didn’t want to disappoint.
“I like the kissing and I like being with you,” she admitted. She could awkwardly admit it ten times over and feel the exact same way every time. “But when we… It will be very special. I want to cherish you too.” She then wrapped her arms around his head, hugging him closely. In her mind, they were destined to be together forever. “Thank you, Helios. You are most thoughtful man in Rome.” Erea, or now Charis, would love him, Nymphias thought.
Nymphias worried for the boy. What if the charioteer was mean to him? Her domine never was cruel, nor was his wife but they were stern and had many rules that made very little sense to Nymphias. If she ever had the ability to write in Latin, or at all, she’d have made a very long list of their rules and read each and every one of them back, just to show them how stupid they sounded.
But then she noticed Azarion look her up and down before chuckling. Nymphias breathed out of her nose like a horse. Was the charioteer, right? Was Azarion flirting with her? When she wasn’t moping, she liked to delve into her imagination where half the men of Rome were fighting for her affections but she wanted to be ever faithful to the radiant Helios, who she’d just met and barely knew as a result.
Then he pointed down at his ankles, showing her a tattoo on his calf. She tilted her head, trying to get a good look at it.
“Did you get hurt?” she said, believing that was what he was trying to say. She hadn’t seen him twist his ankle but then again, she’d been flat on her bottom and terrified. “What if you tell the man that you try saving me? And that your ankle hurt trying to saving me. Maybe he will be not more angry but less.”
Nymphias squinted, looking past the crowd to see an older man communicating with another man. Well, Nymphias had “time” before she was to head back but she didn’t want to, simply because she’d made a grave mistake again. If only she paid attention to her surroundings more and was less gullible, she thought. She tried to imagine herself like her domina, Valeria Flacca, sitting reclined and being all smart… but then Nymphias’ nose wrinkled, she’d be stealing people’s hairs and making them look like bald, naked baby rats.
Perhaps because she was buying her own time, before Betua tore off her ears, or evading the walk of shame back to her masters’ home, she chose to have the other girl serve as a good distraction from her own melodrama.
“Do your master ever try to take your hair from you?” said Nymphias curiously. It had be a common experience, it couldn’t be her domina talking about it as she eyed Nymphias’ hair like a hungry beast.
Rufus squatting down made him look like on of the frogs Nymphias tried catching when she was a lot younger. Being as young as she was, she tried not to laugh at the thought. She told herself to be serious and to pay attention. The faster she learned, the better it would be for her in the long run. She squatted down next to Rufus, enjoying the temporary shade that the wall provided. She opened up her purse slowly and showed him what was in there.
“What do I know already?” she said. “Nothing.” She had to be honest. If she wasn’t, she would never learn. She recognised the coins, some of the names but placing the names and how they looked together was not a simple task for her. Money bored her. She much preferred sewing and making things, that required a certain amount of attention and discipline but also creativity, which was more her strong suit.
“This one is…asses?” she said pointing to one of the coins, she’d heard him say it earlier. “It sound like funny word.”
She had been on the ground, seeing the side of the horse and Azarion on top of it, until the charioteer from earlier lifted her up, speaking to her. Her reaction to him was as emotional as a tree stump, from falling and the man holding her, she became a little shy and awkward. What came next sounded almost like scolding. Flirting? Where’d he get that idea? Nymphias’ cheeks turned red and her brows creased. She couldn’t flirt to save her life. Embarrassed, she followed Azarion quietly. The man’s arms were folded and he watched them, eyes boring into the back of their heads. If anything made her feel like a child, it was this.
“He seem really angry,” said Nymphias awkwardly when they were a considerable distance away, her motions stiff from her nerves getting the better of her. The charioteer didn’t seem the angriest but it still made Nymphias nervous for Azarion nonetheless. What would the charioteer say? What would he do to him? “He won’t… hit you? If he does, I will hit him.” She couldn’t even hurt a fly and her going against anyone of a higher station than herself was a laugh. She’d faint within two seconds. “But you were very brave person for going on top horse. You are braver than Romans.”
Titus suddenly disappeared, leaving her with the other two. She hadn’t told him to leave the room but he did so anyways. She made a tutting noise to those who were left behind with her, folding her arms and tapping her fingers against her arm as she waited for him to return. She hummed a tune, slow and deliberately unpleasant as to make the others know she wasn’t at all happy. She was about to say something about Porcus dirtying the room with his piss but then Titus returned and she’d forgotten all about her anger, instead her attention was on the melon.
She hoped the melon being placed on his head would cause Porcus’ neck to strain and crush his skull. Sadly, it did no such thing. She watched silently, almost bored. That, of course, changed once Titus lifted the knife and threw the knife. The moment Porcus let out a wail, Nymphias cackled loudly and hysterically, holding her stomach as her cheeks turned red with mirth.
Nymphias wiped her eyes. “Again,” she said like a child demanding for another round of tickles. “But this time Valeria joins you. You both should compete against one another to hit that melon. Come on, Valeria, you’ve not said a word for a while, you’re simply standing there stunned and quiet. It’s boring. Why? Join in on the fun or you’ll take Porcus’ place.”
Porcus was covered in not only his own urine but his blood also, his hair greasy and his face riddled with tears. He was blubbering, muttering under his breath a hopeful “please, domina.” But Nymphias didn’t listen. After all, Porcus looked like a pathetic fool and was sodden with his own filth, it disgusted her. She could smell it all the way from where she was sitting, having pushed herself up from the reclining chair. Porcus, as if he had enough of this shit, stumbled from where he was and tossed the melon onto the ground where it splattered. Nymphias wished that had been the man’s skull instead. She gasped as if his actions were shocking.
His lips nipped at her jaw, moving downwards to her throat and she could feel his breath tickle her skin. She let him kiss her and it was a new sensation for her. Her stomach fluttered and she grew warm, not just at her cheeks but all over, as his lips touched her. His hand slid up her thighs from under her clothes and at this point, she turned a little nervous and almost stone-like. She didn’t think herself ready for anything too explicit, merely because she hadn’t done anything like it before, and for whatever reason, seemed to strain and worry.
Feeling his lips against hers again, it took the air out of her and she thought her heart was about to drop with how fast it was beating. It was all very daunting, strange, exciting, and difficult all at once. And while she was convinced that Helios loved her and she loved him, it was all an act of love, she had to push Helios’ hand from her thigh and break the kiss. She took in deep breaths and pondered on what to say exactly about what she just did. She didn’t want him angry with her for ruining what was otherwise a lovely moment. The hand caught her off guard, that was all.
“Sorry,” said Nymphias quietly, voice trailing slightly.
Nymphias eyed Clio’s eyes curiously with a concentrated expression, her eyes practically boring into the other woman’s face. Nymphias began to wonder how she would look like with such a thing on her eyes and since they were in a little market area, Nymphias then wondered if there would be some of what Clio had on her eyes present there. She looked around, bright-eyed and thrilled, mostly forgetting about the strange man who had before been following her. It would certainly cover the redness around her eyes that came about every time she cried. And she cried a lot.
“Oh, no,” she said absent-mindedly as she searched around for something, anything, that looked like what was on Clio’s eyes. “Was this person a man or woman? Was their name Erea?” Nymphias still had yet to find her family at this point but hoped both her brother and sister were well. She was worried they were enslaved too or worse, dead. The not knowing was what ate at her, though she doubted she would survive if either one or both of them were dead. She was barely surviving as is.
She noticed a pile of what looked like black powder to her and pointed to it. “Is that what you have on your eyes?” said Nymphias. “I want some too, I want to look like you with your eyes.”