Rufus was a little amused at the girl's shyness. She'd been shy ever since she'd first asked him for help, but now it had reached a whole new level. She seemed almost to be asking him for permission (him! a fellow slave...) before she leaned forward to whisper in his ear.
He sent a silent prayer up to Mercury that he had the right Ardra - though how many girls could there be in Rome who had that name? Who had ever had that name, in fact?
"Are you from the Parisi tribe, in Britannia?" he asked next. He couldn't ask whether she knew any of the other names he'd memorised - he had no news of them at all. Except for the dark-haired girl who must be this one's older sister. He could barely wait for her reply.
Rufus blinked at the mention of a sister. She looked familiar, but he was sure he'd never met her before today... but a sister... He found himself taking a walk along the beach at home (well, his old home) in his memory. Mother Letinie, brother Turi, sister Ardra... From Britannia, tribe Parisi... Could it be?
"Let's see what you have," Rufus told his companion, banishing the thought to where it had come from - he could ask her that in a bit. Once she extended her hand to him, he indicated. "That coin, and that, make the price for two loaves of bread. And no - I just did a lot of shopping for my old master, so I'm used to the money."
He waited until she had paid, and let her take her bread before leading her away from the stall. "Have you always been Nymphias?" he asked her gently, quelling the rising excitement that he might have found one of his friend's relations. "What was your name, at home - in Britannia?"
Rufus returned her hug, but allowed her to step back without clinging to her.
"Stay well, Erea, Charis. And I will," he said, and swept wet hair out of his face as she left. He watched her go before turning to find his own way home, sure that he looked like a drowned rat. He just hoped he could get into a dry tunic and get the worst of the wet out of his hair before his master needed him
It had been good to see Erea again, and he hoped that he might have some good news for her the next time they met.
"I suppose we all think of our own home as being the best and most beautiful place," Rufus mused. How he missed his own! "And miss it even more because we didn't have a choice about leaving it."
He hadn't been brought here as a prisoner from wherever, having lived his former life as a free man, so he hadn't had that added trauma on top as Erea had, but he could sympathise with her over the loss of her family and having been brought here against her will.
"The hills and their umbrella pines, and the beautiful blue of the Mare Nostrum," he said, starting to feel maudlin. He might see all of those again; his new master most certainly had a country villa somewhere, maybe even at Baiae, which was very nearly home, and with Rufus now in the position of body slave, he wasn't likely to be left behind when Octavius Flavius Alexander decided to go to his country villa.
He was not mean and did not say so to Erea, who was much less likely to return to the vicinity of her own home.
He pulled her into the slim shelter of a nearby wall. "I can't walk all the way home with you," he told her, wishing that he could. "Will you find it all right?"
"Here," Rufus said, and took her over to one of the shops. "How much for a loaf?"
He was told a price, which was about what he would have paid back home in Paestum.
"Did you just want one?" he enquired of the girl he was with, and held up a finger. "One, two, how many?"
Latin numbers were easy once you got used to them, but he didn't know how familiar she was with them. Her Latin wasn't bad for someone who'd only been here since the summer. He'd have to find out where she had come from, though her accent was painfully familiar; his mother had never quite lost the British accent despite her fluency in Latin after having spent years living in Italia.
"You're not stupid," Rufus said automatically. "Just not used to all this - are you new to Rome?"
He was new to Rome, himself, although not new to the culture or language by any means. His Latin was the fluent tongue of the native speaker, although with the accent of Campania rather than of the city-bred Roman.
He was still finding his way around in Rome itself, of course, but knew that he wouldn't stray too far from the Forum if he helped Nymphias with her shopping. He had the time, too; Senate meetings seemed to drag on forever and buying the few things on her list would still allow him time to return to the Curia to wait for his master.
"Bread - the bakers will be down here," he said, indicating the signs hanging above the shops. "The different shops have different signs, see, so you know what they sell. How much bread do you need?"
Roman currency was not he very simplest of things, Rufus could admit.
"Yes," he said, and decided he would get this girl somewhere a fraction more quiet than the middle of the forum and give her a quick lesson in coins and equivalent values. "He's still overcharging, but not by so much - and it's easy to explain because everyone sets their own prices."
Her Latin would improve the more she spoke it and probably her haggling skills would, likewise, if she could learn to speak up. Either that, or she would be forever taken advantage of by stall-holders like this one. Better she find sellers who gave good value.
"What else do you need?" he asked, willing to give her a bit of time to get used to shopping here. It had been a while since he had been a house-slave, shopping for things, and it would be nice to do that again, just once.
"My name is Rufus," he added, suddenly aware that he was offering to help and she didn't even know what to call him.
If her face looked familiar, her accent seemed just as familiar, but he could honestly say he had never met this girl before. He couldn't think it too odd that she didn't know how the currency worked; there were all sorts of people in Rome who hadn't really used the Roman currency in their old lives, after all.
"Of course I can show you," he told her, stowing his own purchases and taking pity on her. "How much was it?"
He looked from the girl to the stall-holder, who rolled his eyes and said flatly, "Two sesterces."
"For that? You're taking advantage and overcharging her. It's not worth more than two asses."
"Uppity, aren't you? One sesterce, two asses."
"One sesterce, or I'll take her somewhere else."
The stall-holder let out a breath and smiled suddenly. "You're good. All right, one sesterce."
Rufus turned back to the girl. "Pick out what you were going to buy, and let me see what you've got so I can show you what to pay."
"Huh?" Rufus finished paying for what he wanted and turned as a soft-spoken girl requested help, speaking so quietly that at first he didn't realise what she'd said. Realising how lost she seemed, he stopped - he had a little while before he had to meet with his master again. Octavius was in another Senate meeting and slaves weren't allowed into the Curia for any reason whatsoever (unless, probably, they were Imperial slaves designated specifically for cleaning the place or to do other menial tasks best done by slaves).
"Sorry. What do you need?" he asked, taking in her blond hair and nervous expression. She seemed young and unsure, and looked vaguely familiar somehow, though he was sure he'd never seen this girl before. "What's the matter?"
She surely shouldn't be out here on her own - it was just asking for someone to take advantage of her. Maybe that was the problem - someone had ripped her off, or stolen something, or she was lost, or... Numerous scenarios went through Rufus' mind in the brief pause.