Face ClaimKaya Scodelario
The words caught in Safinia's throat all of a sudden, although it was not from screaming herself hoarse. Try as she might, the only sound coming out was a gruesome gurgling. No air was coming in either, and her chest burnt with the lack of oxygen. Oh... A split second later, she understood what had happened. He had sliced her throat. She was dying.
Before realisation fully sunk in, she was spared from having to go through the sputtering and fading vision that asphyxia brought on as the knife pierced through her chest. There was sharp pain, followed by a sickly wet sensation of all her strength leaving her body, and then... Nothing.
Juno! She had managed to hit him, and the satisfying cry that escaped him gave Safinia a burst of self-confidence. Even in spite of her obvious trouble with running away, she felt like she might just stand a chance, if she managed to take the knife from him or throw it far away into the darkness. Time was of the essence, and as quickly she could Safinia spun round, looking about her with wild eyes in search of refuge. The bleeding cut high on her back was of no consequence, drowned out by the urgency of getting away. Where could she hide before the man got back up? She could at least try to put the pile of sacks between the two of them...
She had barely begun to scamper towards the opposite side of it when a blow sent her tumbling to the ground, and she landed on her bad leg with a yelp. The criminal must have used the tactic before, for he wasted no time in getting down on the ground and restraining her movement. Bastard! Was there really no shaking him off? Overwhelmed by the realisation that there was no way she was getting away from him now, Safinia abandoned all rationality and let instinct take over, doing the very thing the man had been telling her not to all along. She screamed, as loudly as she could.
The plan had that seemed so feasible moments earlier quickly crumbled to dust, much like the insula she had called home during the earthquake in the summer. Besides slight pressure and a hint of cold metal, there wasn't much the scar tissue on her back could recognise, in contrast to the whole skin elsewhere; and between the adrenaline coursing through her veins and wearing cheap, coarse clothing the overwhelming majority of the time, Safinia had completely forgotten about it. It was like a massive whirlpool had opened inside her, sucking in all hope and leaving despair in its place.
She hadn't been bad. Not worse than so many inhabitants of Rome, stealing and lying to survive. Who did this bastard think he was, to punish her for slights not even against him? Safinia trembled - from indignation or fear, she could not tell. Both, surely. Yet being lectured by a criminal, so sanctimoniously accusing her of foul behaviour to justify his own appalling actions, struck a chord within her. "But you are not a god or an officer or the emperor. So you've got no right to punish anyone," she accused him with surprisingly steady words, an angry inflection breaking through their surface.
Before she could consider the sensibility of it, her limbs had moved of their own accord. Both elbows shot out backwards, quicker and sharper than she had thought they could, aimed at the man's chest. If his knife hand was also hit, all the better - but even just knocking the wind out of him would be a boon.
If this crazy man wasn't a thief, it could only meant he did this sort of thing for the pleasure it gave him and not out of necessity. The realisation made bile rise in Safinia's throat, and she grimaced as she swallowed, feeling the pressure of the blade against her throat mounting and mounting until it broke the skin with a piercing pain. A small, warm wetness bloomed in the area, and she recognised belatedly that the man had actually cut her. Did the pained gasp come from her mouth? It had to to have, because the criminal was smiling in sick satisfaction. Immobilised by fear and feeling like there was nothing but wool inside her head, it took more than a little while for his demand to sink in.
Her back? That was what made this pervert tick?! He was in for a surprise then, because hers was not the smooth, creamy, pale blank canvas he probably imagined hid under her clothes. Perhaps he would be so jarred - better yet, so disgusted! - by the burn scars on her back that he would let her go? The sad reality that was dawning on Safinia was that she would not make it out unharmed unless the man somehow let her, or if some passerby scared him away; the latter was nigh impossible, given the cover of darkness and the mound of sacks obscuring them from view.
With a shaky nod that sent the rivulet of blood streaming faster down her neck, Safinia slowly turned round to face the wall, tugging at the fabric on her chest and shoulders to give the man what he wanted. It was dark so he might not actually see anything unusual at first, but if he touched her he would undoubtedly notice something was up. "Why... why do y-you do this?" she whispered through ragged breaths, hoping to delay whatever it was he was planning on doing.
She couldn't really see anything with her back to him, but if he touched her, she might just be able to tell in which hand he was holding the blade and aim her elbow at it, and whilst he was distracted treat him to a back kick between his legs... And if he did what all men did and dropped everything to reflexively cup his aching privates, maybe Safinia would have a shot at taking the knife from him and disposing of him before he could do the same to her. It was the only plan her feverish brain could come up with, and the alternative wasn't any better... Muscles tense like a new gladiator entering the arena for the first time, she waited for him to make his move.
Amidst the chaos that had flooded her brain and the adrenaline coursing through her veins, one thing was becoming clear to Safinia: the chances of the man letting her go unharmed were not looking good. There was such emotion in his voice, his hissing sounding so angry to her thumping ears, that she very much doubted he would be able to keep his cool. And with the blade pressing against the bare skin of her throat, if he got fidgety she would be in real trouble.
Panic and terror were now giving way to resignation, but also to an urge to formulate an escape plan. Outrunning the man was out of the question, as was physically overpowering him. She tried not to focus on the cold metal and the dangerous glint in the criminal's eyes lest her meagre, newly-found survival instinct wither and die then and there, and instead let out a small sound of assent. For the time being Safinia would do as the man said, and hopefully come up with some plan of sorts that would allow her to survive this ordeal.
With wobbly, nervous steps she went around and behind the barrels, uncomfortably aware of the man's sharp focus on her. Even while moving he didn't withdraw the blade a single breadth of hair. As they were obscured from sight by the pile of sacks, she ventured a quick look at her captor and a questioning whisper. "Is it... money...?"
If so, they were both out of luck.
It didn't really seem as though the man was trying to help, grumpy as he was. For one, all he had done so far was make a smart remark on the state of the sack and suggest they get a new one, but there were no turnips in his hands. Safinia frowned, and was about to mouth off that it wasn't nice to make such accusations to the party he had wronged when she felt quick movement around her and then the sudden coldness of metal against the warm skin of her throat. Huh?
How the fuck was this lunatic so nimble that he had sneaked up on her without her noticing?! But even if she had noticed, would it have made a difference in escaping in time? Shocked by the rapid succession of events, the man's words didn't fully register with Safinia unless a few seconds later, and she stared at him in surprise and confusion before what he was saying finally sunk in. Her blue eyes widened in panic and her heart beat so fast it seemed about to burst out of her chest. He had ordered her not to talk or scream, but she couldn't help the frantic shallow breaths that escaped her lips, and they sounded so loud to her ears that she couldn't fathom why no passerby was hearing them and coming to her rescue.
There was no choice but to do as the man said. Unable to nod for fear of having the blade he was holding dig into her throat, Safinia blinked a couple of times between ragged gasps. Yes, she understood. Too late, but she understood the situation she found herself in. "Please..." she whispered, more a movement of lips than actual sound, "I'm sorry... Please..."
Again the man proved he was reacting as Safinia would expect a spy to, feigning ignorance and claiming he preferred to attend gladiator games. Of course he did, trying to throw sand in her eyes. "Oh? Who's your favourite then?" She would agree the matches could sometimes be exciting, but if blood and death were what he was after as a spectator, the races provided those on occasion too. "I don't keep up with the ludi much." How would she manage to trot up the stairs to the cheapest seats now? Affording the ones closest to the arena was entirely out of the question.
She chuckled at his words, though there was no humour in it. "So I could fetch the cook from the stables and watch them try the new wooden spoon on you for making me drop all those turnips, for example." The image that formed in her head was comical enough to make her smile a little, but not laugh. They had barely taken a few more steps when the man requested a pit stop. "Out of breath already? It's not that far," Safinia piped up before turning round and seeing it was the bag he was carrying that was giving him trouble. At least he'd had the foresight to stop by some barrels, conveniently stacked for her to lean against for a bit and put all her weight on her good leg, giving the bad one some respite.
Grimacing in discomfort, she looked down at her legs; still and covered by her tunic, they appeared normal. Would she ever get better? Things wouldn't go back to the way they were before, obviously, but if she eventually managed to go longer distances... or jog for a little while... Safinia bit her lower lip in frustration. All she could do was take things one day at a time, like she often told Azarion. If only he'd been here to carry the turnips instead!
That was exactly what a spy would say. Safinia could not lower her guard. Within seconds a plan had formed in her mind: she would tell the man to wait a few feet away from the entrance while she went inside to get a new sack, and the guard could keep an eye on him in the meantime. Then she would return with the sack, hand it to him and come up with a good excuse for her lateness whilst she waited. The patronising look the man shot her went unmentioned, though she returned it with an unsympathetic one of her own.
"If you really were a spy that's exactly the sort of thing you'd say, isn't it?" She shook her head, her braided hair swaying lightly from side to side, and let out a sigh of hopelessness. Then again, she supposed there were people who didn't really care for the races - deep down, she was one of them. "What don't you like about them? Not exciting enough?" There was always the risk of someone getting trampled to death or maimed for life, not to mention the fortunes that could be made and unmade by betting on the right or wrong team.
She looked over her shoulder to make sure the man was right behind her. "What, afraid I'll run away?" she chuckled derisively. "As if I could."
From the look of surprise on his face it seemed the man had little experience being told what to do, or having it done in less than convoluted ways. Odd when half of Rome was constantly ordering the other half around, but perhaps he was one of the fortunate ones that did the ordering. Looking at him, he didn't quite come out as poor like her, but he didn't seem to be swimming in gold either.
Fantastic, they had reached the same conclusion. Suppressing the urge to roll her eyes, Safinia waited in silence for the man to own up and start picking up the turnips, but the next words out of his mouth were more sensible that she could have predicted. She gave it a moment's thought before nodding. "That sounds like a good idea. It's the stables' loss, so you'll be in a world of trouble if you don't fix this." Finding a new sack would take no time at all; the worst part would be convincing the guard that bringing back a stranger really was a twist of fate and that the man would be gone in no time... but she could explain the situation well enough for it to be believable.
"Fine. Come with me then," Safinia demanded, waving her hand to signal he should join her and slowly taking off towards the stables. "But when we get there let me do the talking, all right? For all anyone knows you could be a spy from the Blues or something. In fact," she paused as the thought struck her, "how can I be sure you're not?"
To his credit the man took the sack without complaining - which was only appropriate, since the turnips would still be safely stored inside it if he hadn't bumped into Safinia. That the sack turned out to be ripped was also his fault, she felt, although that was harder to explain rationally. Chances were a small tear had widened when the turnips were jostled. Not quite pacified, she looked expectantly at him, wordlessly willing him to get down and start collecting the vegetables, but blinked in surprise when he spoke.
"Not really. I need to take these to the White stables." Distance had become less meaningful with her injury, though, as terrain played a bigger part than ever. "But I don't see how that helps you pick them up." What did he have in mind? Safinia couldn't figure out the man's plan, whatever it was. They had only one usable bag between the two of them and quite a number of things to carry. "I can't do it myself, I've got a bad leg," she clarified matter-of-factly, thinking to herself that even if she had been fine he should be the one to pick up the turnips as a matter of principle. You break it, you buy it, or something along those lines.
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Late October, 75 AD - near the White stables
The sun had already disappeared behind the horizon, and only a few remnants of its light tinted the sky with streaks of lighter blue among the growing darkness. Nightfall meant most well-meaning inhabitants of Rome retreated back into their abodes, and Safinia, on her way from the market, was about to join them in doing just that.
The sack on her back was heavy with turnips and delayed her already slow pace, but if she got the vegetables to the kitchens today then she wouldn't have to venture out in the middle of the day tomorrow, when the crowds were greatest and their patience least for someone standing in their busy path like her.
Another couple of minutes and she would reach the stables, but a curious sensation that Safinia wasn't able to shake off had persisted for a little while now - although whether said while was a minute or thirty she could not say. It was almost as if somebody was watching her very intensely... A pickpocket assessing his next victim, perhaps? She would be an easy one, unable to run away, but unless they wanted to make off with a sack of turnips she had nothing worth stealing on her.
The feeling grew more and more intense until Safinia felt the urge to stop. Standing a little to the side, she looked over both shoulders, but saw nothing through the sack-obstructed view that could explain the odd inkling. Maybe she was just tired and hungry. Yes, that had to be it.
Early July, 75CE
Marcellus took a step back and sighed. The sun was beating overhead and making him drip with sweat. The whole team and their accompanying servants had turned out to help assess and fix the damage to the stables, and of course Marcellus was helping out. What else did he have to do, anyway? He could be out drinking, of course, but what was the point in that if he had to come back to the stables to sleep in an uncomfortable pallet on the ground? It wasn't worth it, though, for the hundredth time, he reminded himself to pool his money together and live in the insulae nearby. It wouldn't be a headache to commute to training, and he was a free man, free to live where he liked.
But for now, he was taking a break from moving stones into the rubbish pile to have an apple and a sit-down. He couldn't work for hours on end without stopping - no human could. He made his way into an undamaged covered area and sat, sighing again. What a boring and difficult day.
August, 75 AD
Despite everything that had happened to him, he was still here. Since Salacia was gone, he’d been thinking about her a lot. And about what happened when they first met and even before that. He remembered his first wife, his son… he remembered it when he gave himself to slavery, because he had nothing. He remembered his first owners, and then the second. He remembered the beautiful Domitilla, whom he made the mistake of falling in love with and telling her. If he had never told her, he might still have been with her. But he had been passed off again, to Cyprianus, who gave him the undeserved freedom, which he still had.
And so much had happened since then. The past decade had however been quiet for Manius, right until the earthquake, where his life fell apart again. It was slowly rebuilding now and he even got himself a job - but he had all the memories and they weighed him down.
He had always liked to take walks while thinking and that was the same case today. A good, long walk through Rome to clear his mind. Still on his own, of course. As always. That’s when he saw it. A young woman near a market stall, picking something up when the stallholder was looking away. Then she hid it in her purse and hurried away.
Manius shook his head, this wasn’t good. It really wasn’t his job to follow her, but it wasn’t right to steal like that. And maybe the stallholder would pay Manius a reward for helping.
He decided to follow her until she stopped.
Early June, 75CE
Azarion was a junior charioteer now. It was only a matter of time before he could join the actual races, driving a quadriga around the tacks of the Circus. He had been training for months, making progress, even building up some muscle (although he was still fairly lean for a charioteer). He was wearing the colors of the Whites, and training his own horses.
With all of those things noted, he was definitely sure that he should not be sent on shopping duty.
And yet, here he was.
Since that first, rolling pin and apple fiasco, Azarion only crossed paths with Safinia a few times, usually around meals. There was a tentative truce between them, in which she gave out his two apples, and he only tired to steal more if he was sure he could get away with it, every once in a while. He had risen in status from stable boy to charioteer-in-training. But sadly, said raise did not come with an extra amount of apples. And he had four horses under his care.
Safinia was being sent to the market, and Azarion was told to accompany her, for safety, and for extra hands to carry things. It was a disgrace. As someone a step away from being the star of the races, why did he have to accompany her to shop? Just because he couldn't talk back, and she could wield a rolling pin?... Azarion was not in a good mood as he walked behind her, out of the Circus and around the Palatine. This was not the glamourous life he had been promised.
The day was hot, the heat bore down on him as he practised out on the tracks. But as the chariot moved, he felt the air around him move, stroking the pellets of sweat that formed against his brow and arms that held tightly to the reigns. A good charioteer had to keep “up-to-date”, especially if they wished to be better than their teammates or rivals. For a man who seemingly loved the spotlight, nodding at the spectators, he chose to bring the horses back to the stables himself without troubling the slaves. After pushing the chariot back in its proper place, he tossed the slaves who’d done the hard work some coinage to buy themselves something at the shops nearby on their next break.
It was hard not to feel pity for them when he’d once been in their position before. His time as a slave had been less than favourable but that was to be expected, he had been someone else’s property. But that was a long time ago and if you asked Bassus, it didn’t matter anymore. Dwelling in the past never helped anyone and the present was a constant battle.
When the charioteer sought for some shade, he caught sight of a girl, her skin fresh and devoid of age, so unlike his own. A cloth now in hand, he was busy wiping away the sweat that formed on his face and neck. He lips turned upwards into a smile as he approached her, nodding at her in greeting.
“Couldn’t help yourself watching the men train, could you?“ he said playfully. While first impressions were everything, youths tended to err on the side of humour. But perhaps it was the bit of “dad” that still left in him that made him make that remark. “Sorry that was rude. Bassus. Safinia, isn’t it? The new girl who sweet talked her way into a position involving lots of food.” He then lowered his voice. “Just between us, you’d be willing to sneak a weary man something during breaks?”
17 | 28th February 57 | Plebeian | Cook’s assistant | Heterosexual | Original | Kaya Scodelario
Safinia has never experienced fiery passion or all-consuming hatred. She has never screamed her heart out in grief, had her belly hurt from laughing too much or cried at the misfortune of a close one. The emotions that guide human behavior come to her only in muted, diffuse forms, like shades of grey in a world of colour. She does not know if she was born faulty like that or if it was a consequence of the fire, as her recollections of childhood are few and blurry; she remembers her father’s hands more than his face and her mother’s favourite red dress more than her voice.
As a result, she is guided more by physicalities like cold and hunger than virtuous ideals or fanciful desires – the exception being a mixture between old habit and greed that has her stealing small things here and there, sometimes to sell immediately or to keep and admire until she tires of them and trades them for coin.
Safinia’s loyalty is to first and foremost to herself, and she goes about daily interactions putting her own interests first. Despite this, she does not participate in plots or schemes, because she has trouble seeing more than face value to words and promises. That is not to say she does not lie or deceive; she will if it’s convenient to her, but her lies are spoken with the same bluntness as her truths, and more like plain denials than convoluted stories.
Social niceties are anything but intuitive to Safinia, and in spite of years of observation and ‘training’, she is able to successfully fake them only about half the time, and even then rarely for more than a few hours. To make matters worse, she is unceremonious and straightforward in speech too, seldom running her words though her defective social filter. This causes much irritation amongst the more sensitive of her peers, but has earned her a reputation of frankness with others.
All in all, Safinia feels no special attachment to other human beings; they’re often more trouble to figure out than they’re worth. Her plans for the future do not extend beyond the next couple of months, at least for the time being, and essentially consist of keeping herself clothed and fed with a roof over her head.
From her Romano-Lusitanian father, Safinia inherited her dark brown hair and average height of 154 cm; from her Gaulish mother, fair skin and vivid blue eyes – which do not provide a window into her soul, or if they do, show only a flat and undisturbed surface. Light freckles appear around her nose and lips and under her eyes when the sun is strong, and dimples form on her cheeks when she smiles, but few have had the chance to notice the latter.
She has an oval face with a small nose and thin lips and a penchant for looking people straight in the eyes, which makes many uncomfortable. Objectively, she is a pretty young woman. Slimly built, Safinia usually wears whatever she get her hands on, which given her station and wealth tends to be well-worn and cheap. Although she works for the White faction, her work guarantees dirtying of any white garments she were to wear, so Safinia sports the colour on hair ribbons instead.
Her back is covered in burn scars from a fire in her youth; they are usually hidden from view by clothes, but when they do have to be on display like at the public baths, Safinia is thoroughly unbothered by it.
Father: Lucius Safinius (b. 14 AD, d. 64 AD)
Mother: Safinia L.l. Flora (b. 20 AD, d. 64 AD).
Spouse: Marcus Dellius (b. 52 AD, d. 74 AD)
Extended family: N/A
Other: Paula, surrogate mother (b. 18? AD, d. 74 AD)
57 AD: Safinia is born in Pax Iulia, Lusitania to a Plebeian scout for the White chariot team and his Gaulish freedwoman. According to family legend, her paternal great-grandfather was a veteran of Augustus of southern Italian roots who was settled in Emerita Augusta; her grandfather, in turn, moved to Pax Iulia, where her father was also born and raised. Perhaps due to her parents’ age, she is the couple’s only child to survive birth.
57 – 64 AD: Safinia grows up in Pax Iulia. She is taught the rudiments of reading, writing and mathematics. More experienced parents might worry about their daughter always wanting to play alone, but Lucius and Flora are just grateful that Safinia is an ‘easy’ child.
64 AD, February: The Safinii travel to Rome as Lucius has some very important report for the leader of the Whites. He has been to the capital before, but it is Flora and Safinia’s first time in the eternal city. They rent a tiny house not far from the White stables, and Safinia celebrates her seventh birthday and her first outside her hometown.
64 AD, March: The house where the Safinii are staying is set on fire in the middle of the night and burns to the ground along with a few neighbouring houses. Her parents perish in the fire, but Safinia survives with some burns on her body. The arsonists are never caught, and the incident is deemed a random act of vandalism as no suspects are identified.
65 AD, early spring: After roaming the streets of Rome and stealing to survive for roughly a year, Safinia is taken in by Paula, a childless widow who pities her.
65 – 73 AD: Safinia works as centonaria alongside Paula, sewing rags and patches into a semblance of clothing. When she delivers garments to their customers at their houses, small valuables like jewellery and statuettes mysteriously disappear, although it occurs sporadically enough that nobody associates her with the missing objects.
73 AD, November: Safinia marries Marcus Dellius, a neighbour and roofer five years her senior. It is arranged by Paula, and Safinia goes along with it out of something resembling filial duty, despite having zero feelings for Marcus. He is shy, does not drink excessively and cries when Safinia dispassionately tells him the story of the burn scars on her back. Coins start to disappear from Marcus’ money purse at random intervals, but he never suspects his new wife. Safinia continues to work as centonaria, but from her new home.
74 AD, January: Paula dies of infection following a rotten tooth. Safinia follows mourning rituals and traditions, but the loss impacts her as much as what Caesar had for lunch, which is not at all. Her eyes stay dry throughout. Whatever valuables Paula possessed are subtracted from her house by someone who knew where they were hidden.
74 AD, August: Marcus and Safinia fall ill with Roman fever (malaria). Marcus dies after a few days; Safinia recovers but loses the child she was carrying. As before, she does not shed a single tear, and misses the small comforts afforded by Marcus’ pay more than the man; the miscarriage is similarly dismissed with no consequence.
74 AD, October: Safinia starts working for the White faction as cook’s assistant, name-dropping her father and his connection to the team; she makes it sound like she was taken in by a relative after the fire, and neglects to mention her sewing skills, keeping them as a card up her sleeve in case she needs to find a new employer or gain favour with the Whites. Safinia moves to a different neighbourhood, cutting contact with everyone she knew from before. Trinkets and small objects of little value start disappearing from the stables and mess hall.
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