So this utterly unreadable man was going through a world of trouble for a merchant he had no connection to? It beggared belief. Who cared if it was not right? Or if she moved on to more valuable objects? Safinia wasn't stealing from him. Groaning in frustration, she closed her eyes tightly, wanting to ignore his presence for a second and wishing he had disappeared when she opened them again. No such thing happened, naturally.
She wondered why he was so intent on saving her from a life of petty crime. Guilt over past events, or some sort of projection? She would have to ask Bassus about when this whole thing was over. Bassus was a braggart, but he knew a lot about people. "What makes you think I would do this again?" Safinia asked, brow furrowed in suspicion. Had he spotted her before?! But as the man spoke on, it did not seem that way.
By the gods, what a preposterous idea! And yet, Safinia had to admit it was a clever one. She had been had. If she refused his proposal, he would know she had not stolen the little box to make money out of it, but for other purposes. Merda. After a few moments' silence, Safinia acquiesced with a heavy sigh. "All right." She would have to come back another day - though when that would be, with her leg in this state, was anyone's guess. Maybe she could fool Azarion into acquiring a pyxis for her, if he was sent on errands. "I... don't understand. Why would you use your own coin for this? And why do you care if I live a life of crime or not?" She shook her head, uncomprehending. "You don't know me, I don't know you. So why?"
If Safinia was somehow earning the man's pity, she was having a world of trouble figuring it out. He wasn't particularly easy to read, this one, nor was she particularly skilled at it; it was more like the opposite. It left her in a bit of a predicament, but she decided to ride it out and try to gauge his reaction.
Ugh, so self-righteous. He didn't appear to be rich, yet here he was spouting all that preachy nonsense as though he were above such things. Who had appointed him to the cohortes urbanae, or given him the impression that he was one of them? "It's not yours either," Safinia retorted, eyes flashing in irritation. He probably just wanted it for himself! "I can't work like this, I can't stand long enough or move fast enough. And my arm's bad too." She felt like batting his hand away, but he might seize the chance to grab her and do the gods knew what to her. Taking it was entirely off the table too, so she just started contemptuously at it.
"The point? What point is there to living if you can't even afford food or shelter? With this coin I could buy food or maybe even see a doctor. Then I could be strong enough to work. Don't go assuming things just because you're healthy!" Was it even possible to be so pigheaded? "Why are you so concerned about this, anyway? The merchant your father or boss or something?" she questioned angrily, tucking a wisp of dark hair behind her ear.
Bollocks, all of it. Even the man's compliment on her looks did nothing to soothe Safinia's suspicions - words were cheap and easily twisted, anyway. "That's what it sounded like," she deadpanned, every bit still as wary of him as a minute prior. With tense shoulders she listened to his words, realisation slowly sinking into her. He just would not let this up. His reasons were obscure, but his determination was clear as day. Sensing defeat, Safinia sighed pitifully.
"I was... going to sell it. To buy food," she started in a morose tone. Sell such a pretty little thing? Never! But the man didn't need to know that. If her act was good enough, perhaps he would let her walk away with it. "I lost my home in the earthquake." That was true, although thanks to the boss's generosity Safinia had shelter at the stables. "And I lost my family too..." Years ago, more than once, and in unrelated events, but this nosy man didn't need to know that either.
"You see how I am now," she gestured down at her bad leg, hoping it would elicit some pity from him. "There are no other options." Thousands of petty thefts occurred in Rome every day; why was the man so hung up on this exact one? Jupiter should strike him down with a thunderbolt right then and there, but clear as the sky was, there seemed to be little chance of that. "The merchant had so many of them. He won't miss one of the cheapest."
There was no way out of this supremely unpleasant situation, it seemed. Chances were the man wasn't bluffing either and had in fact seen her take the small box. Forced to change strategy, Safinia schooled her face into what she hoped was an apprehensive, somewhat despairing expression - the look of someone who had had no choice but resort to petty thievery. Hopefully she had practised it enough that he would fall for it.
She shook her head as he came closer, but didn't break eye contact. Whilst it was nice of him to keep his hands where she could see them, his face would be more useful in letting her know if she was fooling him or not. "What options?" Safinia questioned him, clicking her tongue. "I don't see a lot of them when you're poor and crippled. Or are you suggesting becoming a prostitute is this 'better option' you speak of?" The accusation dripped from her lips like acid, the possibility forming inside her head at the same time as she spoke it into existence. It wouldn't be the first time a young woman of limited means was coerced into working at one of the dreariest brothels... Could those be the man's intentions? Her blue eyes bore onto him, determined not to miss a beat.
Numa's balls, it was looking like he might have seen her after all. Was this man some hired muscle for the pyxis merchant, even if he didn't look all that muscly? He could also be an opportunistic thief that took others' bounty by means of intimidation... or just some righteous sod. To his credit, though, he didn't step any closer and stayed where he was, although Safinia would have been exceedingly easy prey in her state.
"The only one trying to stir up trouble here is you," she hissed back at him, a deep wrinkle appearing between her brows as she frowned. For once, Safinia wished Azarion had come with her: with the way he was so easily distracted, he would have had no trouble getting this man to leave. Alas, she was alone and thus would have to rely on the man's wits as well as her own. "Leave me alone or I'll start screaming." It was a quieter spot they found themselves in, but not entirely devoid of passers-by; if she made a ruckus, somebody would probably come to investigate.
How a mute boy managed to come across as that derisive was something that bewildered Safinia for an instant, but the thought quickly left her mind as it instead focused on what Azarion was communicating. Oh right, the tattoo from his people. So it seemed like they used that sort of bow, and that had made him nostalgic. Too bad nostalgia emerged as a propensity to show off under unfavourable circumstances that almost got them beaten to a pulp and with all the money gone.
Frowning slightly at her companion, Safinia shrugged as if saying 'so what?'. The past was in the past: Azarion was an apprentice charioteer no, now a hunter. He had no use for bows. "If you'd tried to buy it from the gladiator with the faction's money because you were feeling homesick I would've been more understanding. Did you think he was just going to let us walk away unscathed after you embarrassed him in front of all those people?" Gods, if she had had her rolling pin on her, she would have whacked Azarion hard on the head with it to knock some sense into him.
The murmur of people coming and going grew louder as they walked on, signalling the proximity of the market that had been their original destination. Safinia took notice of it and eyed Azarion sternly as she patted the money pouch and made the coins clink. "Don't you dare try to use this money to buy a bow now."
The man came closer - too close. His brown eyes did not scream aggression, but it was human nature for most women to be wary of such encounters. Going by his clothes and overall appearance, he seemed to be of Safinia's ilk, which was to say dirt poor. So why was he interested in her? Her eyes flashed in annoyance at his words, but she tried hard to keep her features schooled in the same scornful look as before.
"What are you talking about? Took what from where?" Lying was so easy, and always worth a shot. Perhaps he was just bluffing and used this trick on every helpless girl he came across. Safinia made her hands stay where they were, one on her hip and the other flat on her chest like when she had been catching her breath, successfully fighting the instinct to bring them to her purse; that would have given her away.
And if he wasn't bluffing, well... She would make it up as she went along.
The big earthquake from a few weeks ago had brought much change to Safinia's life. First, the insula where she had rented a cheap room had crumbled. Second, it had begun to do so with her inside. Third, it had taken all her possessions with it when it became a pile of rubble, save for the threadbare tunic she had been wearing. Fortunately the boss had let her stay at the stables even though she hadn't been able to perform the tasks she had been employed for, and thanks to the precious downtime the ugly gash on her head had faded into a reddish scar, easily hidden by her dark hair. Most of the bruising had healed or was was well on its way to.
However, it was only now, over a month after the earthquake, that Safinia felt well enough to venture out and test her healing leg. It still hurt when she put weight on it, but it was bearable if she wobbled just so... Her limp - the unbeknownst product of an ugly fracture shoddily reset - was quite noticeable as she slowly weaved through the market stalls, the excuse the young woman had given the Whites as to why she was going to the market turning out to have a grain of truth in it. The main reason, however, was restarting her collection of trinkets. Years of effort had quite literally fallen to pieces in the blink of an eye... but there was no time like the present to do something about it.
Safinia browsed a pyxis stall, eyes wide at the sight of so many colourful boxes - some made of glass, others of painted clay, others of bone, and others yet of wood. The merchant paid her little attention, busy as he was attending to two well-dressed matrons and their equally dapper slaves, and she seized the opportunity to surreptitiously take a tiny blue and green glass pyxis from its rightful place and shove it quickly yet carefully into her purse. The absence of a commotion told her nobody had caught her in the act, and so Safinia limped away from the stall, feeling quite pleased with the day's catch. It was a worthy start to her new collection.
Now that her desire for beautiful things was quenched for the time being, she figured it would be wise to go back to the stables as quickly as possible in case the merchant noticed the missing item. Taking the long way around through a sea of stalls, Safinia was almost out of the market when her bad leg went on strike and refused to carry her any further, searing pain shooting through it with every attempt at another step. Left with no choice, she leant against a wall and took a few deep breaths, hoping she could be on her way again soon.
Suddenly an unfamiliar man stood there, looking at her. Why?
Maybe he was a thief, keen on taking advantage of a woman alone. She shot him a disdainful glare, as if telling him there was nothing on her worth stealing.
For some reason, Azarion didn't look like he was sorry anymore, not when he was rolling his eyes like that. That, in turn, annoyed Safinia, who returned the gesture with an eye roll of her own as they kept walking. "No, you did not look like you were thinking about anything at all," she deadpanned. Just the odd bow, as if he had been enchanted by it. Should she ask him about it?
They took a left and found themselves in a wider, noisier street, fortunately lacking any angry giants. Yes, Safinia decided, she would ask him about it. Keeping her pace, she shot Azarion a curious look before voicing her question. "What was up with that bow? The gladiator didn't seem happy you knew how to use it."
It seemed as though her words hurt Azarion, from the way he was reacting. The look he put on all of a sudden was unfamiliar to Safinia, but she had seen something like it on others before. It was the pain of being confronted with reality. On some superficial level she felt sorry for him for having his illusion finally shattered - but it was about time, and that was how she really felt deep down inside. At any rate, she wouldn't be the one musing on it on her cot at night.
As they reached the intersection Safinia popped her head round the corner and carefully looked about. No gladiators in sight: the coast was clear. She gestured for Azarion to follow and rounded the corner, scowling at her companion. "I'm not sure I believe that. Did you see the look on his face? You could have got us killed!" she bit back with rare emotion, throwing her hands up in the air.
That was enough scolding for the time being. She wasn't Azarion's boss, much less his mother, and his apologies wouldn't change what had happened. Safinia gave him a satisfied look and smirked wryly as they walked up the narrow street. "I thought charioteers had to focus on team work. Should you be acting on your own like that?"