Face ClaimRami Malek
Iophon had a point - even the best laid plans fell victim to Tyche's whims, so it was best not to tempt the goddess if they wanted her on their side that night. "You're right, it could be something sketchy. Or dangerous," Artemon shuddered, suddenly aware of the possibility that it was something poisonous after all. He had heard the upper echelons of Roman society were rife with betrayal and backstabbing; maybe that was who Gallus was catering to? In that case, Artemon didn't think he wanted in on it anymore. The last thing he needed was to aggravate some bigwig.
They huddled in the dark, watching the guard bumble around the perimeter as he let out a big yawn. Artemon found himself doing the same; it was late, he had worked all day, and everybody knew yawns were highly contagious. "Umm..." he scrunched up his nose, thinking hard on whether he had ever seen the door being locked or unlocked. "... I don't know," he admitted with a sheepish smile. "But I know a window we can try! Some crates are stacked up high on the inside right next to it, so if we are are stealthy as spiders, nobody will notice us. It's on the other side of the warehouse," he gestured with a flourish. "Should we wait for the guard to pass by this spot again, so we know how long it takes him?" Tyche was blessing him that night with such clever inspiration! It was clear she wanted them to succeed. If they did, Artemon vowed to make a sacrifice in her name.
"Uh, yes!" Artemon bristled, and would have looked like an offended cat if he had more body hair (alas, he did not, true to his Egyptian stock). "I'll have you know it's a very respectable name! It's after the goddess Artemis, although I don't expect you to know much about that," he scoffed at Zia, affront momentarily overruling the little sense he had and which hadn't been enough to suggest that maybe it would have been wise to provide false information. With a sassy glare, he kept on prattling. "Hah! Let the burglars come, I have nothing of value to steal!" This should be nothing to boast about, but he wore his poverty like a tunic of immunity against the misfortune of thievery.
He didn't know if Gallus liked discretion so much as he believed the man just didn't really care. Why would their competitors come knocking for him (and who were these competitors and did they pay better?)? "Am I that important to your business?" he asked, already moved on from indignity to self-importance. Well, it made sense now that he thought about it! Without him, there was no way they would have loaded and unloaded so many crates, and if it weren't for his expert instructions, they wouldn't have known how to store them to maximise floor space! "Hmm, maybe they should come then..." he caressed a non-existent moustache. "I don't have a wife, though. I live with my brother."
And if what Zia said next was true, he would not have any luck keeping one in the future! Artemon cowered under her words, eyes growing to the size of dinner plates as he instinctively dropped his hands in front of his crotch to protect it. He floundered for a bit, fearful gaze flicking back and forth between her little finger and his family jewels. By the great Sobek, why had he provoked the ire of a witch?! A German witch, at that! Egyptian witches he knew how to contend with; Greek and Roman ones, he was learning. But a German witch was uncharted territory, as scary as what lay beyond the Pillars of Hercules. His words came out in an embarrassing squeak. "I h-haven't... Wh-what can you do?"
Hopefully not kill him! On the other hand, some witches could be kind. Zia didn't seem like that type, but maybe, if Artemon ingratiated himself with her, she could use her magical powers to his advantage?
"Yes, just one." He adjusted his hands' protective stance. "if I don't cross you, will you make me rich with your magic?"
What was the point in being rich, then, if you weren't allowed to show it off? Artemon scoffed. The woman clearly didn't know what she was talking about. "Then what use is gold? Even if you leave it all at home, burglars may still take it," he shot back, voice full of scorn. "If you flaunt it then thieves will know you're rich enough to send people after them to get it back." Big burly hired goons, maybe former gladiators that would frighten any criminal into giving up stolen goods. When he was rich, Artemon too would hire such goons so he could flaunt his gold all he wanted.
His stomach, however, clamoured for food and not gold, and answered the woman before his mouth did. "I don't want to starve," he admitted, flicking his eyes away from hers. She was a bit intimidating, almost like a weary mother - and she was reminding him of his, with her exasperated tone and dwindling patience for the daftest of her flock. "I'm Artemon. I live in an insula on the Esquiline, why?" He scratched the side of his nose. If she was intending to call on him for supper in the future, she was very wrong!
"What would happen to him? He's free, you're not. He could just say you bewitched him and hand you to your master." Artemon narrowed his eyes in suspicion, as if an idea had just occurred to him. "Are you a witch?" That would explain so much - her sway over Gallus, the herb she needed for her poisons... He needed to be very careful now!
Fortunately this wasn't their first rodeo with sneaky doings, and Artemon was pleased to see his brother taking the matter seriously, covering their rear so they wouldn't be caught unawares by somebody approaching them from behind. They had nothing of value in their persons, but the average pickpocket couldn't possibly know that when the night was at its darkest. He scanned their surroundings with eagle-eyed enthusiasm, forgetting to look down every now and then and getting his just reward for it by stepping in a pile of something soft and stinky. Ew!
He stomped about, trying to clean his sandal, Iophon's voice sounding amidst the thumping. "Right, that's a good idea. We should only take as much as can be blamed on rats." There! The sole was more or less clean now. Artemon's ears perked right up and he turned round so fast he was dizzy for a few seconds. "You think?! That he would let us in on it?" His blue eyes glinted with hope. If it was something expensive, maybe this time he would get the riches he had dreamed of all his life!
Uplifted by his daydreaming, Artemon guided them to the warehouse where he worked, stopping a safe distance from it and hiding in a dark corner. "That's the one," he pointed, forgetting that in the darkness Iophon might not see his extended finger. "So what's the plan now? There's usually a guard making rounds. Do we try to avoid him or should one of us distract him while the other sneaks in?"
Iophon was on board; great! Artemon beamed, excited at the turn their day had taken. They were going on an adventure, one full of dangers and perils but that could put them on the road to riches. "Of course I do!" They needed to bring their top game to the task. He rummaged around their shabby little flat to find the necessary tools and was soon putting on his threadbare cloak, a little leather pouch hanging from his neck and safely tucked under his tunic.
He sneaked out and down the stairs, looking over his shoulder as though he suspected he was being followed, and took a deep breath of relief when the cool night air hit his skin. "Right, stay close to me," he whispered to his co-conspirator. Then he motioned for Iophon to come with, and began the journey through the narrow and often inadvisable streets and alleys of Rome.
As they walked, Artemon couldn't help but make plans for the future. "What should we do with the stuff after we've taken a sample? Do you think that if we try to sell it, they'll know where we got it?"
Oh. That had been a short-lived delusion. But his new friend had a good idea: procuring a scribe! "Of course! Do you know of any scribe that doesn't charge an arm and a leg? They don't need to be too good, my brother is quite stupid," Artemon grinned, blissfully oblivious to the fact that said brother might say the same about him. "Is there anyone you would like to write to? A friend in Corinth? Or a love, maybe?" He elbowed the other man in the ribs while winking (or attempting to) at him with a knowing look on his face.
It was said that sailors had a lover at every port - Artemon didn't fit that mould, but his companion's clarification emboldened him to tell a couple of stories of his own. "Ohhh!" His face was like that of a caveman who had just discovered fire. "Sorry, I'm not good at taking hints. Sometimes I pick up on ones that were never there at all, and sometimes I just don't get them." His sheepish smile betrayed no embarrassment; this was clearly a familiar situation. It was compounded by the fact that only very seldom did Artemon have a rapt audience; he was not like Iophon, a master wordsmith. In any case, perhaps he could bring some light entertainment to his friend's day.
"Well, I know a few. Oh, I've got one! So a few years ago I was doing grain shipping up and down the Nile, right? In some random town an older man joined us, and he was pretty strong. So he stayed with us for a few months. A bit quiet, but nice. Then one day we dock at this village close to Thebes, and there's always people by the harbour selling and buying stuff." He paused to draw breath. "Anyway, the man goes and buys himself some dates, and before we know it the saleswoman is thwacking him with her basket! Turns out our new mate was married to her many years before, and just up and left one day! She beat him within one inch of his life, he didn't dare leave a second time. The boss wasn't too happy about that, though." Artemon finished his tale with hearty peals of laughter, unbothered by the violence of the story. He turned to gauge his friend's appreciation. "Good one, huh?"
Maybe the woman had a point after all, and that was why Artemon was stuck working for Gallus instead of being at the helm of his great as-of-yet-non-existent enterprise. Then again, she couldn't have been that successful, or she would have managed to buy her freedom by now. Whatever the plant was used for, it sold like hot honey cakes, the flurry of crates in and out like so many busy bees round their hive.
He grumbled something in Egyptian as he trailed after the woman - something that was not meant to be repeated in polite company -, dragging his feet. Just how far away was it? He hadn't had food in almost a day, and his stomach was starting to have a thing or two to say about that. If Gallus was home, maybe he would invite Artemon and the woman for some supper! Dreaming was still free of charge.
"Since a little after the earthquake last year?" Artemon raised his brow and wrinkled his nose, giving himself a profoundly daft expression. That the haughty lady had called herself his employer had whooshed right past him, never to be remarked upon. "But business has really been picking up lately! How come you're not dressed in silks and covered in jewels if you're that rich, huh?" His tone was one part malice and nine parts pure wonder as he sidestepped other nightly passersby, keen on not letting his guide out of his sight in the darkness. "Why did you choose Gallus to be your man? He could just rat you out to your master, couldn't he?" And lose a source of income in the process, but Artemon's reasoning didn't reach that far.
Though he tried not to let it show as he finished his drink, Artemon was a little bit miffed that his new friend didn't show much of an interest in his seafaring stories. Granted, not everybody was a fan of boats and there were many who suffered seasickness, but his tales had it all: crocodiles! Villains! Treasure! A downtrodden hero (Artemon himself)! On occasion, a girl! But it was all right, Artemon reasoned - his compatriot had too much on his mind to be able to fully appreciate the rich tapestry that was Artemon's life.
"Corinth? Hmm..." He tucked his tongue between his teeth, trying to jog his memory. The truth was that market cities began to look an awful lot like one another after a while, unless there was something or someone worthy of mention there. "It rings a bell, but I can't say what's remarkable about it," he confessed sheepishly. "There comes a point where you just come in, sell your wares, load up with new wares to sell and go on your way..." he said by way of apology, trying to fix his blunder.
Now boats and water, he could talk about all day. "Don't worry, you're not the only one!" Artemon gave his companion a cheerful pat on the shoulder. "There are many sailors who are poor swimmers and end up in the jaws of Sobek's servants, more's the pity. But I haven't seen any crocodiles in the Tiber yet, so you're safe!" A hearty laugh left his throat and he patted his friend's back again. "Most find their sea legs after a while. My brother Hermolaos never did, he still turns pale as a toga every time he has to climb on board." The smile on Artemon's face was more than a little smug. "Wonder what he's up to..."
An idea hit him, and he whipped his head so fast it was a miracle his neck hadn't snapped to look at his friend with huge, bulging eyes. "I should send him a letter! Can you write?"
Artemon listened in rapt attention as Iophon detailed just how they would be using that file. Of course! Not only would the marks tell them which crates they had already opened, but also fool others into thinking it was rats that had been sniffing about rather than the twins! Iophon was a genius; no wonder they were related.
"We can also use the pouch to stash away some of the herb, in case we don't have enough time," he added in conspiratorial excitement. "Then we can check it out here at home." Nobody would notice a handful going missing, surely... His excitement gave way to puzzlement, and Artemon looked at his twin as though he was trying hard to remember something. "Umm... To be honest, I don't remember if they opened any. Sorry." The sheepish smile he wore was genuine, but no less irritating for it.
The question that followed was a lot easier to answer: after all, Artemon made the trek twice a day and had for a few months now, so he had a pretty good estimation. "Close to an hour, depending on how crowded the streets are. Should be a little faster at night..." He worried his bottom lip, eyes widening in realisation. "Do you want to go now?!" It would be risky. But when wouldn't it?
Artemon blinked again, squinting as though the sun was shining straight in his eyes (which was of course impossible at that time of night and inside a warehouse to boot). "Your employee...?" This made no sense at all. And the woman was looking more displeased by the second; Artemon felt himself wilting under her intense gaze like the flower inside the crates. It hadn't looked much like a flower to him since it was all dried up and had no petals anymore, but she wasn't wrong. Which made the situation all the more dire for him.
Well, it had been his idea, so he had to stay true to his word. His father always said that keeping one's promises was very important to get ahead in life. "F-fine!" he replied in an indignant tone, entirely fabricated to give himself some courage. There was always somebody coming and going - the warehouse wouldn't be left unattended. With an uncomfortable sensation that resembled fear pooling in his stomach, Artemon followed the woman to where she stood waiting for him by the door and tried to give her a glowering sample of his own.
"It's because I've been hard at work!" Yes, he was tired, but he was also used to running on little fuel. "You, on the other hand, don't look like you know what work is," he harrumphed with a very out-of-place smirk. Maybe the woman was attendant to the lady of the house, if there was one. Artemon saw them on the streets sometimes, some twice as plump as he was and clad in much better quality fabrics, and always concluded that it must be a very cushy job. "Lead the way, then!" he gestured towards the streets. It didn't occur him to ask how she knew where Gallus lived.
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January 76 AD
The new year had brought about a slight increase in business, but it hadn't increased Artemon's meagre salary in the same proportion. Gallus only cared for his own purse, that's what he did, and Artemon grumbled under his breath in Egyptian as he flitted about the old warehouse, loading and unloading things here and there like a (badly) paid cargo mule.
He had just put down his last crate and made a beeline for the water jug nearby when a figure came into his line of sight. That wasn't Gallus, or any of the other labourers he knew of. For one, none of them had such long hair. For two, none had such obviously feminine features either. Who was this lady? Had she entered the warehouse by accident, lost on her way to some other place? Artemon's first instinct was to greet her and ask her if she needed help, but Gallus wouldn't have approved of that. No, he was supposed to be serious and gruff so people knew not to mess with him!
"What are you doing here? This is private property!" he parroted in his best stern tone, wiping his sweaty hands on his equally sweaty tunic. "You need to leave."
After a day's work Artemon all but stumbled in through the door of the tiny one-room flat he shared with his twin, body aching for some rest. It seemed like he was the last one to get home that day, he concluded as he spotted Iophon's figure in a corner. "I bought us food, brother!" he announced cheerily, putting down on the table a clay bowl with finger-licking good stew he had got on the way home from the place Alexius had introduced him to.
"Iophon," he started, brow furrowed in deep concentration. "I've been thinking hard about something. What do you think is in those crates I carry back and forth for Gallus? I thought it was some kind of spice, but it doesn't smell like any I know." Granted, Artemon didn't know a lot of spices as his finances only allowed for the most common ones such as fennel and cumin, but that was no skin off his nose as he broke a piece of bread from a round dark loaf and sat down to dip it into the stew with gusto.
In between loud mouthfuls he carried on. "Do you think it's that plant women use so they don't have babies?" Whatever it was, it seemed like business was booming. And Artemon would very much like to be in on it too.
October 75 CE
After a successful praying session to the ancient gods of his homeland, Artemon was feeling quite ready to honour another Egyptian custom of old - a nice mug of beer. Even though his deity of choice was Sobek, the crocodile god to whom he had not found a temple yet, he had faith that neither Isis nor Serapis would object too much to being second best.
The small tavern a couple of streets away was mostly frequented by countrymen of his and, as far as Artemon was concerned, had pretty decent beer for its price. He hummed an old tune all the way there and headed straight for the counter upon entering, where he parted with a bit of coin and was given a big cup with a generous amount of beer inside. He took a sip, sighed in delight and made his way outside again, intent on enjoying his drink under the autumn sun...
That was, until he walked into something quite solid and proceeded to spill half his beer over it. As he processed the event he first mourned the loss of his drink, and only a moment later did he realise he had unwittingly given a young man a beer bath. With a sheepish smile Artemon awkwardly and futilely tried to pat the man dry as he apologised in Egyptian. "I'm sorry brother, my mind was elsewhere."
Artemon was feeling down for the umpteenth time that week. Things were not looking up at all. As he carried an amphora full of water up the stairs, balancing it easily over his shoulder, he ran the maths in his head once more. Numbers weren't his strong suit, but even a bad student like him knew that unless his luck changed - or Iophon's, for that matter -, keeping a roof over their heads would be no easy feat.
His thoughts quickly strayed to the topic of alternate lodging and then to his attractive neighbour Lucilla. She was so pretty and had such nice skin... hard to believe she was a laundress, her hands were never swollen and wrinkly! She must clearly use quality products and be paid well for them, since she could afford a better place than him and Iophon. If only she would give him the time of day...
Lost in his daydream, Artemon almost crashed into one of his neighbours that was going down the stairs, and after a few seconds of juggling and cursing the amphora was safely balanced between his shoulder and head again. "Sorry Alexius, I was very deep in thought," Artemon apologised to his downstairs neighbour. The man had always been friendly, so maybe he wouldn't be angry at the near-collision.
Wait a minute. Alexius was just the right person to ask! He was often in good-looking company. Looking at Alexius with big hopeful eyes, Artemon put a hand on the bodyguard's arm to stop him. "Actually, you're just the person I needed to see. I want your opinion. And your help," he added in a low conspiratorial tone. "What do you think of Lucilla who lives upstairs?"
22 | 10th December 52 CE | Peregrini | Odd jobbs | Bisexual | Original | Rami Malek
Artemon is a friendly young man with a fatal flaw: gullibility. Always eager to believe that his luck is about to turn round, he falls for the flimsiest plans with boundless enthusiasm and learns absolutely nothing from his failures. He is, however, resilient, as he picks himself up time and again while managing to keep his faith in humanity. His greatest dream is to strike it rich, and to this end he frequently embarks on a number of get-rich-quick schemes and drains his meagre savings in the process. He is a people person and will happily strike up a chat with total strangers in his native Egyptian, fluent Greek or his improving Latin – and being as credulous and naïf as he is, he also falls in and out of love very easily, coming across the love of his life on average twice a week.
Being a dimwit also has its problems, as some smarter people Artemon comes across will think he’s taking the mick because nobody could conceivably be this daft, and despite his frantic assurances that he’s not, every once in a while Artemon will come home sporting a black eye or bloody nose, or sometimes both. He’s a strong believer in magic and superstition and is thoroughly convinced that some unknown enemy of his has put a very strong curse on him that keeps him from succeeding in life - and when he finds out the identity of this person, he will make a sacrifice to Sobek and invoke the most powerful curse known to Egypt on his enemy.
He is a short and scrawny young man, courtesy of insufficient protein whilst growing up – but then again, Egyptians aren’t known for being tall, and at 167 cm he certainly isn’t. For all his apparent lack of muscle, however, Artemon has surprising upper body strength and is no stranger to loading and unloading ships at various harbours or reeling in a crocodile by accident instead of that humongous fish he was positive was trapped in the fishing net.
Perpetually bug-eyed with deep bags under his eyes that won’t go away even if he sleeps a whole day, he’s got the sun-kissed skin of Nile dwellers mixed in with a bit of Greek olive tones. He keeps his dark hair shorter than his brother’s because it gets in his blue eyes (the latter’s colour inherited from some Greek ancestor, his father would say), but if allowed to grow freely it would be just as curly. Artemon has a strong jaw made softer by the easy smile on his face and keeps it religiously free of hair, because it’s itchy and hot and he couldn’t grow a beard if he tried anyway. On the inside of his left bicep is a tattoo of Sobek, the crocodile god of the Nile.
His clothes are plain and of poor quality, betraying the sorry state of his finances, but Artemon tries to keep them as clean as possible, washing his two tunics regularly.
Father: Empedion (b. 18)
Mother: Tsillah (b. 23)
Siblings: Euphemios (b. 40), Apollodora (b. 42), Hermolaos (b. 46), Niketas (b. 49), Chrysanthe (b. 51), Iophon (twin brother, b. 52), Tryphosa (b. 57).
Extended family: aunts, uncles and cousins
52 CE – On a dark December night Artemon and his fraternal twin brother Iophon are born to an already big family in a village near Ptolemais Hermiou. He’s the oldest by a handful of minutes, but time would tell that he is definitely not the wisest. Empedion, their father, gives his new sons good Greek names, as he has done for the rest of his brood – after all, his own father was Greek, and that’s something very important to him. Tsillah, their fully Egyptian mother, doesn’t object any more than she did the previous times, and is just happy that they’re both healthy despite their small size.
57 CE – Their youngest sister, Tryphosa, is born, and Artemon and Iophon are demoted from their positions as babies of the family. Despite his young age, Artemon enjoys going fishing with his maternal grandfather and uncles and is much praised for doing his part in putting food on the table; turns out he does a good job of gutting the fish for a 5-year-old.
58 CE – In a family as large as theirs there are many mouths to feed and not enough food to go round. The Nile’s harvest is bountiful, but only a fraction of a fraction is made available to them and the children often go to bed hungry. Even as his older siblings marry and go off to burden another household or bring another pair of hands to theirs, young Artemon can’t help but lament how everything would be much better if they were rich. The rich never starve, do they? Thus he got it into his head that his one ambition in life was to become rich.
59-67 CE – Although he continues to help out with fishing and is taught the minimum of letters and numbers by his despondent father, Artemon felt like there had to be something more he could be doing to make money. First he tried collecting and selling pretty stones, but everyone could go and pick their own stones off the ground, so that didn’t work; it also didn’t help that the village kids easily conned him into trading his nice stones for others that were bigger but uglier, because arithmetic wasn’t his forte and Artemon didn’t grasp that two of his small shiny stones were worth more than a giant lump of badly-formed clay. Another time a travelling merchant came by the village and was selling herbal cure-alls at a very low price; always one with an eye for business, a barely teenaged Artemon bought the man’s whole supply in order to later sell them to the villagers for a higher price. It might just have worked were it not for the powerful loosening of the bowels the medicine caused, and as constipation hardly ever struck, his enterprise was futile.
68-74 CE – Having joined a small local company of merchants, Artemon and Iophon become another cog in the machine supplying Egyptian grain to the neverending poor of Rome. They sailed up and down the Nile, loading their feluccas with grain from the Thebaid and carrying it down to the port of Alexandria, from where it would cross the Mediterranean to feed the capital of the empire. Artemon was rightly impressed by the city, but after the first year it lost that ‘wow’ factor. When funds were running low, Artemon would team up with his brother and sell amulets against the evil eye to tourists while Iophon told his tales. Though it was steady work, a tiny sliver of ambition gnawed at Artemon: this was no way to get rich! To his simple mind, the path ahead was clear: who was buying the grain? Rome. Meaning there was plenty of money in Rome. Meaning Artemon should go where the money was – Rome! Brokering passage across the sea from himself and his brother was no issue thanks to his passable sailor skills.
74 CE – A couple of weeks after having disembarked at Ostia and gotten a feel for the place, Artemon travels onward and sees Rome for the first time, immediately feeling that this is the place where his fortune will be made. He spends the first few days in a daze, lodging at an old acquaintance of his captain’s, before his dwindling finances force him to look for employment. He found it at a fishmonger’s, gutting fish once more. It did not pay well, but Artemon managed to save a little bit of coin, which he promptly handed to a wise woman to cast a love spell to make Fabia the popina girl fall for him – and as was to be expected, the woman ran off and Fabia did not fall for Artemon. It is at this time that he becomes convinced somebody is out to sabotage his endeavours, and the wise woman was surely bought off by that person so his wish would not come true. After all, only a powerful curse brought on by envy and jealousy would spawn such bad luck.
75 CE, Jan - Jun – Artemon worked in Ostia, making the trek to Rome when his coin purse was heavy enough and returning to the harbour to load and unload shipments when it grew inexplicably empty. The earthquake put an end to that easy routine and Artemon was left scratching his head and deciding to pack up and stay in Rome for a bit – someone had told him they’d heard of a collapsed domus with lots of jewellery and precious items under the rubble that nobody had got to yet. After Artemon paid the man for the rights to inspect the ruins and spent many hours digging and removing dirt, the only things he found were broken amphorae and a putrefied goat.
75 CE, Jul – present – After many a lean week, Fortuna finally smiled upon Artemon and he found himself working for a man named Gallus, moving his merch between warehouses. What said merch is Artemon can’t quite tell, but it smells good and herbal, and if he’s smart this time maybe Gallus will let him in on it. Business seems to be going well, because there’s always work and the pay is steady; steady enough to allow him and Iophon to rent a room in an insula full of funky characters.
Liv | GMT+1 | PM/DM
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