"I think this is smaller - I mean, he lives on the Palatine, being who he is." Rufus, despite being a slave, was still the slave of a member of the Imperial family, which put him both below Didia Nonia as a slave and above her as a member of an elite household. Which was, quite frankly, a bizarre position to be in.
He followed her, ducking under the low lintel without even thinking about it. "It's still a very nice house - very high class, probably a senator's," he said, looking around. He was a little fearful in case they were discovered - but the thickness of the dust on everything, and the swallow's nest under the peristyle, was proof that nobody had come here for years.
"They left everything behind?" He couldn't help wondering who 'they' might have been, and what had happened to them, but he wasn't going to speculate aloud and spoil Didia's light-hearted, carefree curiosity, and her playfulness.
She had vanished into one of the cubicula and flung open a chest that was in there, making Rufus cough with the dust that rose. They really had left everything, it seemed, as he watched her rummage.
"How did you find this place? And find your way in?" he asked, watching her from just inside the doorway.
Rufus scrambled after her, blinking in the dusty twilight as he landed on the floor, sending up billows of fine dust. He'd have to splash his hands and head under a fountain before returning home, and apologise for the state of his tunic, although dust should just rinse out (he hoped, knowing absolutely zero about the laundering of clothes).
"I thought it was welcome to yours, domina," he said with a grin, speaking somewhat softer than usual. "I mean, you've been here before." He looked around; it seemed (apart from the lack of food) to have simply been shut up and abandoned in the middle of the day, with nothing packed to be taken - at least, everything around him seemed to be where he would expect, in a house that was still inhabited.
"So... this is the kitchen. You've seen enough of those in your time, I'm sure. What about the rest of the house - you can't be the mistress of the house in the kitchens, after all."
He had never known a mistress to trouble herself with what might be taking place in the kitchen; if she wanted to talk to the cook, or to any other slave, she summoned them to her presence, she would not seek them out herself.
"Well, maybe I'd like to replace it, just as an apology," Rufus retorted with a grin. It wouldn't cost very much and he did rather want to be able to treat Didia, despite their respective ranks. She deserved it, for getting him out of work - or rather, giving him an excuse to ask for a day. He'd been more than a little astonished that's he'd actually got it. Slaves didn't, as a general rule, get any time to themselves except on certain festival days like Nemoralia or Saturnalia.
It was easy to keep pace with her, although Rufus had to firmly squash the part of his brain that was trying to insist he should walk behind Didia. He hadn't known all that long, not really, but he had known her long enough to know that she would be deeply uncomfortable if he was behind her - not because she didn't trust him but because she didn't treat him like a slave and didn't want that sort of subservience - which was highly unusual and very nice.
"'Lovely'?" he asked. "I'm not sure I deserve that description, Didia Nonia."
It wasn't at all long before they arrived at their destination, and Didia passed him her bag before rummaging in it for something. She pulled out a knife and fiddled with something at the lower corner of a warped and faded board that covered a window by the slave's door (obviously unused, judging by the tree growing up at an angle in front of it.
He grinned at her and set his back against the wall below the window, cupping his hands to receive her foot so that he could hoist her up - it wouldn't be too difficult to pull himself up after her.
"Here, it'll be easier for you to take this now," he said once she'd wriggled through, and he passed her bag back to her.
It was a moment before Rufus could speak without his mouth full. "I've had breakfast, you've had a mouthful of bun if that. At least let me replace the one you dropped, as an apology and thanks for getting me a day off," he said. A single bun wouldn't cost very much and he was more than happy to pay out that small sum.
"I don't have anywhere else to be today," he added, hastening to reassure her. "I honestly don't know much of the city at all, mostly just the bits my master visits."
It would be interesting to explore an empty domus - he could explain the rooms to her and, well, it wasn't as though he often had a day to spend exactly as he wanted.
"That sounds very good," he told her, with a shy smile.
It had taken Rufus a little while to find the rendezvous point, not being familiar with the Aventine, but he made it in the end. Didia Nonia was, naturally, there first, and he hoped that she hadn't been waiting for too long.
She jumped and dropped something, turning to see him even as she swore at whatever it was that had ended up in the gutter.
It was a bun, and she held its twin out to him, muttering about his tardiness.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I don't know this area very well, it took me longer to find you than I'd hoped."
He took the offered bun, and carefully pulled it into two, offering her the larger piece. "It's only fair," he said. "I made you drop yours, you shouldn't have to go without."
Not for a slave, he added mentally, although he was determined to enjoy his single day of freedom as much as possible - it wasn't something that Octavius Flavius Alexander was generally in the habit of granting his slaves, after all.
Rufus supposes that such big creatures as he's heard that whales are wouldn't be likely to come so close to the sea-shore that people could see them from land, so he's never seen them himself.
"It was nice to meet you, Aglaea," he says, getting to his feet and offering his hand to help her up. "I hope you won't be in too much trouble over the money."
She didn't seem to be terrified of letting her mistress know about it - she didn't look as if she was too mistreated, not like some slaves Rufus had seen in his time. She seemed to be well-treated and well-cared for, at least if her dress was anything to go by, she was.
He looked towards the Curia, where the first senators were already making an appearance after the meeting.
"I should go too - my master will be wanting me," he said. "I've enjoyed talking with you - I hope we meet again, some time." It probably wouldn't be any time soon; who knew whether Rufus' master and Aglaea's mistress moved in similar circles, after all.
"I've never been in a ship, though people tell me they're dreadfully uncomfortable." He supposed they were far more likely to be uncomfortable if you were there as part of the cargo, getting shipped half a world away to a slave market somewhere, and thanked all the gods that he'd never had to endure that, only the long trek up from Paestum to Rome, to a slave market in a place where he could speak the language at least. He'd rather accompany his master somewhere and travel in some vague sort of comfort as a personal attendant.
"That must be something to see," he said. "We could see dolphins, sometimes, if we were very lucky, just standing on the cliff near the shore - though they didn't come that close very often. I suppose people are more likely to see them if they're on a boat or ship or something. Though there are stories of dolphins rescuing shipwrecked sailors."
Like, oh, Actaeon - no, he was the one Diana turned into a deer, wasn't he? Someone - Rufus could never remember all the names in all the legends.
He felt Didia stiffen a little next to him and glanced at her face to see the guilty look. "It's all right, it happens," he said to her, speaking quietly. "It's not your fault, either, is it?"
It was just life - a particularly shitty aspect of life, but just life. He could only hope that Bretta had ended up somewhere halfway decent, though as a female slave and a pretty one, that might be a lot to hope for.
"You'd be hard pressed to get drunk with this stuff," he added lightly, indicating his own cup. The cheap stuff wasn't conducive to getting anyone drunk unless they were most of the way there already, but he could understand her not wanting to drink any more of it; it tasted more of vinegar than wine (even the very best masters weren't going to let their slaves have the best wine, after all! The stuff from the last pressings f the grapes was perfectly adequate for slaves, even in the household of Octavius Flavius Alexander!)
"I suppose you ought to go - and I'll ask him. I'll let you know, but he's all right. He probably won't say no." Well, Rufus hoped he wouldn't, at any rate, but you could never be sure.
"It's always good to see you, Didia Nonia," he told her as they stood up. "And tell your brother he should get to bed earlier if he doesn't want to be asleep on his feet while he's working."
Rufus elbowed his friend. "Provincial? Is there someone nice who's just moved in next door to you all the way from Gaul?"
Italia hardly counted as 'provincial' but he could recognise teasing, and tease back. He sobered a moment later and gave her a sympathetic look. "Brothers being a nuisance? That's what boys do best - and I should know, I am one. I'm a brother, too," he added, in answer to her question. "I've got a sister, somewhere, though I haven't seen her in a while."
He was not going to spell out the reason why, not to sweet friendly Didia, who would never have to deal with the same reality that Rufus did. "Bretta - people say I look like her. Same hair and eyes."
He had never been able to ascertain the truth of that, not properly, although he was aware of the colour of his hair, and hers - but he'd never been able to see properly what colour his eyes were. A polished bronze mirror could only show so much, and the reflection in still water rather less than a mirror. He still hadn't heard anything about her, but with friends like Didia, if his sister was in Rome, surely he'd hear something someday.
"I'm sorry your brothers are idiots, though," he added, and indicated her cup. "Would you like some more wine?"
"Thirteen years ago?" Rufus hazarded, though it had passed him by, too - he hadn't even witnessed the sort of rioting he had heard happened in Rome at some point during the civil war. "But that does make sense."
He smiled at her. Didia was refreshing; a free person who didn't see slaves as simply objects that could be commanded. He doubted that she would stop short of describing him as a vīr, though - or maybe the distinction wouldn't occur to her. He couldn't remember if her family had slaves or not.
"He does - that might be fun," he said. Surely just looking at an abandoned house could not hurt anyone, or get anyone in trouble. "It's sweet of you to want to share something of your childhood with me."
He wasn't sure he would feel so comfortable sharing some of his own secret spots with her if they found themselves near his old master's farm - but after this, he thought he might.
"You're very sweet," he added, smiling at her.