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March 76 CE, the slaves' quarters in the Domus Augustorum Antheia lingered in the passageway as she'd been told. Though she was pretending to inspect the striped pattern on the walls, her attention was focused on her surroundings like a sunbeam bouncing off the inside of a shield. Her previous mistress had been a rich patrician, but even now she could tell that this household was a great deal larger than that one - all variety of people came scuttling about around her, heaving heavy arms behind them, carrying trays, having urgent conversations in low voices and numerous different languages. Not one of them seemed to spare her more than a cursory glance. Antheia tried to catch a passer's eye sometimes, smiling, but everyone seemed so very wrapped up in their own heads. She hoped life wouldn't always be this frantic - she had at least had time to build up a rapport with the other slave members of her previous familia - but she suspected life would still be a lot calmer for her than for these frantic attendants, fetching and carrying all day. All Antheia had to do was attempt to teach the young Claudia Caesaris. She hoped that her new domina wouldn't try to make that task any more difficult than it had to be. The sullen porter had told her to wait here for someone called Volusa, then had dashed off again with a scowl on his face. And so Antheia leant against the wall, readjusted her chiton on her shoulders, retraced the pattern of the mural with her eyes, and waited.
All the other slaves had been milling about in chaos before, but now they seemed to be gravitating towards one corridor. For the first time, the invisible defensive barrier of non-recognition seemed to fall away from their eyes and they laid down their arms, marking the dinnertime armistice in the battle to keep the Imperial household running smoothly. Not wanting to be left behind, Antheia swung her legs off her wooden crib and hurried to follow the flock. While her mind was focused on working out what was going on, Antheia's already muddled recollections of the unfamiliar passages of the slave's quarters slipped away: rounding a corner, she clean forgot that this was where she had nearly been decapitated by a pole-arm when Volusa had brought her here earlier that day. The other slaves hung left by force of habit, and Antheia, seeing the gap in the crowd as an opportunity to get ahead in the queue, decided to hang right. If Fate was watching from above, she must have been splitting her sides at the cruel inevitably of her handiwork. Smack! The pole-arm collided with her shoulder, knocking Antheia sideways into a ratty-looking slave who gave her an evil glare. Muttering hasty apologies, Antheia spun to accost - or at least look at (she wasn't really one to reprimand) - whoever was responsible for the rapidly swelling bruise on her arm. The first thing she noticed about the woman was that she was tall, taller than a lot of men she knew. She didn't look Mediterranean, with blonde hair drawn up messily in braids on her head. Her expression was neutral, but her eyes were weapons in themselves, sharpened by being lined with kohl. Antheia realised she was gawping. @Atrice
The Romans were used to seeing Greeks wearing masks. Antheia's, however, wasn't twisted into the tragic visage of some stock character; in fact, it was the picture of perfect neutrality. Beneath, she could be a vicious Medea, a grieving Persephone, a powerless Helen, or any other figure from myth. But one doesn't often try to look behind the mask, peer through the eyeholes into the actor's soul. The façade presented to them is all the audience sees. So it was with Antheia. Her soul was strictly off limits. There was only one person on this earth (at least, one person she knew the fate of, one person she knew she could go to) who wasn't deceived by this cunning guise. Antheia had left behind the gilt columns and clean air of the Domus Augustorum, at least for a few hours, and had descended to the Subura. Here, slaves were dirty and scowling, citizens forewent the ceremony of a toga in the street, and life seemed real. Here, among all the unrepressed humanity, was her old friend Aristo. As she hopped across the stones connecting the pavement on either side of the street, the anticipation filled Antheia's mind with glorious recollections. When she went through the door, there he'd be, shrivelled like a tree root in his old rocking chair, his hands dry and papery as the scrolls spilling out across his knees, scratching the few tufts of white beard he had left as he mumbled to himself in the beautiful language of Plato and Socrates, punctuated by the odd curse. She'd dash to help tidy up the scrolls, his hands swatting at her in protest to stop fussing as she pulled the blanket back up over his bony legs. After he settled down, he would read to her in Greek, the language of her mind, the language her mother sung to her in, his voice rasping over every 'chi' and 'kappa', lapsing into a wheezing fit every time he'd aspirate a vowel. She'd cry, then, and he'd smile a bit, but he'd keep on reading, because crying would be OK. And then before she left she'd bend over and squeeze his skeletal frame to her, and the fragile breath and papery skin would make her cry again, and he'd just shake his head and say something wise. As her eyes adjusted to the dim interior of the little house their master had given him when he was freed, Antheia felt the squirming in her stomach change suddenly. The physical feelings of excitement and panic were strikingly, horribly similar, and one melted into the other like scalding wax dripping into the wine cup of its inattentive owner. The first thing she saw was the rocking chair, fallen forward on the floor. The entirety of the woven backrest had come undone, and one of the front legs was missing. Underneath it lay a scroll, completely unrolled. It was a beautifully written thing, bearing the name of Aristotle in huge letters. And it was torn clean apart through the middle. Not a single piece of wooden furniture seemed to have survived the raid untouched. Sherds of glass and pottery were strewn over the floor along with their former contents, huge pools of watery wine, their edges creeping outwards as she watched, grapes trampled and burst by sandal-studs. The tiny strongbox which she knew Aristo kept under the bed was gone, too, and so, she quickly realised, was Aristo. The stubborn old fool would never leave the house, particularly not in a raid. She had a feeling he'd rather try and whack any thieving scamps to death with the end of a scroll than let them take his peculia, hard earned cash accumulated by hours of honourable service. As Antheia backed out into the street, she failed to notice the raised doorstep. A misplaced foot sent her tumbling over backwards. Thankfully, though, somebody caught her. Turning her eyes upwards, she saw a bronzed, bearded face and a pair of eyes wide with surprise. @Chevi enter Tranquillus!