Theo sometimes imagined growing up in Rome. The city was full of life and full of marvels, but it could also be a dangerous place if one did not belong to the families that had money to stay safe. He had been lucky to have good parents and enough wealth to study, but someone less fortunate could have easily fallen through the cracks of the great city of Rome.
“I think in the end, that’s what we all want. To be safe, somehow.”
"I can appreciate that sentiment." Theo agreed, still enjoying the massage "I count myself lucky to have a job that pays, and allows me to use my learning. And I get to meet interesting people, even outside of the games." he opened one eye to peer up at Helenus "And the baths are a marvel. Worth coming to the city alone. Although I guess that's me speaking as a patron, not as someone who works here..."
Due to his occupation, Theo was more familiar with the games, even if many people still seemed to prefer the Circus for quality entertainment. Today, he was just here as a spectator, one of many. The fact that he managed to run into a Germanic prince only made the whole experience more unique. He wondered why he chose the races instead of the games.
"Sometimes, usually I come here with my wife, Seia, as she does not enjoy the games. I can't say I have chosen a team to support, and there are times when there are accidents,"
"Oh well. And I was just about to ask you which team I should cheer for" Theo chuckled, glancing at the gamblers. He was not a gambling man, and he was definitely not going to place bets until he knew more about the races and the teams. "Not that it is the best way to make money, unless Fortuna favors someone..."
"I suppose any accidents would be good for you to get some extra coin."
Theo chuckled as he fished a few coins out of his purse for the vendor.
"I am not on duty right now. And besides, from what I know about the races, you don't need the medicus for most accidents, you just need Thanatos... and that is saying something, when most people say the Circus is more violent than the arena..."
Panic was creeping into the man's voice as Theo put his foot down on the topic of the beard. He had never really understood the appeal of beards - the legions did not encourage them, as most of them looked unkept, and made the men look like barbarians. Theo, as a Greek, could appreciate a well groomed beard on a philosopher, but that was about it. Astrius already looked wild enough without adding to the effect with the patchy shrub on his face he prized so much.
“Listen, Quintus Flavius Theodorus, Astrius will take a bath. Astrius will shave his head. Astrius will scrub his body and beard until no more bugs bite him or his master. Astrius will not bite anyone. But please, may Quintus Flavius Theodorus and the Vulcan have pity of Astrius’ poor beard!”
Through the haze of increasing frustration, Theo noted two things with a certain level of admiration: one, that Astrius was really attached to that beard, and two, that he was suddenly willing and able to negotiate. With someone as wildly random as Astrius had been in past few minutes, one could not discount the opportunity to negotiate, as long as boundaries were set.
“Astrius will be the best slave and be in the man’s debt if Quintus Flavius Theodorus lets him keep it.”
Theo stared at the man for a long moment, then sighed. "You will do all that, and more. Bath, shaving, scrubbing, the whole deal. And I will get you something to put on your beard to kill the animals off. And. Absolutely. NO. Biting." he pointed a finger at Astrius "You keep your end of the bargain and you get to keep your beard. But if you make a scene, I will make sure you get shaved smoother then an egg. Let's go."
“Dominus, this man keeps coming back. If I was not satisfactory, would he keep paying money for me?”
Justinia was making a good point in an effort to help Theo, but the medicus was none the less worried that she would get into trouble herself. If things had been different, if she was a hetaera and not a Roman prostitute, they could just have confessed that he paid for conversation instead of sex. But the way things stood, with her being a slave and her owners being Roman, talking too much would just draw more suspicion. Slaves were not meant to be too clever.
Faustus was also not the sharpest man in the house, but Theo could see the suspicion in his face. Indeed, why?
“You seem tense. If I may say so Domine, the men that come in here are never tense after a session,”
Theo felt like his brain was burning up, trying to land on an excuse that would pass as acceptable. He was not a poet by a long shot, but he had to try.
"Well, that... um, well, that is intentional" he ventured, already feeling like the worst actor ever as Faustus gave him a confused look "It's... it's a pretense that I asked Justinia to play. See, I am originally from Greece, and the idea of... um, the idea of pursuing a courtesan, it is... arousing to me. It's a Greek thing."
Theo didn't quite catch the words Phaedo was murmuring at first, but his ears picked up on the familiar phrases anyway.
"...But when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, 'Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand'."
Theo gave the young man an appreciative nod and a smile. "Antipater of Sidon. He was right, too." Allegedly, the Temple of Artemis had been ever more grand before the famous fire that destroyed it, but even now, it was quite the incredible sight to behold.
"You are fortunate. I was close to Ephesus, once. When I was brought from the northern shores of the Euxeinos Pontus, and then by ship to Delos, where my first master bought me. But, I was only a small child. Even if I had the good fortune to see the temple, I would not have known it for what it was. My master had seen it though. He told me of its wonder and taught me those words."
The boy had a good master, once upon a time. Someone who took the time to teach him, and showed an interest in what he wanted to know. Theo could appreciate Greek education, and he could see that Phaedo would have enjoyed a different kind of life, one that allowed him to travel and learn. He smiled as he reminisced about having traveled past Ephesus on his way to Delos.
"Delos? Isn't that where they have all those statues of gigantic pricks?"
Theo snorted with laughter, and could not resist shooting a glance at Phaedo, as the boy emerged as the more educated of the two companions.
"At the temple of Dionysus, yes" he nodded "In honor of the God, although the Delians like to boast that they are to scale. You have been to Delos, then?"
Theo was generally curious about people. He knew that he was not obligated to talk to the slave for the sake of politeness; he even knew that he could have asked for more things if he wanted to, as most patrons probably did with a good-looking man like Helenus. But for now, he actually wanted to chat. It was relaxing to the mind, just as the massage was relaxing to the body.
“You are almost too kind, Dominus. Yes, I was born in Rome. I’ve been here all my life.”
"Well, then you certainly know more about this city than I do" Theo noted. Even if he was a slave, Helenus grew up in the city, and probably knew many things that Theo was just beginning to learn. "They tell me you never really get to know Rome..."
"I have been here for some time, friend. Pleasure to meet you, Quintus Flavius Theodorus, watch out for these little cut-purses. The little shits will rob you blind if they can."
And that was that. Theo shook hands with the Germanic prince, and they were about to spend a day of good Roman fun together at the Circus. The whole place looked even more surreal now, with a crowd of thousands of faces and languages around them, and, apparently, feral children trying to make some quick money. Theo placed one hand on his purse, although even if they stole it, they would barely get enough for a meal.
"Come, tell me about yourself. How long have you been in Rome?"
Theo followed along, hoping that they would find a good place to sit.
"Less than a year, actually" he admitted "I am a recent arrival from... um, the Rhine, and from Greece, originally. I'm a medicus." he added, still looking around "Do you frequently come to the Circus?"
His suggestion of getting rid of parasites was met with an uncanny amount of wailing. Theo felt like he was losing some of his usual patience already. The man knew that it was between the medicus and the mines, and yet he did not seem very content with the luck of ending up with the former. The hair and the beard had to go, along with the lice and all other parasites.
“Quintus Flavius Theodorus wants to get rid of Astrius’ beard? No, please, no! Astrius almost bit the hand off of the man that tried to cut his beard the last time. Have pity on me, Quintus Flavius Theodorus!”
Oh, good. He also bit people.
"Look, I can't take you home riddled with lice" Theo noted, more firmly this time "And I'd appreciate it if you didn't bite anyone. As I said, you will take a bath, and you will have your hair and beard cut. They will grow back. In fact, if you behave yourself, I will make you some of the potions that make your beard grow back better, and less... patchy." If Theo had been another kind of healer, he would have made a fortune from potions like that. As things stood, he knew the ones that helped, to a certain extent, although he was far from a miracle worker. Astrius did not need to know that. "Take it as a rite of passage to your new life."
Theo could see the fear in Justinia's face the moment the door opened. She had mentioned that they would get into trouble for what they had been doing, as unfair as it sounded, and now here they were. The man named Faustus had been polite to him, but that did not mean that he was going to be the same way with Justinia, if he decided that something was amiss.
“Is there something wrong, Faustus? I had not heard of any complaints from Theodorus,”
"I really have no complaints" Theo promptly confirmed as they walked in. He tried to seem calm and in control; as the patron, he was the most important person in this situation in Faustus' eyes. Or at least he hoped so.
Faustus narrowed his eyes at Justinia as she used Theo's name instead of referring to him as dominus. Theo cringed, but the man carried on, deciding to file the mistake away for later.
"That is very generous of you, domine. Still, I want to make sure that she has been fulfilling your wishes to the best of her abilities."
The laughter was over, for now, and people moved on with their everyday errands. Theo was a little unnerved by the look Astrius was giving him, but he was not going to let himself be intimidated by the slave he had just bought.
“Astrius would usually call any man who said that a liar, but Astrius does not think that Quintus Flavius Theodorus is lying. A strange reason to buy a slave...out of pity...”
Well, at least the man was good at reading people. That had to count as a skill, right?
“Lice? Astrius probably has lice. Little buggers in the head. Always bothering Astrius.”
"Of course you do." Theo sighed "Alright, to the barber first then. You will have to have your hair and beard shaved, and then it's on to the bath."
At least these things were something he could deal with. As a medicus, he had potions for most everyday ailments and parasites...