This particular princess was a lot wilder than Aia had expected. She seemed like a woman who would make a good friend, if one had been born into the same high social circles as her. Aia enjoyed riding out with her, even though Cynane was right about maybe slowing down. They were out in the countryside now, and if Claudia or her horse took a tumble, it would be a long way back to Rome.
The man appeared seemingly out of nowhere, was was startling enough in his distress that Aia pulled up short as well.
"Beg pardon! Domina... Please.... please! I need help! Domina! In the scrubs, my child has fallen into the water and she may die. Please! Please! She is my only daughter!!"
Aia glanced at Decimus, and then Claudia. None of them had any obligation to jump into water to save a child, but all of them were the kind of people who would, anyway. Decimus, for certain. Probably Cynane too, although she was more wary than the praetorian. And Claudia seemed to make her own choices.
“Domina, you must remain careful. Let Decimus handle this. We should not leave the road.”
"Help him! Go rescue his daughter."
Aia nodded, starting on her horse towards the bushes. Cynane and Claudia would stay behind, and she and Decimus would go help the poor kid. They would have to dismount at the trees and continue on foot, but it shouldn't be too far...
They were almost at the tree line when Aia's horse whinnied too, and turned aside a few steps. Old instinct kicked in as Aia's eyes narrowed, staring into the bushes. It would not have been the first time she'd encountered hidden danger in a wild pace. Decimus would feel the same.
@Sains @Atrice @Gothic
It seemed to be going so well. Aia watched like a hawk as Decimus marched over to the woman with a look of determination and mild panic, and then... something went wrong. Or not wrong, really, wrong would have involved screaming and slapping, but something definitely did not go right either. The conversation ground to an awkward halt, and Decimus returned to his post, trying his darndest to act like nothing happened at all. Aia arched an eyebrow at him as he leaned against the column. There was a certain tone in her voice as she decided to ask.
He knew she would ask, he probably just hoped she wouldn't.
"Decimus. What did you say to her?..."
Decimus was not wholeheartedly into this game, but honestly, that just made it more of a challenge. Aia did not honestly believe that she was going to find the love of his life right here on the Forum today - but it was too much fun to watch him squirm about it.
"One that isn't afraid to dirty her hands... I don't want a dainty woman of the baths. Tempting as they are to the others."
He didn't want dainty. Go figure. At least most respectable Roman women were clean, and there Decimus goes, wanting a little dirt in his life.
"Honesty is crucial, I can't have one that hopes to gain something from me at the very start of it all... I guess she can ravage my purse after we're wed."
"Oh, well why didn't you say that sooner? Wait, I'll see if I can find a woman who's wearing some expensive honesty today..." Aia rolled her eyes and chuckled, teasing him. Of course, things on the inside were much more important than those on the outside, especially to someone like Decimus. But inner values were a lot les fun to shop for at the Forum. Honestly.
"You want dirt and honestly, huh... Decimus, I don't know how to break this to you, but you might be looking for a man." she snorted, looking over the crowd. Rome had no shortage of pretty women, and also handsome men to look at. Just like with the rest of the world's goods, there was something there for everyone.
"There, how about that one? I kinda like the freckles, and she haggles like a professional merchant." she nodded at a curvy, curly-haired young woman at a pottery stall "Go, offer to carry her basket for her. That's a nice way to start a conversation."
Decimus was clearly not as enthusiastic about his matchmaking prospects as he should have been, at least according to Aia. As fearless as he could be on a battlefield, talking to women was a whole different kind of game. Especially to refined and sheltered Roman girls.
"I think you should leave it be. None of them want to be bothered on their way back from the market, anyhow."
"Venus bless you Decimus, sometimes women want to be bothered by a handsome praetorian. The trick is to believe them if they tell you they don't."
"'Sides, there's more too it than hips and clothes."
"Now you tell me" Aia grinned, looking over the crowd. "I said clothes because it means they come from a good family. As for hips... you know, this would go a lot easier if you told me what I'm looking for. Or rather, you are looking for..."
What was he looking for, really? Other than a decent wife to make a home with?
Early September, 74CE
"How about that one over there?" Aia ventured, leaning against one of the columns of the Basilica Iulia. It was a busy day at the Forum, people buying and selling like there was no tomorrow - which was pretty much every day in Rome. The hustle and the bustle was fun to watch, and also fun to completely get lost in (as long as that was what someone wanted). Today was one of those rare times when both Decimus and Aia happened to have some hours off duty at the same time, so they met at the foot of the Palatine, just to... walk around and talk. In a public market like this, no one looked twice at the praetorian and the interprex strolling along.
And possibly shopping for potential wives for Decimus. Of course he did not agree to that, it was more of a spur of the moment thing, but it would have been a pity to let an opportunity go to waste.
"She is not a slave, and she has nice clothes" Aia noted, looking at the curvy, dark-haired girl carrying a basket of various goods on her arm "And nice hips. What do you think?"
Aia decided on short notice that she liked the princess. Any imperial lady who was willing to ride a horse in plain sight of all the citizens of Rome, and venture outside the palace on her own, was a good role model in Aia's book. Maybe if she had been born into the imperial family instead of to a merchant, she could have been raised as a girl and learned things like riding a horse. As things stood, she gleefully settled for the next best option: Being in the entourage of a princess.
It was good company. Decimus looked all business, as usual - she knew this side of him from the legions - and Cynane was... basically the same, but somehow more admirable. Aia chuckled as she watched the two of them watching over the princess.
“How far away from Rome do you plan on going, Domina?”
"As far as I can! Come on you lot! Keep up!"
The guards did not look all too pleased with the princess running wild, but then again, it was their job to be cautious. Aia, on her part, kicked her horse into a gallop and followed along. Her dress was not specifically designed for riding, to she'd bunched up her stola and tunica to her knees, and wrapped her palla around her waist for extra coverage. Not that she minded exposing her legs to the autumn sun; she just did not want to cause too much of a scandal around Claudia.
"You heard her!" she called back at Decimus with a grin. Keep up, indeed. "There is a spring up ahead somewhere..."
@Gothic @Sains @Atrice
Aia felt a pang of guilt about having abandoned their lessons, back in Britannia. Sure, she had been warned not to fraternize with the Britons any more than necessary, but then again, even she had kept sneaking out in secret, it would not have been her worst offense against the rules of the legions. She could have cared less. Or cared more.
"I thought the Britons and Romans were supposed to be friends now...or did that not extend to teaching us your words?... I saw you once, afterwards - after you stopped coming. I was this close to throwing a knife at you I was that angry...Turi actually had to wrestle it out of my hand."
Aia chuckled. She could picture the scene, the feisty small woman about to throw a knife, and probably hit her square in the back. "Sounds like I owe him my life..."
"They'll be wondering where I am. I try and come here, around this time, when I can...do you think a Roman bath is a better place for Latin lessons than a field in Britannia? There's less chance of the legions intervening at any rate...and you could consider it your public service to Rome...teaching a useless Briton slave Latin so she can better understand her Dominus' barked orders."
Aia winced and frowned a little. When she put it like that, even as a joke, it sounded a lot more serious than light-hearted. Erea spoke Latin fairly well, well enough for a household slave anyway. The rest was... for other things.
"Although...I can't pay you...I don't get very much and spend some coming in here..."
"You don't need to pay me." Aia said gently but with conviction "And I'll be here at the same time when I can. I live outside the city, but my domina comes here often, to visit at the palace... I'll see if we can pick up where we left off. With the lessons, I mean." she put a hand on Erea's shoulder "And I won't disappear this time."
Late September, 74CE
An imperial princess, a Briton gladiatrix, a Gallic interprex and a praetorian from Hispania went out riding one day...
Three of those people had a reason to be outside in the sparkling fall sunshine, riding away from the walls of Rome. An imperial lady could do what she wished for (most of the time), and Cynane and Decimus were on duty as her personal bodyguards. Out in the open it was harder to protect someone from harm than behind the walls of the palace, but the former gladiatrix and the veteran soldier presented a strong enough entourage to make the outing safe for Claudia Caesaris.
As for Aia... she was just along for the ride as a curiosity. She delivered a message and a small gift from Flavia Juliana to the princess, and since she arrived just as Claudia was leaving the palace, she was invited along to keep her company. It was strange, meeting Decimus in his official capacity as a praetorian, and Cynane too. Aia liked both of them, plus she had never really been in the entourage of such an esteemed person before, so she agreed to ride along, doubly happy that she could get into a saddle again. Roman ladies rarely went riding out like this, and Aia had to admit that she missed the exercise from her days with the legion.
It was a beautiful day for an outing like this. Fall had come to Rome, but it was showing a soft and warm face after the summer heat. Not many people were out on the roads; a lot of the countryside was busy with the harvests, and people coming and going for markets had already made their trips earlier in the morning. The countryside surrounding Rome was never completely empty, of course... but Aia felt like she was free to breathe, outside the confines of the city.
Riding out with the princess was going to be a perfect way to spend an afternoon.
@Atrice @Sains @Gothic
"Men are fools...all of them."
"Not arguing with that point" Aia chuckled. Men really were oblivious, many times, to things right in front of them.
"Write? I can barely speak Latin, let alone read it or write it...apparently my vocabulary is good but my grammar is shocking. If only I had a better teacher."
"Hey!" Aia pouted, relieved that they were finding their way back to the banter they used to have. "It is up to the student to absorb the wisdom of the teacher..."
"Why, are you offering to restart our lessons? Or will you just abandon me again. You just...stopped coming. I thought something had happened to you."
The banter was back, but it was more serious this time. Erea's words carried weight, even if there was no accusation in them. Aia sighed, shaking her head.
"Someone picked up on our meetings, and they thought I was fraternizing with the enemy." she frowned "I was told that visiting prostitutes was one thing, but flirting with free Briton women was bound to stir up trouble that was not needed. And I did not want to get you into trouble... or get questioned. I'm sorry, I would have sent a message, but... you don't read."
"You say it like being a woman is such a curse. I hope they didn't treat you too poorly. When...they found out."
"I was lucky." Aia shrugged. It could have been a lot worse. She got beaten up, yes, but then she got smuggled out of Britannia and into Rome without anyone finding out that she had done something that had no precedent, but likely should have come with a death sentence. She still landed on her feet, a lot luckier than Erea did. They lost their families in different ways, and the Briton woman's story was a lot more painful. Aia looked at her with empathy as she blinked tears away.
"Ugh Erea you stupid woman... A pity you weren't in the market for a slave a few months ago, you could have spared me this bother."
Aia chuckled, showing a kinder smile as she watched Erea starting to get dressed. She would not have been able to afford a slave, but she could have talked her mistress into purchasing Erea. Although buying a Briton barbarian might have pushed Juliana's good will to its limits and beyond, after already taking Aia on...
"Then I will just have to...get on with it. He's not so bad, my master. He doesn't touch me, leaves me well enough alone so that's...something. I would have made a terrible prostitute or body slave. Why did they not put you in slavery? When...they found out?"
"You would have made a terrible prostitute. Stabbing people is not usually a part of the job." Aia joked, reaching for her own clothes as she considered the question "They wanted to make me disappear with the least scandal possible, otherwise all the officers would have had to explain how they did not notice a woman in their ranks for a whole decade." she chuckled "I don't know, maybe one of the gods was watching out for me. Or maybe I just seemed useful." she considered that last part for a moment "Which is actually as good a security as anything, for slaves. Can you write yet?"