"I can probably lie as well as anyone, but it's easier to tell the truth. You don't have to remember what story you told to who, and what all the details were, if you tell the truth," Rufus said, easing the gentleman to the bench.
It didn't take long to locate the litter, thankfully. Rufus hurried back to help the gentleman up. "Read and write, sir? Yes, sir. Well enough to take dictation, though I'm a bit out of practise - my master already has a secretary." He tried to keep in practise, and of course Rome was full of inscriptions - once you could read, it was almost impossible to stop reading things, after all.
"You'll be all right there, sir, I hope?"
"I've never been to sea at all," Rufus said, and laughed a little. "I've heard all sorts about it, though, from people who have - that the boat doesn't stay still and the motion affects a lot of people badly." It sounded as though Aglaea was one of those.
"So many people, and from all over the Empire. I didn't know people could have such different colours of skin," he said, and held out his own freckled arm. "My mother was from Britannia and I'm as pale as anything, except if it's really hot and I'm out in the sun for too long, and then I go red. And freckle." Aglaea's skin was a beautiful light brown sort of colour, and then there were people from Nubia, away off across the sea to the south, whose skin was the darkest brown Rufus had ever seen - it was very nearly black. Not quite, but nearly.
"I like the countryside, too. Very peaceful, and green. Rome's full of stone buildings and people and - it's nice enough to look at, but I don't think I like living here very much. I don't know if my master has a house in the countryside - he's a Senator, though, so I'd be surprised if he didn't."
"Yes, I'm his body slave." Rufus ran a hand through his hair. "Which might explain why I'm hanging around the Forum waiting for him - slaves aren't allowed in the Curia you see. Well, unless they're public slaves - I should think even the Curia has to have some slaves to keep it nice and tidy, after all."
He nodded. "Yes - my old master had a farm down there and his house was on the cliff - you could see the sea from some of the windows. It's dry but there's grass, and olives and vines - and the umbrella pines! They grow to such a height. I don't know if I miss them or the sea the most. And Paestum itself... it's an old Greek town , most of the people there still speak Greek in some form. And the temples - they're in the Greek style with columns all the way round them, and lower, not like the big ones they have here, that just have the columns at the front and pretend they have them down the sides."
They were to the Greek gods too, Hera and Athene (there were two temples for Hera, which Rufus had always thought odd, though Zeus was worshipped alongside Hera in one of them). Some people called them by the Greek names, and some by the Roman - it depended very much on who was officiating, as far as he'd ever made out. Not that he'd spent much time there when there was the forum and other places to go and see.
He sighed. "I miss it - Rome's so busy. I was just thinking, you know, that if you picked a good spot around here and waited long enough, you'd probably see everyone in the Empire pass at some point. Lots of them more than once, of course."
"Fourteen years!" Rufus exclaimed, finding a seat on the step. "I haven't been with my master even one, yet." He indicated the Curia. "He's a Senator, I'm waiting for him to come out."
He rested his forearms on his knees. "I'm from Paestum, in Campania - several days' walk to the south, and haven't seen anything of the Empire yet, though I may do, with my master."
He wasn't sure what to think about that possibility, but slaves did what they were told and that was that.
"What is it like - Judea? If you don't mind me asking."
"Isn't that more reason to?" Rufus asked. "Be kind, I mean. Life's hard enough - especially for folks like you and me." He indicated the slave tablet he wore, proclaiming his lack of status to anyone who spared him even a brief glance.
"You haven't been here long, have you? In Rome, I mean." Her Latin was accented but it wasn't an accent that Rufus recognised, not really, and he wondered where she was from. The darker tone of her skin made him think it was somewhere to the East - probably somewhere where Greek, rather than Latin, was the language spoken by most people to communicate.
"Xereis na milas Hellinika?" Do you speak Greek?
His accent would be rough, his dialect that of the former colonies of Magna Graecia - it was perhaps surprising that it was still spoken down there in Campania at all, but it was.
The actual Greek would be Ξερεις να μιλας 'ελληνικα?
"You can always tell your domina that things cost more than you expected and there wasn't any change," Rufus said, with a shrug. It might not be the truth, but a small lie never hurt anyone, and if it was only a bit of money and not a whole lot, then it wouldn't matter either way. "Would she be less angry with you for being careless and telling the truth, or telling her a harmless little lie?"
He generally didn't encourage others to lie - but the occasional mistruth would be easier to get away with if the master or mistress knew you for a truthful sort of person, overall.
"That's a small mercy, then. Next time, put your purse inside your tunica. Or in the bag with your shopping." He grinned, his usual slow smile. "I'm Rufus." She could see why; his previous master had not been blessed with an active imagination when it came to naming his slaves.
"Will you be in trouble for...?" he asked - she looked like a slave, but she might not be. And if she was a slave, then it probably hadn't been her money in the first place.
"Well, you don't have to be the same sort of master as them," Rufus said, a little amused that the old gentleman was more concerned about his father's condition when it was the mother's that determined the condition of the child, backed up by the paterfamilias. He supposed there might have been some freeborn children condemned to servitude if there was doubt as to the paternity.
"Everyone has slaves, and most people would be quite capable of doing for themselves the things they have their slaves do." He helped the gentleman to sit, thinking that any slave he had would surely end up one of the most spoilt slaves in Rome.
He asked whose litter he was looking for, and had his suspicions confirmed: this was Gaius Julius Gratianus. "I'll be back in a moment, sir - and it really is my master's. You could ask him, if you want."
"Oh, no," Rufus said sympathetically. The girl - young woman, she looked about his age - seemed to be a slave, too, judging by her clothes. They were good quality, for a slave, but weren't as good as he would expect a free woman to be wearing. Although the slave of a wealthy owner was probably dressed better than a poor free person anyway.
"How much was in it? And had you done your shopping?"
Rufus was sure that if you picked your spot carefully - the steps of the Temple of Vesta, say - and stayed there long enough, you would eventually see everyone in the entire Empire pass by. You'd see a lot of them more than once, of course, but give it enough time...
He had followed his master down to the Forum for the Senate meeting and, because slaves weren't allowed in the Curia, he'd found a place out of the way to eat lunch while people watching. There had been a girl eating her own lunch, doing much the same as he was. Except when she got up to go, she put her hand down and looked back up, then all around as if she'd lost something.
He couldn't just watch, and got up.
"Is everything alright?" he asked, once he was close enough that he didn't need to raise his voice over the tumult of the crowds around them.