Face ClaimNazanin Boniadi
Aglaea was still confused at her initial thought that this was Tertius. Was she losing her mind? But surely not. Now that she looked closer, he did somehow look like the man. Something in the face, the nose or the eyes maybe. The hair color? She realized she was being a little strange and shook herself out of it. "Goodness, that's not your fault. I was just so sure..." She laughed at herself a bit. "Forgive me for wasting your time." She was just turning to go, when he looked over her, asking whether she was alright and calling her some strange word she'd never heard before.
"K... kwena?" she asked, approximating the word as best as she could, though it was a poor imitation. "What does that mean?" In her interest in the word, she had forgotten to answer his previous question, though her answer would have been far from honest. She was very much not alright, but she'd gotten used to living in such a state. "Sorry - are you, by chance, a member of the family of my master, Secundus? You look quite a bit like him."
Aglaea smiled back as Livia did, noticing the way it didn't stick for very long. Smiles had a way of doing that in this household - appearing quickly and flitting away like frightened birds. "We can't have that happen," she said with a short laugh, referring to Livia becoming bald at the rough, inexperienced hands of Ursa. Aglaea was protective of her mistress in more ways than one, including her beauty. Livia was now suggesting that they tell Secundus now and Aglaea gave a shrug. "No time like the present, I suppose," she said. There was really no point in making him wait, especially since he would want an explanation for their earlier encounter.
She lifted herself off the floor, her knees aching from the pressure she'd put on them. "I hope you're right." The last thing she wanted was to continue going to Secundus's bed with Livia in the know, so she hoped that that would be a benefit to telling him. "Let's get you ready for the day," she continued gently, following her mistress into the room. With practiced hand guiding her back into a calmer state, she wrapped the stola around Livia and then helped her with her hair, noting a few broken strands from her tearing hands with a "tut tut." Finally, Livia was ready, dressed like a proper matron. It was time to face the master of the household.
Aglaea was still trying to recover from the events a few days prior. Finding out she was pregnant was one thing, but then having to tell her mistress that she had slept with her husband in order to bear him a child - well, it was quite another thing. Secundus had seemed pleased enough with the news. Livia had been right about another thing, too - the news that she was with child had gotten Secundus to leave her alone, having no reason to invite her to his bed now that his goal had been accomplished. However, her news had come with some other changes - Aglaea was now followed every time she left the house, regardless of her destination. It seeemd the father of her child wanted to be sure of her safety.
Today, Aglaea had ventured into the market for a few necessities of Livia's, particularly replacing her cosmetics that had run low recently. Livia entrusted such tasks only to her most seasoned servant and the Judean was just glad to escape the house, which had an oppressive air. She had still been contemplating what she should do about the situation - was it morally acceptable to bring a child into the house, knowing he or she would be raised by Secundus of all people? She knew she couldn't get rid of the child before it came, and she already felt such a connection to the life growing inside of her. As she listlessly perused the cosmetic stall for the products she needed, she glanced up to see a familiar profile.
Was that Tertius? Aglaea quickly purchased the items she had been holding and pushed through the crowd toward the man. That was what she needed - advice. And who better to give advice about such a situation than Tertius, a member of Secundus' family? "Dominus, may I have a word with--" She stopped as she drew closer, realizing her mistake with a touch of surprise. She had been sure that this man was Tertius. His profile had been so similar, but this clearly was a younger, different man. "Oh, my mistake. I thought you were someone else."
Aglaea felt a ghost of a smile flit across her face when Livia accepted the cloth and wiped her eyes with it, but it instantly fell when the tears arrived in her eyes again. "Please don't cry domina," she said quietly, a note of desperation. "I don't like to see you cry." She knew this was futile but it made her feel slightly better, even if she knew Livia had the right to cry about the whole mess. The Judean still felt guilt about not telling Livia, even if she believed it had been the right course of action. Her original plan, of letting Secundus's hopes be dashed until he gave up, hadn't worked, and now they were saddled with a much more delicate and dangerous situation.
Aglaea stared at Livia as she suggested she should not let the child grow up, an expression of hurt flitting across her face. It was the one option she would never consider. Already, she felt a responsibility to this child, to get it into the world so it had a fighting chance at a happy life... a life so unlike its mother led now. But Livia immediately backtracked, saying she hadn't meant it. Aglaea gazed down at her clasped hands before nodding at length. "I forgive you. I understand how painful this must be for you and I'm very sorry." Livia pulled at her hair again and, feeling a little safer in touching her mistress, Aglaea gently took her wrist in her hand and pulled it away from her head. "Don't do that, domina. You have the most beautiful hair." Her hand shifted to hold Livia's in hers.
Livia went on to suggest that she send Aglaea away for her pregnancy and the slave bit her lip, considering the possibility. But she was right - who would take her in for nine months, until she was unable to be useful? Her sister might have, at one point, but their relationship had been so strained recently, Aglaea doubted Horatia would want another slave in her household to care for. Then there was Livia's father, but again - Livia probably wasn't very fond of her father for putting Livia unwillingly into the marriage that had caused this situation in the first place. It seemed an untenable option.
"What, and leave foolish Ursa to comb your hair in the mornings? You know she yanks it horribly," Aglaea said with a slight twist in her mouth that spoke of a smile. She grew serious again as Livia asked her what she thought. "I'm not sure, domina. But I don't think we can hide it from Secundus very long anyway. Perhaps..." She sighed, throwing up her free hand in frustration. "We can't win, no matter how we slice it. Maybe a plan will come to us in time, but why hide it? Secundus will come to know eventually." She glanced at Livia again. "And we can't stay cooped up in here for very long. He'll want an explanation."
Aglaea cast her eyes down on the floor once she was done speaking, fully expecting to get slapped again. In the moment, she hadn't processed it, but now there was more quiet time she realized how much it had hurt - both physically and emotionally. She understood that Livia was upset with her, and she knew she deserved it. But slapping her for not coming to her? And the irony was that Aglaea had wanted to tell her more than anything. But what Secundus wanted in his domus, he got - Livia's ire, Aglaea's womb, his secret hypocrisy kept under wraps.
What did he expect to happen? Did he think that Livia would just go along with it, pretend the child was hers? And if so, were both women supposed to hide in the house for nine months so no one suspected? Aglaea nearly laughed at the absurdity of the situation.
She watched as Livia wiped her tears with the back of her hand, and she pulled out a handkerchief as a reflex of sorts. It seemed her servile nature never truly went away, no matter the situation. Sensing Livia's need for silence, though, she kept quiet, no matter how much she wanted to speak empty, comforting words to her, tell her it would be alright and that they would figure something out.
Finally, Livia spoke up again, her tone not much changed from before. She asked her slave whether Secundus had mentioned what he wanted to do with the baby when it came and Aglaea responded with a noncommittal shrug. "He said he wanted an heir," she said carefully. "I expect he wants to free him or her to have an heir, or at least an adopted daughter." She bit her lip, wondering whether she was brave enough to speak again. "I can't let a child grow up in this house, with that father. I just can't."
Aglaea's eyes were glued to her mistress as she finished talking, clouded with tears though her eyes were. But her eyes were not clouded enough not to notice that her mistress was on the verge of crying as well, or that she tore at her hair and began pacing around the room like a caged lioness, ready to murder. The slave couldn't take her eyes off of the other woman, frightened of what she would do. Even someone not as close to Livia as Aglaea was could see the turmoil inside of her, threatening to boil over. I did this to her, Aglaea thought hopelessly. How could I have done such a thing?
Hope filled her breast as Livia knelt down before her. Perhaps they could figure out what to do together - Aglaea had done so much to help Livia over the years, surely this was not so monumental that her friend and mistress couldn't help her. And she had so few friends to whom she could turn. But her hopes were soundly dashed as Livia raised her arm and struck her slave across the face. Shocked out of her tears, Aglaea was tossed to one side by the force of the blow, raising her hand to touch the stinging flesh in dismay. She didn't have long to recover, though, before Livia was shaking her, calling her foolish, saying she should have told her so that she could have bought enough for both of them.
As Livia fell silent in thought, Aglaea gazed at her in misery, feeling some ghostly sense of betrayal at her reaction, though the other part of her mind said that she deserved this, deserved everything Livia did to her. "You think I didn't want to tell you?" she asked quietly. "It was all I wanted, domina. I wanted to take comfort in knowing someone else knew. I was... I was trying to do what was best for everyone. I was trying to protect you." She touched her stinging cheek again and a few tears trailed down her cheek. "You were so distressed after Gnaeus's death, I knew you couldn't handle it - me telling you, or his coming to your bed. I was trying to protect you from him."
She gazed up at the ceiling in despair. "I thought... I thought maybe if he was disappointed for long enough he would divorce you and I could forget this ever happened. But he's so persistent," she said, her mouth screwed up in the effort to control herself. "He told me not to betray this secret. I feared what would happen if I did. And now it has happened and there's nothing I can do."
Then Livia spoke again, saying that she must tell Marcus. Aglaea caught herself before she scoffed aloud. Marcus. Aglaea didn't care for him, particularly, his being a member of this horrible family. But he gave Livia comfort, an escape. It was almost like what Aglaea's synagogue did for her - a balm on her soul, a place where she could be without thoughts of her situation and the consequences. But what could Marcus do about this situation? He was powerless against Secundus, everyone was.
What shall we do? asked Livia. Aglaea regarded her with measured caution, now she seemed calmed down, unsure of what exactly she meant by that. She had heard that some women, who didn't want their babies... what they did to rid themselves of them... The thought had never crossed Aglaea's mind, but now it did, she was horrified. The child had nothing to do with this problem - he or she was a result of it, but was an innocent player all the same. Almost unconsciously, she cradled her belly protectively, already feeling a motherly feeling similar to how she felt about Livia. "I don't know."
Aglaea didn't care that she seemed irrational or out of her mind. Quite frankly, she felt like she might as well be, and so decided to stick with her defiance. As Secundus's expression changed rapidly from shock, to fury, to calm (which she knew from experience was a farce), she stared him in the eye, her own expression cold and yet still furious. Her one defiant act couldn't be punished more harshly by being followed by another, more innocuous one. She listened to the spouses speak, holding her tongue for now, then watched as the man strode out of the room, like a rooster having put his hens in their places.
As the curtain fell still behind him, she let out a breath, quietly, not wanting to draw the attention back to herself again. But who else would it be on? It was she who had caused all this, and Livia would be expecting answers. She put her finger to her lips to signal Livia to be quiet, then beckoned her toward her own room, which was connected to Livia's by a curtain, but far enough away that they couldn't be overheard if they spoke quietly.
She invited Livia to sit on her bed, choosing the floor for herself, sitting on her bent legs in a pose that spoke of tension. She was silent for a time, not meeting her mistress's eye, trying to decide how to start. But, after a moment of quiet, she finally started. "Domina, there are... things that you do not know about me." She almost never used 'domina' when they were alone, so clearly she was serious. "And since you are going to find out sooner or later, I want you to hear them from me." She hesitated briefly again, but decided that all her truths should come out at once so that she could at least have a clear conscience.
"First, you know that I am a Hebrew. But there is a new cult, a sort of... offshoot from the Hebrew religion. I am a member. We are called Christians. I did not tell you this because members of my cult have been targets of some violence and even death... of course I trust you to keep my secret, but I feared that telling anyone would... desensitize me to the danger of that act. Please forgive me."
She stopped talking for a moment. That secret had not been as difficult to tell, as she was secure in her faith and prepared for the consequences of it. Her voice had been steady, as her tears had subsided after the exchange with Secundus. But now to the more difficult truths.
"I took your silphium, domina. It's because, since you married Secundus..." She stopped again, huffing in frustration. "He thought you would never want to bear him a child - he was right, of course. And he's so afraid of dying without an heir..." Aglaea seemed to draw herself up, calling upon her own strength. "So a few days after you were married, he came to me and asked me to take your place. He wanted me to bear him a son."
Here she stopped, her throat becoming thick with tears again. "Domina, the silphium didn't work. I won't need any more. I am pregnant."
This was too much. It really was. Aglaea had had a hard enough time coming to terms with telling just Livia about the silphium, and realizing that that meant the whole story would come out. Secundus bedding her since they had married, the child that was now growing inside of her because of that... It was enough to drive her to madness, thinking she'd done something so enormous, betraying her closest- and only- friend. But now, Secundus had to come in, sticking his nose in their business, bringing his wrath with him. Aglaea was completely at a loss for words.
She heard Livia speak through a haze of panic and fear, but they cut through and the tears finally spilled over, though she never stopped trying to fight them. "I'm sorry, domina, I'm so sorry," she said, her voice thick with tears. She had hurt her friend even with the admission of taking the silphium, not to mention everything that was sure to come out. Secundus spoke again and she looked up long enough to catch him with a look full of animosity. He was the cause of all this. Two years ago, she had been able to tell Livia anything. He had come between them like a wedge, driving them apart.
"I didn't lose anything, dominus," she said, not bothering to cover up her contempt anymore. She wanted to talk to Livia alone. They almost never got to be alone anymore, not truly. The house had too many eyes and ears, watching for any transgressions. "Please," she said, gaining at least a little control over her fury and her tears, "it is nothing you need to worry yourself over, dominus."
Aglaea was not a proselytizer, usually - not in words, anyway. She preferred to live her life as closely to the commandments as possible and let her actions speak for her. But she sensed that this man was searching for something - perhaps he was searching for a faith that could transcend anything. And Aglaea believed her faith could withstand anything. Perhaps she could teach him.
His words struck her. Murder was very clearly stated to be a sin, so her mind tussled with the problem for a few moments. Since she was a Christian, her main belief was that anyone who accepted Christ as their savior and who asked for the forgiveness of their sin could reach Heaven. But should she risk telling him that? He seemed so lost, as though the world had hurt him so much that he'd withdrawn within himself. Finally, she mustered up her courage. "Yes. I believe that anything can be forgiven. Even murder. But I haven't told you the whole truth about my faith..." She gazed at him, waiting to see his reaction.
Topics I Participated In
Late September, 75 AD
Wulfric was still trying to get used to this huge city. He was quietly trying to figure out more about his father, but the people he encountered in the streets and taverns, that cared to talk to him, didn’t know the man. Apparently he must be wealthy, as Wulfric assumed, since people who were less wealthy didn’t know him. Some had given him a weird look though and then just went on their way. As if it made no sense that a man dressed like Wulfric should want to get in touch with a man named Varus.
Today was just another of these days. Wulfric had managed to find some actual work, working in a warehouse mainly with moving sacks of grain and other things, from one place to another. Or onto carts. Something like that. He was strong, after all. And today he’d been doing just the same all morning and was paid in the shiny coins, that he added to his purse and then made his way out into the marketplace to find something to eat.
A stall selling purses caught his attention though, his own was getting rather worn and those they sold here were very fine. Good quality leather, he could tell. Wulfric purchased a light brown leather purse and then moved away from the shop to attach it to his belt, a little bit away from where the crowds were, because he understood that you should watch your coins carefully and no one should know how much you had on you. With his back to the marketplace, he opened the belt and slipped the old purse off the belt and began moving things from the old to the new one. Unaware that from behind in the shade of a building, he might look like someone else entirely.
Late June, 75 CE
What a blessing it was, to be able to leave the house without her mistress on occasion. It only came every so often, usually no more than once a month, but Aglaea savored every minute of it when it did come. Of course, her outings were usually stipulated on her ability to run some errands, like picking up a purchase at the jeweler's or going to the market for the kitchen staff for a random ingredient. Today's final chore was to deliver a package from Livia to her brother-in-law, Tertius's home. Aglaea was unaware of the contents, but she knew Livia had intended it as a gift for either the master of the household or his son, so she knew it was important to be timely.
She approached the house from the back, knowing her place as a slave very well. The door she slipped through seemed to be the culina, which was bustling in order to prepare for the afternoon meal. Aglaea sensed that her best move wouldn't be to disturb the various staff here, so she made her way carefully through the dingy room and toward the main part of the house, looking around for a household servant who could help her deliver her package. Glancing around, she noticed one girl she recognized vaguely, someone she might have met before. "Excuse me-" she approached the girl, who was a bit younger than she was. "It's Charis, isn't it?"
Late September, 75CE
Aglaea groaned softly as she leaned over the bucket, seated on the floor of her room adjacent to Livia's bedroom. Ever an early riser, for a few days now, the woman had been woken up in the mornings with horrible nausea, yet unable to get anything up. It was a most perplexing ailment, as it seemed to disappear after a while of its own volition. Surely, the cook was doing something wrong, and Aglaea resolved to go and give her a piece of her mind. Just as soon as she was able to rise from the floor.
Life recently had been nothing but chaotic - actually, it had been chaotic ever since Secundus had come into their lives. The man sowed chaos wherever he went, frightening Livia and bullying the house staff, mumbling to himself and forcing Aglaea into the position of protecting her mistress from laying with him. Aglaea had soon decided that she would lay with Secundus and yet protect herself at the same time. Like many Roman women, Livia took silphium in order to prevent pregnancy, and like any good body slave, Aglaea was responsible for retrieving the tincture from the apothecary whenever they ran out. But unlike a good body slave, Aglaea took a small amount every time she saw Secundus, hoping with her limited knowledge of the substance that it would be enough to stop pregnancy and all the symptoms that came with it.
Her head shot up from the bucket with wide eyes. It couldn't be... but what else? No sickness from food showed itself with nausea without vomiting. And now that she thought of it, she was a few days late for her monthly cycle. Oh, God. With the sudden realization hitting her like an enormous weight, she stayed stock still for several seconds, before burying her head in her hands, weeping quietly in despair and misery. How could she ever explain this to her mistress? And what would happen to the child once it was born? How would Secundus react? Would Livia send her away and refuse to ever see her again? And how could Aglaea blame her for that if she did? It seemed a horrible betrayal without context.
She had done everything she knew to do to prevent herself from bearing Secundus's child. She couldn't bring a child into this household with a clear conscience, knowing what sort of father he or she would have. And the consequences this would have for her relationship with Livia, her nearest and dearest friend... her heart broke.
In time, the tears subsided and she began to think logically. She just wouldn't tell Livia. She could wear a tunic that flowed more to hide her bump, maybe bind the bump with cloth to limit the appearance. And then, when her time came, she could slip out of the house, have her baby somewhere safe, and then return to act like nothing would happen. Perhaps she could even leave the child on the doorstep and pretend as though it was a foundling - those were common enough in Rome. Wiping her eyes clear, and feeling the despair and nausea subside, she dressed for the day. She could act as though nothing had happened. She had lied before.
Once dressed, she slipped into Livia's room to help her dress. The day had to go on.
Aglaea shivered as she pulled her shawl closer about her. It was wintertime in Rome, and a chill had stolen through the house despite the efforts of the house slaves to stave it off. But there was not only a physical chill, but one that had seeped into the hearts of those newest to the Varus household, particularly Aglaea. Only a day or two after the marriage of Livia Justina and Secundus Quinctilius Varus, the latter had presented a proposition to Aglaea: lay with him in the place of her mistress, lessen her burden by bearing her master's child. And this was the source of the chill that had entered the slave's heart.
She had recently found a new faith, Christianity, but the texts of Judaism had given her trouble about the moral questions of the situation. How could she possibly take Secundus to bed and sleep well at night, with him being a married man? And, moreover, the husband of her own mistress. Though she supposed that the act of adultery was a sin reserved for those of a higher social standing - perhaps it didn't quite apply to slaves, and that was one hope she held onto. And if not, she prayed every night for forgiveness of her sins, should her acts prove to be such.
Secundus had asked for her sparingly, at least, she had to give him that. Only a few rendezvouses, every other month or so. But every time she was sent for, she felt a chunk of ice fall into her stomach. Besides her moral questions, Aglaea had been skimming a little off the top of Livia's silphium every month when she was asked to retrieve it from the apothecary. She really hadn't been educated about how much to take, so she could only hope that she'd taken enough to delay the inevitable result of her meetings with her master.
Tonight was one of those meetings, it seemed. After seeing her mistress safely tucked to bed, she'd been preparing to retire herself, when a young house slave had come to her with a message. She was to meet Secundus in the tablinum, that place where she had agreed to carry Livia's burden, after midnight when the rest of the house had drifted off and they wouldn't be noticed. Now she shivered against the cold that came both from within and without as she entered the tablinum and dipped her head to the man waiting there. "Good evening, dominus. You sent for me."
Title inspired by this song
May, 75CE - After The Crush of the Crowd
Even after Aglaea's enjoyable conversation with Rufus, it was time to return home and tell Livia what had happened. The slave wasn't really afraid that Livia would be angry, and she was sure that between the two of them, they could smooth it over with Secundus, if he even found out. But Aglaea was still kicking herself. How could she have been so stupid? She'd been in Rome for fourteen years and never been pickpocketed - and now, the one day she doesn't tie her coin purse on tightly enough, someone in the crowd took advantage of her oversight. And now she had to confess.
Aglaea took the back entrance into the domus, greeting a few friends in the kitchen before seeking out her mistress and finding her in the master bedroom. "Livia - could I speak with you for a moment?" She seemed alone, so she figured it was safe. "You sent me shopping this morning... I got what you asked for but I... I lost the rest of the coin." She bit her lip, trying to judge the woman's reaction. "It wasn't a lot of money, but... I figured you should know."
Apparently, Livia had been in a good mood this morning, for whatever reason. That was the only conclusion Aglaea could come to that could explain her day off. Perhaps Livia had received a letter from her lover, or Secundus had been away and not bothered her. But whatever the cause, the point was that Aglaea was free for the day and was taking full advantage of that freedom. Of course, her first stop had been to synagogue and to talk with some other converts, covertly, of course. Next, she had visited the honey cake stand which she had shown Bassus a few months ago, purchasing a few. She would eat one now and keep one for Livia, and had bought a few extra just in case.
Moving away from the stand, Aglaea took a leisurely walk through the Emporium Magnum, taking in the sights and smells of the marketplace. She decided she wouldn't purchase anything else, choosing instead to save her small sum of money for future needs. Maybe even freedom. As she walked, she noticed in passing a man walking in front of her. Just as she was about to look away at something else, she noticed the coin purse at his belt fall on the ground. Apparently he hadn't noticed it.
"Excuse me!" As she passed the dropped coin purse, she scooped it up and broke into a trot, following the man. Once she caught up to him, the Jewish woman tapped him on the shoulder. "Excuse me, sir. You dropped your coin purse."
April, 75 AD - same day as 'First introductions'
Livia had begged and pleaded for days and finally her efforts had borne fruit. To think she would have had to grovel in order to be granted permission to visit her only sister, whom she had not seen in months. Yet here she was, blessedly free of Secundus thanks to his asocial ways ('I can't possibly go with you to see your sister, I know she and her husband laugh at me behind my back!'), if only for a few hours.
With Aglaea dismissed on charitable grounds of 'go and enjoy yourself', Livia felt oddly uncomfortable, almost as if she were naked. Even in an environment that was anything but hostile, her unease only showed how dependent on her body slave she had grown, in spite of the fact that her older sister was sitting just a few feet away.
Now that small gifts and platitudes had been exchanged, Livia was at a loss for words. Had she really wanted to see Horatia after long weeks of nary a word, or had it all just been a convenient excuse to get away after all? She stared at Horatia with a meek yet somewhat fearful expression, hands folded in her lap. What should they talk about?
"So... how was your winter?"
Early February, 75 AD
It had her taken several weeks to form the idea and find the courage to present it to her husband, who was invariably and very demosntratively displeased that Livia would entertain such thoughts. It had taken a few more weeks to warm him up to the perceived benefits of a social visit: did Secundus not want to know what his brother was up to, if only to protect his own interests? Did he not want to know what that slave son was like, again for his own sake? At last he relented, but made Livia swear she would be back before nightfall, and sent her with one of his trusted slaves as a not-at-all-undercover spy; although Aglaea would be going too, Secundus knew the body slave was far too loyal to Livia to be persuaded into reporting to him.
She knew it had been in poor form, but Livia had not dared to send a message beforehand to let Tertius know she would be dropping by - he could have refused by claiming to be too busy, and she did not want her little outing - one of increasingly fewer - to be compromised by a polite denial. So it was that they reached the Esquiline unheralded. A slave rushed off to announce their arrival and as the party of three waited for her brother-in-law to come and greet them, Livia took in her surroundings. The domus was big and airy, and gave off an impression of lively bustle even though everything was impeccably maintained. It felt like the opposite of her own house, which she found gloomy and austere despite being just as pristine in furnishings - any ruined or destroyed objects were quickly replaced with new, whole ones.
Livia looked to her body slave for encouragement, who provided it with a small nod. This was out of line and she knew it, but she hoped Tertius would forgive her and let her into his house. Her desire to meet with him and his new heir - Teutus, she recalled - was genuine, and she wanted to be optimistic that they would see it.
@Atrice @Sharpie @Echo