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Dec 73CE.
Saturnalia event.
Gaia's villa outside Rome.


Corinthia despised this holiday. All the gift giving, feasting, sexual prowess, and uppity slaves. It irritated her. She always tried her best to feign illness to hide in her rooms until it was over. Her mother also particularly loved this occasion. Welcoming guests to the home and wanting any chance possible to spoil the slaves. It made no sense! In her room she could hear the merry making as she reclined. Arms loosely folded around her chest, mentally she tried to block out the noise and hoped there would be some natural disaster that would put an end to it. Her hands cupped her ears to block out the noise, grit her teeth in irritation and growled in frustration. Her hand lifted the goblet from beside her with a mild sedative that did not work before it was thrown against the wall. The contents slipped over the wall and dribbled down. 

There was no pause nor stop to the celebrations. A chance that they were not heard to begin with. She exhaled, swung her long legs off the side of the lounge and opened the doors. For the moment there were no servants nor slaves to assist. No doubt they were all too busy being "entertained" by the brainless little twit. 

Surely people still understood procedure? 

Corinthia shivered, exhaled sharply in frustration and walked quickly towards the hallway. Unfortunately some of the torches had gone out and had not yet been relit by the slaves. She growled in frustration and a hint of fear. Was this the same people who tried to have her killed before? 

She saw an outline of someone. She squinted and called out. 

"Salve? Who is there?!"

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The figure was tall, looming, and oddly broad in the gloom of the unlit torches, perhaps fear made it loom larger still? It was also an odd shape, hunchbacked and limbs bent at strange angles, like some foreign demon against whom Janus and Vesta might guard the door and hearth, lest they bring curses and ill winds. 

As Corinthia's voice rang out the grotesque silhouette froze in the darkness, before a deep, familiar voice replied, distinct accent and all, "Salve, Domina." Then Aeneas finished re-tying the caliga boot he was wearing, set his foot back on the floor and straightened up, suddenly the normal, if toweringly tall, figure of a man.

Stepping forward into what little candlelight there was it could be seen that someone had given him a soldier's boots and belt to wear over the linen tunica he usually wore when summoned to Gaia's house, and someone had also thought it fine to pin a red woolen blanket to his shoulders with copper fibulae, such that he looked somewhat like a centurian without their armour.

"Are you well?" He asked, blue eyes scanning her face. There was an impressive celebration going on in the house, with much partying and frivolity and apparently today the rules were upturned and slaves could join in the fun and even be celebrated. He didn't think that it was recompense for the rest of the year, but never the less one took what one got. He had noticed his own mistress's absence, and wondered whether perhaps she'd taken ill. Her expression suggested that might possibly be the case.

Claudia Corinthia

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She breathed a sigh of relief when she heard Aeneas' voice. Her hand rested on her chest as she exhaled sharply, the assassination attempt on her life still gave her cause for alarm. It happened months ago. The man had been absolutely butchered for his crimes ... yet he had told her absolutely nothing. Her large, expressive eyes were still wide with fear, and she moved closer to Aeneas. A part of her wanted to move closer, feel those arms around her, and yet... She snapped at him. 

"Well?!" She snapped at him. Her eyes narrowed in contempt and dislike towards the situation. "Of course, I am well." Corinthia added sharply, the noise of the celebrations continued to fill her ears and was a reminder that her world could someday turn upside down. She could hear the laughter, drinking, and celebrations. No doubt they were having an excellent time. Corinthia rested her hand against her forehead in her hand for a moment, her kohl was smudged around her eyes and she regarded him for a moment. 

"Why aren't you with the others?" She asked, glanced towards the blaziers that lit up the hallway and offered a chance for her to see him better. He almost looked like a Roman soldier if it was not for the faded tattooes. The months of training and quality food had given him a healthier look than he had many months ago at the marketplace. Most of the household slaves (and her mother!) absolutely loved the celebrations, taking part in the merriment and regretted when it finished. 

"Well?" Corinthia demanded. Her posture raised and her chin did so. She regarded him steadily and had to rise her eyes to meet his. 

Aeneas

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What had Aeneas been doing, wandering along the badly lighted hallway, well away from the general festivities? In truth he’d been looking for a possible escape route, a way out of the family compound that wouldn’t involve going past the other celebrants. Whilst tonight might be a night of freedoms, he still wasn’t amongst those slaves who were trusted to go out on their own and he suspected that any efforts to do so would not be well received. It was a night of simulated freedoms only. Did that make it more bitter-sweet?

Yet he had to admit that even that effort was more from habit than any real expectation. It had been over a year since he’d been taken from his native green hills, and the hope of being reunited with his loved ones was dying. The company of Branwen and Eppitacus hadn’t done anything to bolster those hopes; those two seemed far more comfortable here in Rome. And in truth, Rome could be both comfortable and interesting, if one was in the right circumstances and not horribly homesick. He still fell into a black despair some nights, as he lay on his hard pallet in his gladiator's cell, thinking of those he’d left behind, particularly his wife and son. Then at other times he looked around at the marvels of Roman civilisation, and mused that, if he had to be trapped somewhere far from home, there were worse places.

That hadn’t stopped him looking for a way out, even if it was force habit, and here he was. As the light of the braziers lit the youthfully beautiful features of his mistress, it occurred to him that perhaps he had found what he was looking for, or it had found him. After all, Corinthia held the power to set him free. 

Her smudged kohl and irritated pout belied the claim that she was well, but those wide dark eyes were oddly innocent despite her temper, that hand at her breast and the way she looked up at him spoke of a vulnerability that was no doubt irritating her even as it was oddly appealing. He had learned that his mistress hated to appear to be in any less than total control, but tonight was a night that no one controlled, when the Romans acknowledged their equality in the eyes of the Gods and their inferiority before them, and begged Jupiter to bring the sun back for another year. 

Perhaps that was why Corinthia looked pissed. 

Perhaps it was also an opportunity. Aeneas dropped easily to one knee, like a barbarian warlord pledging fealty, bringing his gaze closer to her level. “I come to find you, Domina.” He lied evenly, and faint smile on his full lips.

He had learned over time that, whilst Corinthia could order Gaia’s slaves around, he was the only one she actually owned herself. He supposed that she didn’t really have need of her own troupe of slaves, whilst in her mother’s house. He’d been a whim, a fancy, nothing more. But he was first. What that meant to her he didn’t know; probably nothing. Or at least, she probably thought it meant nothing. 

In this odd moment he had caught her at less than her usual, pristine presentation, on a night when such things shouldn’t be a consideration. But Corinthia, he had learned, was a great believer in appearances, and proprietry. Or at least what she considered to be proper. Which, amongst other things, included the obedience of slaves. His blue gaze looked her over, perhaps a little more sympathetically than previously. She looked tired, and grumpy, and stressed. 

“You like I bring you some food Domina? Some wine?” He offered, service where none was supposed to be owed this night. 

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Corinthia had to admit that she was grateful she had found Aeneas rather than another slave, particularly one who did not like her much and that was likely every single slave within the household. Her arms folded protectively across her chest, her chin raised in seeming defiance of the worry she had, and yet, her heightened breathing displayed the fear she had inside her. Her dark, kohl lined eyes regarded him as he dropped down to one knee and felt more secure. She looked at him with suspicion, her eyes narrowed and her lips moved to a thinner line. However, a sign of her relaxation was, her arms slowly began to loosen around her chest and moved to a more relaxed position on her lap. 

When he offered her some food or wine (especially on this night where the roles were reversed and society altered) and her lips twitched with the hint of a smile. She was grateful for the respect given although, how defiant could a slave be when the roles were altered most of the year? Her hand reached out and casually pointed towards a nearby platter of figs, dried fruits, and bread. Something she had managed to get for herself before the household descended into chaos and she had retreated into her room while the merriment continued to play on. A pitcher of wine and two glasses were present, each was ornate and beautiful. Expensive glass from the middle east had increased, and naturally it found its way to her mother's household. 

Perhaps she should indulge a little with this night? 

"Over there, the tray and the pitcher," She gestured, her voice still soft, "bring both of the glasses," Corinthia added, in an unlikely gesture of kindness and compliance with the tradition of Saturnalia. In order parts of the household, the sound of the slaves merriment could be heard and it was likely to continue through the later hours of the evening. In truth, and while she would deny it, Corinthia was happy with the company and felt safe knowing that Aeneas was here with her. Not that she would tell him that. 

She sighed to herself, exhausted and had to resist rubbing her eyes in case she accidentally rubbed the kohl into her eyes to increase the dark circles beneath them. "Quickly Aeneas," She insisted, although without the venom her words usually had. 

@Sarah

 

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His blue gaze followed her gesture, seeing that she already had all that she needed. Dried fruits and soft bread on a fine metal platter, wine in a pitcher with glasses. Glass was something he had only encountered in the smallest, most expensive beads in his homeland; it was fine jewellery. To see so much, and turned into a household utensil, had initially been a shock. But he had come to understand that the household was wealthy, and glass was a sign of that wealth. At the Ludus he drank out of wood or rough ceramic. Why were there two cups? Was Corinthia expecting company? Or was that simply what had been left?

For a moment he'd expected her to say she needed nothing, and send him away, but instead she indicated that he was to bring that which had been set, in words that were spoken unusually softly for his mistress, her voice sounding strained and weary, accompanied by a sigh. He nodded briefly and rose to his feet again, pondering the items before carefully tucking the pitcher into the crook of his elbow so that he could carry both the glasses in one large hand, and the plate in the other. The corner of his mouth quirked where she couldn't see as she chivvied him, he would have sworn that she did it out of habit.

There were those at the Ludus who spoke to the slaves in soft voices, who wore smiles and easy manners, yet who he knew took pleasure in seeing the slaves hurt, sometimes in hurting them themselves, under the guise of some necessary punishment. Aeneas knew that the other household slaves disliked Corinthia, but for all that she snapped at him, shouted at him, sent him away at times, she had never hurt him. The only time she had laid her hand on him had been gentle, and she'd never ordered him beaten. As far as he cared, she could snap at him all she wanted.

Turning with the items carefully balance in his arms he bowed slightly and raised dark brows, awaiting her command.

@Gothic

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Corinthia sat in place while he gathered the items that had been requested. She sighed with a hint of irritation when he turned back to her with all the items in her hands, her long-fingered hand reached out again and beckoned him to come faster. Once he was close enough, her hand reached out to pull the pitcher from the tucked position under his arm. "Hold the goblets, Aeneas," She grumbled at him, forgetting that she had not told him exactly what she wanted him to do, and began to pour wine first into one goblet and then into the next one. Corinthia leaned down to place the pitcher on the floor beside her. 

She then reached out and took one of the goblets for herself, sipped it and it did not occur to her for a moment to encourage him to drink with her. It was not normal, however, during the Saturnalia, the days changed and their was a role reversal. Not that Corinthia often enjoyed participating in this sort of thing is the lengths that many others did. How could the natural order be overturned? It made no sense to her. 

"Come! Drink!" She demanded hotly. Even when she was being considerate towards others she was pushy with it. Perhaps it was part of her lack of social interaction with children of peers her own age and status? It was difficult to say. Corinthia relaxed in the chair, unable to lean back due to the lack of a support behind her from the chair and tasted the wine. It was not cheap.

It was Falernian, the most expensive Rome in ancient Rome, there would have been Romans who had never even had the opportunity to taste such an expensive vintage. 

@Sarah

 

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He had misunderstood. He'd thought she'd wanted him to carry the food and drink for her, but she'd only meant him to bring it to her, where she sat. He couldn't read her mind, but he accepted her grumbling at him equanimously, setting the plate of food onto the low table and holding the two glasses steady for her. They felt cool and slick in his hands, so very different from wood or pottery.

Knowing Corinthia as he did, he'd been a little surprised when she'd filled both glasses, more so when, taking one of the goblets from him with a brush of her fingers, she commanded him drink as well. She seemed almost angry about it, as though she was doing what she felt she should, rather than what she wanted; or was she angry that she wanted to humour him and she felt she shouldn't? She was a puzzle, his mistress.

Back home he'd drunk beer, or fruit wine, or uisge-beatha. Gladiators got beer or watered lora wine, bitter stuff made from the third pressings. Taking a slow drink from the glass goblet, Aeneas tasted what was at least a more pleasant beverage, though he was hardly experienced in the matter of Roman vintages. Settling himself into the second chair, Aeneas inclined his head slightly and regarded Corinthia with interest, blue eyes darker in the warm light of the lamps and torches.

Tonight was, he'd had it explained, a night for turning the usual order of things upside down, of liberties and freedoms and a lack of standing. Perhaps it was even confusing for some, and not everyone appreciated such change, however temporary. "Better?" He asked her quietly, watching her expression. "You beautiful, you know." Yes, she might shout at him for taking such liberties, but he was getting used to being shouted at.

@Gothic

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Corinthia did not answer him at first when she asked him if she was better. Over time, the pair of them had reached an unlikely accord with each other and while she denied it. She felt safe around him, a rare feeling for her and it brought up a further range of conflicted feelings. She scowled a little, sipped the liquid and froze when she heard the next part. It was like her entire being came to a stop. She was increasingly aware of his appearance, the warm flush of the alcohol had taken hold of her and while she would never admit it, she liked when he said that to her. In order to momentarily buy some time before she was forced to answer him. Corinthia continued to drink her wine, a little too fast and that was something she rarely participated in. 

Her gaze was down past her nose into the liquid of the wine but slowly her gaze lifted to gaze into his face. The silence was uncomfortable, and she did not want to encourage any bad behaviour from him. She looked at him, lifted her chin and tried her best to maintain the aristocratic demeanour she treated him with. 

"I know I am," She answered him. 

A part of her long to have known what would have been if she said something else, or encouraged him.

A distraction for them both was needed. Was she more like her mother than she had previously thought? Her mother's actions had brought her considerable wealth and even power if she had of used it wisely. Unfortunately, Romans were not as favourable with these sort of relations. 

"Fetch some dried peaches, Aeneas." She commanded, and wished she had of said something else. 

@Sarah

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Her words drew laughter from Aeneas, not at her, but in delight and amusement, accompanied by a rare grin. Always that front, that carefully sculpted manner of power and control, and he was perhaps one of the few who ever saw behind it. Because her words had only come after a long pause, a deep draught of drink, a glance away. Had no man ever said such to her? There was also that oddly endearing innocence, usually hidden behind her haughty manner, revealed in a moment. But always the self-assurance, the control.

Still looking entirely too pleased, Aeneas turned away for a moment, the fabric of his tunic shifting across his broad shoulders as he reached out, and turned back with a handful of dried peaches in his grasp. He held out his broad hand to her, palm flat, that she might take one first. And all the while he watched her, blue eyes darker in the light of the torches. He thought he understood better now how Corinthia worked, but not yet why.

"What you want, Domina?" He asked her quietly, his tone gentle. "What you want from... all." He gestured around them, not having the words for the abstract concept he wanted to express. What drove her, guided her; what did she seek for in life? "If I know, maybe I can help." He suggested. Especially as her bodyguard, where he would watch and listen and learn from others. Who knew what opportunities might be out there? And in here.

@Gothic

Edited by Sarah
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Corinthia felt her blood boil at his laughter. Why was he laughing at her for answering her question?! These barbarians were truly a bizarre people. It did not occur to her that perhaps he was laughing in response to her behaviour. Her gaze moved down to the ornate goblet in her hand, then at Aeneas, and briefly pondered throwing it at him. Since it was Saturnalia and otherwise, she was in a more pleasant mood than usual. She tapped her foot impatiently as she waited for the dried peaches to be brought to her. Occasionally, she lifted the goblet and sipped more of the liquid. The tell-tale signs of flushed skin and knew she was being influenced by the wine. 

The question was a surprise, and not one that she expected. Her eyes narrowed. Had she not been clear about wanting to have some dried peaches? There were many things she wanted. To be given the honour and dignities she was owed from birth. The destruction of those who stood against her. To protect that dimwitted mother because she was incapable of taking care of them. Could she trust him? Corinthia was silent for a moment, took a final sip and if she wanted his help. He had to support her. There were many things. Yet.. perhaps it was the festival or the wine inside her. Instead of fire and brimstone or a cold aristocratic response. Soon he gave her the peaces and she reached out to take them from his outstretched hand. 

She answered him truthfully. 

"I want to be safe," She answered, a reflection of one of her main primary desires. Being without power in Rome meant that others could seize it for themselves and would happily step over her corpse in order to do so. "To have the prominence that I am owed." She continued, found that the goblet was empty. "And you?" She said, casually pointed towards him. "What do you want?"

@Sarah

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The tips of her manicured nails brushed his palm as she took the dried peaches from him, her expression softening slightly from her previous irritation. Why she'd been irritated with him he wasn't quite sure, but that was nothing unusual. She was often cross with him for no apparent reason, or cross with the world and he just happened to be there, so he'd stopped placing any importance on it. Usually if he failed to react her mercurial nature meant that her mood would change in the next moment, as indeed it did.

His question was a gamble, and initially earned him a narrow-eyed look. He drank his wine and waited, helping himself to a few nuts whilst she decided whether to answer him or throw something at him. He figured the odds were pretty even, and was ready to catch her cup, but it never came. Instead, after a thoughtful pause, she did answer him, and not with some idle dismissal. Safe. Prominence. Interesting. Why did she not feel safe? And what did she think she was owed? She was already rich and beautiful.

He was about to ask her, but unexpectedly, she turned the question on him. Corinthia had never seemed to care much for his preferences, and in that unguarded moment her words caught him off guard, hitting right at the wound to his heart that he was trying to let heal. He glanced away - he would not weep in front of her - and took a deep breath. Then he reached for the jug of wine and refilled her cup, which she'd emptied, whilst he sorted through his limited selection of words.

"I not know, now.". He admitted quietly, as he set the jug aside. "Before I want freedom, go home." And he too was being honest. "Be with my wife, my son again." It had been all that he wanted. "But... is too late now. I... gone too long, dead to them. They make the... death fire." And would no doubt sing the songs and tell the tales, assuming that he had died in battle with the Romans. "Eithne is good woman, daughter of chief, she have find new husband. Not wait for dead man." She might mourn him, but she would move on. And knowing that, he felt lost.

Yes, perhaps he might make it back some day, find another wife, have another child, set up his smithy somewhere, but the place he had occupied would have been filled. And where did that leave him? He looked away again, staring off into the distance and absently rubbing the scar on his arm, before abruptly tossing back the rest of the expensive wine in his cup. There was nothing to be gained on pining for the impossible. He shrugged. "So I not know." He said again, in more fatalistic tones.

@Gothic

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Corinthia listened to him. Seeing him was her nightmare made flesh about the possibility about what could possibly ever happen was frightening. It was so, so small. She preferred to die than to be taken as a slave. It was more honourable, respectable, and would be the last decision she would willingly choose. Corinthia did not blame him for wanting to return home. Corinthia, cruel and selfish as she was, did not have to tell him that he would not be returning to the home that he remembered or loved. 

She wondered whether his wife had moved onto someone else, and if she even remembered the husband she had lost. Corinthia would not want a husband who failed in his duty around her. It would be better off, in her opinion, that he fall on his sword and be done with it. She watched him stare off into the distance. It gave her a chance to admire his face with those pale eyes that continued to lure her in. He rubbed the scar and then tossed back the rest of the wine. Corinthia could not help but give a distasteful look towards the impulsiveness. Something she always had to try to control. 

"You will stay here with me," She informed him sternly. Not wishing to give him the choice of what would ultimately happen. She needed him now. Her gaze softened and she reached out to him again, placed his wine and perhaps she had been influenced by the wine. Her thumb rubbed gently, affectionately and subconsciously licked her lips. "Your purpose now is to stay here and protect me from any who would try to hurt me." Corinthia insisted, moreso to herself. "And," A pause, followed by a smile, "And I will protect you from those who may try to hurt you." 

The moment of sweetness soon passed. 

Corinthia lifted the goblet and took another long drink of wine. 

@Sarah

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The torchlight outlined Aeneas's barbarian features, the high cheekbones and pale skin of his race. Perhaps the wine was making him a little reckless, he wasn't used to drinking heavily any more, and he rarely spoke of what he had left behind, after that admission on their first meeting. She knew, he knew she knew and did nothing about it, what point was there in saying more? But she had asked. He was at last accepting that he wasn't going home and, feeling cut off from the life he knew, was feeling a little fatalistic. The wine definitely wasn't helping that. But he'd never been a maudlin drunk. As he tossed back the last of the wine in his cup, he felt the subject was done; what could be said had been.

Her stern tone was something that he had become accustomed to; he thought of it as part of her mask, and had started listening more to her words than her tone. You will stay here with me. Not 'you will protect me' or 'you will serve me', just 'you will stay with me'. Those blue eyes, twilight dark in the light of the torches, watched her as he nodded slowly, seriously. It was the answer, he knew, but the fact of his remaining in Rome had taken time to accept. She refilled his cup, her thumb for a moment rubbing against his fingers as her tongue ran across her lips, before the clarification that he'd been expecting came. Protect, serve, her words said the expected things, her actions something quite different. Against his will he felt his pulse quicken. He listened to her words of course, but also to the things she didn't say, hinting at things she couldn't say.

And the surprising reassurance. She would protect him in turn. He thought for a moment of the red-headed slave who was head of Gaia's household, and his privileged position in it, and he thought of his mistress, who at times seemed a mature woman and at others a girl playing at being one. Beautiful, headstrong, but also fragile in a way that he was still fathoming. And he was the first that was hers and hers alone. He couldn't pretend that she didn't bring out protective instincts in him, and something more, something he tried to ignore when she stroked his hand with her thumb. She was, in her own odd way, fascinating.

Those deep-set blue eyes were focused entirely on her as he reached out and gently stroked his long fingers along her tanned forearm, a gesture that might have been meant to be reassuring, or something else. "I protect you." He assured her intently. "Who try to hurt you, Domina?" He asked. He wanted to know their enemy.

@Gothic

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