One of them. So the Gods had blessed this monster with more than one child, whilst hers lay dead and cold without her. Where was the Gods mercy? Their sense of righteousness? But as he leaned closer she felt herself flinch backwards, as if her body was involuntarily afraid of another hit, physical or verbal. Confusion crossed her face, genuinely dazed at the intonation she would do anything; "I...I wouldn't, s-she's a child." She replied in Latin. It didn't dawn on her that in years gone by, she would have caused mothers pain. The raids she had helped organise that stripped the life from Romans, the slaves she separated for her own household...but that was different, she would never, herself, cause pain to a girl or boy.
As the little girl spoke again, Zia raised her fingers self consciously to try and wipe away the blood that smeared her lips but she must be talking about the blossoming bruise across one side of her jaw, and the rapidly forming one on the other side. "I-I did. Too many bl-blueberries." She said to the girl, swallowing and looking up at Titus as if for affirmation. She felt so...defeated. So destroyed, she didn't have the fight in her for a witty retort.
Instead she just looked up at him with red eyes and mumbled; "I need to wash and sleep...please." Her time in the camp had hardly been restful and the ache between her thighs only compounded the pain of her jaw and the hollowness that seeped in and pooled in her stomach. There was no fight left in her, for now.
Zia's mouth filled with blood as she bit down on her tongue - mid speech - at his punch. The blow sent her stumbling until she sat back in the dust of the compacted dirt courtyard, blinking against the pain and shock. It occurred to her that he had never directly, physically hurt her and she had bet on the fact he wasn't the type to - rather he seemed a man to outsource misery; one could sleep soundly at night if they weren't themselves raping a woman, but instead allowed a horde of legionaries to. Not that it mattered much, the ache of her jaw and tongue as she spat blood into the dirt was a minor pain compared to the despair eating away at her.
Fury well and truly dampened like a flame and wet fingers, she instead retook to crying. Her shoulders jerked uneasily as she sat crumpled in the dust, tears streaming down her cheeks. Her voice - hoarse and speech lisped at the bite on her tongue was pathetic; "He was a boy..." Was all she could muster, sobbing to herself. He was a boy, a sweet, utterly innocent child who was now as cold as marble and alone. The thought of him, afraid, calling for his mama in his last breaths sent her head into her hands, wracked with pain. And now she would't even be able to see him, to say goodbye.
The pitter patter of childish feet didn't rouse her, nor did the 'ouch'. Her head lay crumpled in her hands, shoulder shaking. When finally she did look up, at the sound of childish curiosity and a "Papa, who is that?" She found herself at the receiving end of a finger thrust in her general direction. It was a little girl, of an age similar if not identical to her sons. Fortunately for Zia, the blonde haired little girl looked nothing like her son and that was a small mercy - lest she think for a moment that it had been some horrible mistake and Luto was standing before her.
Turning bloodshot, watery eyes up to Titus - still standing above her she sighed with crumpled features and spoke quietly, resigned, in Dacian; "Your daughter?"
Mid February 75AD
Zia glowered at those she met on her walk. The meeting with Diegis had not gone well. Well, the first part - a hurried greeting and then a heady, lust filled few minutes up against the wall of the room assigned to him were excellent but the conversation that followed had riled her beyond her usual irritability. Whilst she saw her husband far more than she saw her son, it did not stop the meetings descending into petty squabbles. She'd seen the way he glanced at the girls as they walked to his room and the way he talked with such animation about his new role. She had snapped, exclaiming that he seemed to be enjoying his life of slavery and his stuttered denial had ended with her throwing a half-cup of sour wine over his face and leaving the building in a storm of fury. She'd send a message by some stupid, gullible slave, with an apology at some point. But not yet. Now she needed to stew in her anger.
The walk back to his domus, her newfound home was long and her feet were already aching. Even her anger wasn't enough to carry her through and with a mumble of discontent, she stopped to rest against a building. Swatting some of her loose - dishevelled hair from her face (those few minutes of passion had suitably destroyed her respectability) and pulling at the itchy, plain tunica she huffed. Even in winter, Rome was unbearably hot to her and the irritation she felt at that moment wasn't helping.
She heard footsteps to her left and before she had a chance to caution the person, their sandalled foot stomped down on her toes. She let out a yowl of pain, and without stopping she snapped, standing to her full height; "Watch where you are going you cretin." She glared. It was something she had said, in such a tone, hundreds of times when she had her own slaves, when few men and fewer women outranked her but now she was the lowest of the low, and after blinking she realised that such a tone, such a statement was entirely inappropriate. Swallowing her anger and her biting comments she dipped her head, "Apologies." She said with a sigh, "It hurt."
To Zia, the earth was spinning out of control; slipping out from under her feat, whirring past her head at speeds incalculable and the only thing that remained solid in her field of vision was him. Him. She fell to her knees on the packed dirt, her tunica dirtied beyond its already sad state as she placed her palms into the mud and wept. Her sobbing was so inconsolable that for a brief moment - not that she heard it - the sounds emanating around her stopped as slaves paused their tasks to look out on the scene in the courtyard with a mix of curiosity and concern. "Y-You promised." She spat through her sobbing, and finally turned a tear streaked face up at him.
Whilst usually a master of restraint, every aspect of her life carefully planned and orchestrated with detailed planning, the guttural pain that felt like a white hot sword through her stomach was too much for her. Without thinking, she pushed herself up from the dirt and closed the gap between her and Titus. Whilst shorter - she was nonetheless statuesque for a woman and could meet his eyes. She moved to firmly push him back, wide hazel eyes desperate but filled with an uncontrollable agony.
"HE WAS A BOY." She shoved him again, as much as her slight frame would allow, her voice commanding and gathering strength. The noises around them stopped again as slaves stopped to observe. "He was my son, he was four." She spat her words at him and didn't move to wipe her eyes which were still streaming tears. She didn't notice that she was already talking about her son, her precious little Luto in the past tense.
"I...I need to see him, where is he?" The desperation in her voice was stinging.
She curled her lip in revulsion at his jibe. Although she supposed it was better he thought her used up in that capacity than the reverse. She honestly couldn't imagine anything worse than being led prone under his sweaty form as he pounded away. Well, besides perhaps Lurius who had been a frequent visitor and on two occasions had caused her to violently wretch after the act.
What she hadn't been expecting, however, was his very obvious irritation at being called his name. She couldn't help the smile on her lips, even as the threat left his own and she only held up her hands as in mock defence, "I thought it was your name!" She explained in Latin, feigning ignorance (although the mischievous glint in her eye and smirk on her lips told otherwise). "The other girls used it when they were talking about you, so I just assumed." Good. Let him wonder just what the camp whores said about him. "What is your name? If you don't wish me to call you..." She narrowed her eyes, enjoying every second of this, "That."
But as the conversation rolled onto the news he so clearly wished to impart into her, she found herself folding her arms over her chest almost protectively - a barrier to keep him out, even if his words got in. A household slave. She couldn't, much as she might like to, mask the disgust that extended over her features. Not two months ago she'd had her own slaves, a whole menagerie of them, and now she was to take their place. If they could hear this, she was under no illusion that they would have been delighted and gleeful. That Diegis was going with her was an enormous relief and despite him saying there was no hope for a reunion, she was a woman of ways and means. She frowned though, although concern lingered for her cousin Tarbus, there was a bigger omission in the names he listed (or failed to). She ignored his jibe about her again and waved a hand as if dismissing him, before it returned to fold across her chest. She felt the molten hot weight of dread sink like a stone in her stomach as she ventured; "And the bad news?"
Zia blinked around the courtyard of the villa, taking it in. After a month and a bit of living in a dark, muddy tent and the camp this place - whatever it was - looked like a palace to her. She'd not been told where she was going but she had a strong suspicion. She was glad of the use of the cart that had brought her here; the soldiers who had accompanied her evidently understanding that her wobbly legs after weeks of sitting (or lying) still and the trek to villa would take her far too long. Still, the relief of being pulled via cart didn't much help her appearance. Gone were the ornate jewels and fine dress, instead she had been given a tunica that resembled a sack far more than a dress, itch included. Her hair was matted and an ugly blue bruise spread across her jaw to her split lip from a particular legionary who took her submission as a challenge rather than a given.
When the Roman whose name she'd been able to establish through conversation with the other girls, was Titus...something, appeared she stood up a bit straighter. The weeks led on her back had been hard, emotionally and physically (the ache between her thighs hadn't dissipated despite the cart ride) but she was still Zia, and she was still proud.
She only stared him down as he spoke and arched a brow at his jibes. Speaking in Dacian she shrugged her shoulders, "Ah well, it is easy to please when their cocks are the size of my finger." That might have been a touch too far but she wasn't about to take a knee for him or mutter placidly and she was determined to not show just how hard it had been on her, even if the slight unsteadiness on her feet and the tightening of her bruised jaw was a sign it had been. If he wanted to needle her, then she'd do so back. Still, as she surveyed the courtyard as he spoke she waved a hand, "The good please, Titus."
Zia lay prone in the mud, mouth open in shock, feeling the colour rise in her cheeks. She lay there for a moment, gathering her mental fortitude and listening to the laughs echoing around her from the men that milled about in the camp. Unsteadily, she pushed herself up, her hands slipping in the mud until she was kneeling. She felt humiliated, but most of all she was furious. Nobody humiliated Zia, daughter of Brindis, Chief of the Appuli, wife of Diegis. At least they never used to. She wiped her muddy hands on the back of her dress, mercifully still clean, and then set about removing as much of the rancid muck from her mouth and face as she could. She paid no attention to Titus beyond shooting a glower up at him as he asked her name. "Zia." She spat back at him, literally, trying to remove the mud from her lips.
But the second time he spoke, she couldn't help the quizzical frown that creased her brow as she looked, panicked, between the hideous little man and the Roman who had humiliated her. "Wh...what?" Her eyes widened a little and she fought, hard, the urge to bolt. There was nowhere to run. She had anticipated death, she had not anticipated being cast as a whore. He was good, she begrudgingly admitted, he evidently knew what she would find the most repulsive, the hardest thing to endure. "And if I refuse?" She choked out, but the ramifications were implicit and she regretted asking; undoubtedly Luto would be in for it, as would Diegis and herself.
Lurius, undeterred by the panic in her eyes and her stubbornness in refusing to stand, yanked her up by her arm which made her wince, and started pushing her towards a cluster of tents a little way off. When there - she wobbled a little on the spot as she was summarily stripped of her valuables and dress, before a hastily fetched bucket of water was dumped over her in an effort to rid her of the mud. Whilst she stood there chattering but at least clean, the men in the tent set to counting out the value of her jewellery. She glanced to the flap of the tent, open and fluttering in the wind and wondered how far she'd get before they caught up with her. She'd hardly be a subtle absconded - naked and female - and the thought ended almost as soon as it begun. Keep going for Luto, you have to do this for Luto.
With that in mind, she let herself be pushed down to the floor by Lurius once the others had left, and screwed her eyes shut, trying desperately to think of happier times.
She listened to him, the muscles in her jaw and neck working as she grit her teeth. Gods this man was insufferable. She tried to let the dismissiveness of his words and tone roll off of her, but at his affirmation she would not be seeing her son, her face fleetingly fell into despair. Whilst she was largely angry now rather than upset, any mention of poor little Luto felt like hands squeezing her heart like a vice. "If you break your word..." She muttered with a glare, her eyes flashing with danger. The rest of the threat was left unsaid but he should be under no pretence that if even one hair on his head was broken, she'd make sure he suffered to his very last breath.
Still not understanding his plan, given it seemed completely nonsensical to her (why take captives if you wanted submission? What use would that serve in the domination of the free survivors of her tribes?) she reluctantly glanced at the opening at the tent at his barked command.
Pushing her hair over her shoulder, she took her time to adjust the fine dress she'd donned for the festivities last night (which was now, to her displeasure, streaked in the mud and grime of the camp). At least the ornate jewellery she wore around her throat and wrists - given her position in the tribe - was still gleaming in the dim light of the tent. She had been surprised they had yet to be confiscated, but it had only been a few hours since the late night raid and she suspected, with annoyance, that they'd be adorning some ugly little Roman woman by the close of the day.
Hesitantly, but trying to hide her nerves, she move to stride out of the tent, letting the flap hit Titus behind her as she did so. What was the meaning of this? Walking to her death, probably, but why toy with her so if that was the case? She mustered up enough courage to look unphased as she blinked into the early morning light. She'd go to her Gods with strength and pride, not cowering and afraid. At least that was the plan, she couldn't help the flutter of her heart against her chest. She tried to ignore the grunt of, "Oi, oi!" as she stood waiting for direction.
Zia's shoulders slumped a little as he agreed to her terms, partly in relief and partly out of defeat. For all her intelligence she had never foreseen (or at least not contemplated seriously) that there would come a time where she willingly made a deal with a Roman. she had always hoped they'd win, disrupting the Roman's occupation to the point they withdrew. And if they didn't succeed? She always thought she'd have the strength to end her own life before allowing herself to be forced into this position. What she had not factored into her planning, of course, was that deeply primal urge of motherhood. Her little Luto had never been threatened before and she'd never have to consider how it would make her feel. She felt humiliated, that it had impacted her quite so much, but Diegis would understand. Luto was his heir, and whether this Roman understood it or not, their people would consider him their leader years after she, her husband and even the Roman himself was dead and buried. He needed to be preserved, at all costs.
Eyeing him, she scoffed and folded her arms over her chest defensively. "You know what you will do with me already." She shook her head as she spoke in accented, but good Latin, "You play games with captives to make yourself feel important, that is not the sign of a powerful man." She added with revulsion.
But a thought entered her mind and she tipped her head to the side, studying him. "You have my submission - you'll have my husband's but it means nothing if you keep us here." She shrugged her shoulders and tapped her fingers against her folded arms, "What point is there in getting the submission of captives? If you want my," She hesitated before adding, "My husband's people to stop then you need to put him back with his people." She swallowed and added, "And I want to see my son. To ensure his welfare." She didn't trust this tosser as far as she could throw him and as much as the thought made bile rise in her throat, her son could already be dead and cold. If the tables had been turned, and she had been stood there so imperiously, this one's children would already be in the afterlife and she'd not have hesitated even a moment.
Zia had to concentrate on his words. The blood humming in her veins and the furious beating of her heart almost drowned him out. Submission. It was an almost alien word to her. She'd been born into the lap of luxury (by Dacian standards at least) and her father had encouraged and indulged her intrigues and schemes. The first years of her marriage had been difficult and fraught with fiery tempers, but come the last few years her husband never asked for her submission. And now she had to give it, to a man that had dragged her son away as if he were a child's doll.
Her mind fleetingly went back to the knife. She could, perhaps, reach it before he stopped her. She supposed even a small incision into her throat would do the trick, or one quick thrust through her chest. The idea that she could use it against him was expunged; to take her own life was honourable, to die nailed to a cross choking and suffocating was not. But then what of Diegis? What of Luto, if he had not already been dispatched? The latter was the only thing that made her hesitate.
It had been several minutes of quiet contemplation when she finally spoke again. This time, she spoke in Latin; surely a positive sign for him. "Yes." She said with a lump in her throat which she could barely swallow, but reached down a hand to push herself up on wobbly legs. When she was at her full height she swayed, almost as if drunk, as if the raw emotion in her was making her quiver. "If Luto lives, you have my submission and you will have my husbands." Diegis would listen to reason. There would be opportunities, ways to make them pay. But what would be the point if his heir was dead and buried? Her mind worked over all the possible outcomes of this, and settled on that submission was the only option should he agree to her terms. "You keep him safe and," She shrugged her shoulders and sighed with a slump, "You have the Ratacenses. You agree?" She eyed him, fury mixed with complete and utter desolation. But beneath it, there was a fire. She would find a way out of this, for everybody.