Face ClaimNazanin Boniadi
Leaving the home of Secundus Quinctilius Varus was like breathing for the first time. Each time she left the domus, Aglaea felt a weight lift from her chest, ever so slightly, so that she could breathe freely again. But of course, the weight threatened constantly to return whenever she thought of the months she would be spending in the villa, sequestered, only for it to end in her acting as though her child had come and passed away, and the child that had suddenly appeared in the house was Livia's. Since she had met Wulfric, that kind and handsome stranger who was somehow connected to her master's family, a small light had appeared in Aglaea's heart, like a weak ember struggling to survive. The hope that he could help alleviate some of her suffering by visiting her master, and, by extension, her, was one of a precious few things keeping her going. And while she didn't fan the small ember of hope into a flame, it helped her through the particularly dark moments.
Today, her heart was light as she exited the house under the pretense of running errands for her mistress. Livia, to her credit, had given her some much-needed space in the hours and days after the day Aglaea had spilled her secrets, and Aglaea was thankful for her. Aglaea did not appear pregnant yet, but the other symptoms of an early pregnancy were there - she had been sick every morning since the morning she'd found out, particularly, and she felt that she grew tired more easily. She smiled softly to herself as she made her way into the garden for that reason, ready to sit and talk with her new friend for a while. Soon enough, she came to the fountain she had instructed him to meet her at and saw that he had beaten her there. "Wulfric," she said warmly, approaching him with a soft smile. "Thank you for coming. It is wonderful to see you again."
Aglaea quirked a grin at Charis's description of the Varus family, her mind wandering to Secundus's various... difficulties. Walking around in a haze, muttering, quick to anger and his plot with his wife's body slave... yes, difficult was a good description, though it fell perhaps a bit short. But Aglaea and Charis did not know each other well enough to say what they really thought just yet. That would take some time, but if Aglaea was honest, she could use someone other than Livia to commiserate with, and she guessed Charis could use the same. "Yes, that's a nice way to put it," she chuckled.
Charis admitted that a friend and honey cakes would be welcome, but that Aglaea would have to ask her master's permission to visit. The Judean frowned a little at that - couldn't she just use the back door? She doubted Tertius would notice the comings and goings of slaves in his house much, but then, she hardly knew the man. But if that was what it would take - "Very well, I will," she said briskly.
But Charis's next words caused the words to turn bitter in her throat. The child was his? She gazed at Charis, taken aback, her expression first surprised and then concerned, motherly. In her experience, children born to slaves by their masters were rarely children that both, or either, parties wanted. Surprisingly, Aglaea felt a tightness in her throat. Could Charis understand what she, Aglaea, was going through? It couldn't be... "He... he didn't hurt you, did he?" she asked, her voice solemn and low. The thought of asking a man like Tertius, who'd impregnated his slave in what she suspected was not a mutually consensual arrangement, brought bile up in her throat. But if it was what Charis needed, she could get by.
The more Aglaea reflected on it, the more she realized that her circumstances and Charis's couldn't really be compared. In many ways, Aglaea had had one of the easiest lives that a slave could have; she'd been enslaved when she was young, so she didn't have much of a chance to get used to life as a free person, and had a multitude of years to grow into slavery, forgetting her life before. Charis had only been here a few years as far as Aglaea could tell, so she must have either been in another household or was fresh from Britannia. She stared down at her hands and frowned, feeling saddened. The poor girl. Aglaea had to find a way to help her. There had to be a way.
Charis explained that she was not treated like a sister or a daughter, and that her household was difficult and complex. She seemed so anxious, so concerned with how her words would be perceived. She must not feel able to trust anyone, and that hurt Aglaea more than anything she'd said so far. Aglaea fixed her with a stare, trying to communicate through her eyes that she could be trusted. "You don't have to guard your words with me, Charis," she said lowly, gently. "I am a friend. But I understand. The Varus family is-" she hesitated, unsure of how to put it. In the end, she dropped the thought. Charis then said that she wasn't allowed to leave, and looked so forlorn, the dear! Aglaea had to do something to help her feel better.
"Well, then, I'll just have to come here to visit you, won't I?" She offered a smile, trying to lift the other woman's spirits. She guessed the other woman couldn't write or read, so sending a letter wouldn't help much, probably. But Aglaea could make time for her. "I don't often get time to myself," she went on, "but when I do, I will come and visit you. Sometimes... sometimes you just need someone to talk to." She didn't want her words to be perceived as charity, though - that usually didn't go over well, and it wasn't really charity to begin with. "Sometimes I need a friend, too. And someone to share a honey cake with."
Aglaea wasn't sure why she felt like she could trust him, but something in her heart told her that he was trustworthy, despite being produced by the Varus family. She had to believe that the circumstances of one's birth could not be the only determining factor in their lives. After all, Christ was born in a humble barn, laid to rest in swaddling clothes in a manger. Wulfric was related to the Varus family somehow, but he had not been raised by it. He was something else entirely. And Aglaea could sense a great alliance, even a friendship, forming, so quickly and suddenly it threatened to take her breath away.
Wulfric confirmed that they could meet again soon and she nodded as he asked whether she knew a good place. "Yes, the Gardens of Sullust. They are discrete, plenty of places tucked away where we could talk. I am not sure when I can get away again, but I will send word to you when I can. Where are you staying?" His next words produced a smile. How charming he was. "You didn't make me cry," she assured him, knowing that wasn't the point. "Thank you, Wulfric. I am in your debt already." Once they had worked out all the details, she stood and took his hand in hers. "You are a good man. I will send word soon. Thank you." And with that, she was off, tentative hope blossoming in her chest.
Aglaea turned to watch as Livia made her exit, feeling a fresh pang of guilt upon her words. All that she had said was what was she, Aglaea, was thinking. Secundus had truly lost touch with reality if he thought children could be used like pawns - her own child to be seemingly lost like an unimportant trinket, while he really went into the arms of Livia and Secundus. Aglaea was to be relegated to the role of a wet nurse - such an impartial, impersonal role in the child's life. All at once, her plan fell down around her ears and despair set in. There was no way she could pull it off alone and she had no real allies in this world. Acquaintances, casual friends - but no one who would risk themselves to help her and her child. And there was no way Secundus would let his child out of his sight once it was there, and little chance of him letting Aglaea herself have any sort of loose leash during the months leading up to the birth. She could only hope that once the child was weaned, she could convince Livia to sell her or free her. She couldn't bear watching her child grow up without it ever knowing who she really was.
But though despair had settled deep in her chest, she felt that surprising calm that came with a situation being outside of your control. There was nothing she could do. Why should she waste tears? She gazed blankly at Secundus once Livia had left, appreciating the other woman's intent in letting her choose whether to follow. Aglaea thought she might find her way into the garden for the rest of the day, perhaps leave the domus altogether. "May I be excused?" There was nothing in her voice. No coldness now, no sadness. Nothing. Because there was nothing she could do, there was nothing to color her voice. And she had no voice anyway - not really.
@Járnviðr @Liv That's me done! Thanks for the amazing thread <3
Aglaea smiled brightly at him as he greeted her in her native language. When was the last time she'd conversed with someone who spoke her language, outside of her synagogue? It must have been months, years even, as she deferred to Latin in most situations. But she was getting ahead of herself - he had only greeted her, and had admitted to being from Alexandria, which was not a place populated entirely by her people. "Shalom aleichem," she responded, thrilled slightly with the words. Language had always been a passion of hers, since her first mistress educated her well, but she always felt excited speaking her mother tongue.
Davus spoke about Corinth being a busy city with its port and she nodded. She remembered her journey from Antioch to Rome, remembered the ports with a slight shiver - she preferred her feet on solid earth. "I imagine it must have been exciting. I haven't traveled much since I was a young girl." As they reached the shop she'd been heading for and she invited him for a cake, he responded by accepting, except he wanted to pay for his own. She waved her hand casually and chuckled. "Nonsense. I invited you - why would I expect you to pay?" It wasn't like she needed to save it for anything else, anyway. Livia would never let her buy her freedom.
Without letting him speak another word of protest, she proceeded into the shop and purchased two of the dense cakes, then led the way back outside. "Here, I can sit and chat for a little while." She handed him his cake. "So, you have been with your master for a while now?"
A wave of relief washed over her as he confirmed that he would be a friend to her. She hadn't realized it but she had been sorely needing one - even if he wasn't the kind of friend who could help her, he could at least keep her company and perhaps let her vent every once in a while. Perhaps Secundus would even let him come to the villa, which would make it easier. But for now, he was company and she was thankful for him.
As he confirmed that he would meet her master, she nodded, the analytical part of her mind now working hard. He would need to seem respectable, and understand how Secundus operated in order to pull this off. She had another few weeks, perhaps, before he whisked them all away to the villa. She could teach him what she knew and then have him present himself. She hoped desperately that everything would work. "You are a good man, Wulfric," she repeated quietly, wiping her eyes and smiling.
She was calmer now, but the simple gesture of him asking if he could do anything for her made her laugh a little. No one had asked her a thing like that in such a long time. As a slave, it was her job to ask such questions, and other slaves simply kept to themselves, not worrying about others. "That is sweet," she said, smoothing her skirts. "I'm better now, but thank you." She wiped her eyes once more. "I want you to be prepared before you meet Secundus, though. Do you think we could meet again, sometime soon?"
Aglaea realized that she had accidentally made it sound like she wanted to get rid of the child before it was born. That was not her intention at all - she loved the little life growing within her already, with all her heart, and that made it all the more poignant that its father was Secundus. If she let him have it, or let Livia have it, it would grow up living a lie, not to mention what effects growing up in such a household would have on the child. "I don't want to- to harm it," she said, the tears becoming more prominent now. "I want him to have a good life, safe, far away from here. A life that- that I couldn't have."
And then when Wulfric promised to find a solution for her, the tears flowed over in earnest. How could she have been so lucky, to find a good man like him? God must have sent him her way, knowing she needed a friend. She grasped his hand in hers and with her free hand, wiped her eyes. "You are too good, Wulfric. I don't want to burden you." She fell silent as she fought to gain control of her tears again. "I think... I think I just need a friend for now. Perhaps if you introduce yourself to my master, you can come and visit the villa... but I don't want to burden you, of course. You wanted to find your father - you should go to him first, before you worry about me. I will survive."
Perhaps it was because Wulfric was a stranger that Aglaea found it easier to talk to him about this situation. She had been closed off about it with the other slaves in the household, knowing they had their own problems to sort through and didn't need hers. But Wulfric could do nothing about this situation, and therefore she didn't feel like she was burdening him overmuch. If anything, she hoped that this information was the reason he returned to Germania to forget about his father and his family, though that didn't seem likely.
Wulfric understood without her saying outright that Secundus had fathered her baby and she nodded, the words tumbling out easier now that she'd gotten started. "Yes, and he has it all planned out... he's moving the whole household to the villa in the countryside for the duration of my pregnancy, pretending Livia is pregnant too. He wants me to pretend that I miscarried my child when the time comes, and that it's really Livia's, and..." She stopped, wiping her eyes and sighing. "We're going to be stuck there for nine months, or at least from the time I start showing. I can't stand being under that man's roof that long..."
She gazed at him as he said he wanted to help her, the ghost of a smile appearing, though it had little warmth. "You are too kind, Wulfric, but I am afraid that there is nothing you can do for me. Secundus has everything figured out." Unless... she stared at him again, trying to guess what his reaction would be to her next statement. "I can't- he can't have this child. I can't let him. He would ruin the child. Everything that enters his household is ruined."
Topics I Participated In
Early October, 75 AD
Wulfric had agreed to meet again with the lovely Aglaea, who was slave to his uncle Secundus, whom he had not yet met. He hadn’t even met his father yet, but Aglaea knew him too and he found it very useful to have found someone, whom he was not related to, but who could provide him with useful information. On top of that, Aglaea was very sweet and friendly and he had enjoyed talking to her. Plus she seemed to need someone to talk to and she needed help with her situation. Wulfric had felt sympathy with her and he was more than ready to help her, whether she said she wanted his help or not. He would be the friend she needed. Really this was a win for both of them.
So a week later, he found himself entering a place called the Gardens of Sullust for the first time. Aglaea had sent word to him via a messenger, where they were supposed to meet and he walked around, trying to find the right place. It was still somewhat warm, but some leaves had begun to change color and he found that he liked the gardens because of the amount of greenery here. Rome, to him, mostly consisted of stone, marble and people. There was not a lot of green and it was nothing like Germania in that sense, where the majority of the land was forests, fields and meadows. Rome had its own charm of course, if you looked at things individually.
He tried that too, while searching for the right fountain Aglaea had said they’d meet by. He found a very pretty one, there were no other people near and he thought it was the right one. Then he leaned against the edge of the basin, enjoying the warmth of the sun and waited for Aglaea to show up as planned.
"Onions, garlic, figs, cumin, lentils," Davus murmured to himself, repeating the shopping list over again (minus the items he had already bought, of course). "Onions, garlic... oof!" He had been distracted in his search and ended up very nearly walking into someone. The someone, when he'd recovered his wits and stepped backwards, an apology ready, turned out to be a young woman, of similar complexion to him, dressed simply, and with a veil over her head.
"Apologies," he said, checking that he hadn't dropped anything - he hadn't. "I wasn't watching where I was going - I hope you're not hurt?" His Latin was perhaps more melodious than a native would pronounce it, thanks to his Egyptian Greek accent.
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?"