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Helenus

Don't Hold It Against Me

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It was just another day at work for Helenus. He’d woken up in the simple dormitory he shared with a bunch of other male slaves of the thermae. They had gone to break their fast with a bit of bread and olive oil and watered wine, and then they had gotten ready for the day. Helenus hadn’t spoken much yet today, he often didn’t feel like talking much in the morning. But in the corridor towards the men’s bathing area, he met one of the girls that was his best contact in the women’s bathing area.

“Greetings. Hopefully it will be a good day.” Helenus said to her and she stopped and they moved to the side of the corridor to not be in the way.

“Hopefully it will. Is there something in particular you hope will happen today?” She said. It was all a code though, their conversation. It sounded simple enough and like casual chatting, but of course they were discussing the plans for the day. And what they might gain.

“Just that the sun will shine upon us. Remember to let me know if it does.” Helenus said and she nodded. Of course she would, that was her job. They were both slaves, but she’d been told to listen to Helenus, for he had done this in a few years already and he knew what he did. He was a good bath slave and a good thief, even though he appeared to be just a sweet and submissive slave. But underneath the surface, the girl was convinced he wasn’t. She couldn’t know he was only a good thief because he had to be. He didn’t want to taste the whip, he didn’t want to die and he didn’t want to gain a worse job than this.

They parted ways to go to each their section of the great thermae. He had only taken care of one patron though, when the girl appeared in the doorway to the men’s section, “Helenus. You’re needed.” She said, and he knew what that meant. Helenus quietly followed her to the women’s section, where she pointed out a wealthy lady who was just finishing getting undressed. He wondered if her slave would follow her or what.

@Liv

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Wherever her domina wanted to go, Clio followed, unless explicitly told not to. And when Annia Comna decided to spend the best part of the morning soaking and sweating at the thermae, her body slave had no choice but to go too. It wasn't that they couldn't keep decent hygiene standards at home, but more that visiting the baths was an important part of life - the rituals of seeing and being seen, socialising, trading gossip and opinions, and getting a good massage from one of the bath slaves.

Clio greatly disliked them. Too friendly, too eager to please, too informational, too good with their hands. They served many masters a day and yet had none to call their own. And to work in such a humid and stuffy place, well - maybe they too grew stuffy in time, like fat leeches gorging on blood. Mistress and slave entered the apodyterium and Clio made quick work of helping her domina disrobe and get ready for her bath, her gestures nimble and practiced thanks to the years of experience serving the mistress.

Now Annia Comna was ready, and Clio was to stay behind. Look after her mistress's belongings and make sure they stayed exactly where they were left. To obey that order, however, meant that a thermae slave was still needed to carry all the towels and oils her domina might need; Clio was efficient, yes, but not omnipresent, nor were there two of her. She bowed and smiled as her mistress left for the tepidarium, and out of the corner of her eye spied a slave watching them. A man slave, to make matters worse. He looked young and of exotic extraction, although not as dark in complexion as Clio herself. A countryman of her mother's, perhaps? Regardless if his origins, he was a capsarius, and thus not to be trusted.

Clio eyed him with disdain and inched closer to her mistress's belongings as if to dare the other slave to try and come closer. "Your item-keeping services are not required, capsarius." Her smile didn't quite reach her dark eyes. "I shall watch over my domina's belongings." Maybe he didn't mean any harm. maybe he waas just selling additional services and goods like perfumes and massages. Or maybe he was looking to relieve Annia Comnia of her purse and jewellery. Clio would not let that happen.

@Atrice

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The men and women who came to the baths were not walking the corridors that the slaves here used. The corridors were narrow and not lit very well and you had to know them to know where to take the right turn to get to the right place. Helenus knew them very well though, and soon he stood glancing into the women’s apodytarium, where a wealthy lady was getting undressed. Fine shapes, he thought to himself, but told himself to them forget about it. Soon the Domina was gone though and for some reason, she left her pretty slavegirl behind.

The female bath slave who’d also attended the lady had followed her, which was maybe why the woman’s own slave stayed behind. But she was not a capsarius and no one else were here. And now she apparently noticed him standing there. There was no point in hiding then, it would only make him appear more suspicious.

She looked towards him, while inching closer to her Domina’s belongings and then she spoke to Helenus. Said his services were not needed and she’d watch over the belongings. He looked her over, she looked quite nice too, even though she was not as undressed as her mistress had been. Many pretty ladies came here though. And not all of them were looking for pleasure from a man here. He wasn't even supposed to be here, he was supposed to be in the men's section. Yet the female slave who called him to get here, knew that he knew what he was doing. He was one of the best. They trusted him to do the job... so he would.

“Are you sure?” He said, coming closer to her, “But you can’t leave them here on the bench. They have to go to a shelf.” Helenus said, looking at her but also taking note of the bundle behind her, with clothes and who knew what else. The clothes looked like they were made out of a fine fabric. The woman must be wealthy.

“If you will not let me carry your mistress’ belongings, let me show you where to put them. And you can carry it there.” Helenus said with a smile, motioning that she could follow him, “It’s a pity though that she left you behind. The baths are for anyone. Even slaves.”

@Liv

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Clio furrowed her brow as the bath slave gave her a once-over. If he was going to appraise her like that, he should at least learn to be discreet about it! Although, now that she thought about it, he likely hadn't had a master to teach him how to spy on others or study them with sufficient class and poise. He probably attended to all sorts of patrons, too, not just the wealthy and well-mannered - and of course any greasy Gaius from the subura would ignore the slave's gaze, or even mistake it for an invitation to acquire a more personal service. So, if Clio were inclined to be benevolent, it wasn't really the poor sod's fault. Except she was not, because these capsarii were smooth-talking and nimble-fingered, and therefore she had to be on the lookout.

"Quite sure. My domina was very clear in her orders." Like a lioness protects her cubs, so would Clio guard the diaphanous bundle. Her lips thinned at the other slave's mention of a shelf. Did he believe in the 'out of site, out of mind' adagio? He did have a point, though. The fabrics of her lady's garments were delicate, and the gods knew who or what had been in touch with the bench they were placed on. She cast a quick glance at the clothes, satisfied that the small leather purse with Annia's rings and coin was well hidden by the fabric, and went back to stare at the young man.

An annoyed sigh escaped her lips. "Indeed. Do you have a basket, or perhaps a small box?" His friendliness had to be a façade, a thief's trick to allay Clio's suspicions. Did he think her a fool? That he merely had to beckon and she would follow him like a puppy? He was sorely mistaken. She pursed her lips. "I shall follow you after I've put them in a proper container." There was no way she was just going to gather the bundle in her arms and happily trail after him through the enormous building, she hadn't been that naïve in years.

"It is of no consequence to me. I can bathe more privately at home," Clio replied with a hint of self-satisfaction. While it was true that the complete thermae experience was quite enjoyable, she found it enough to peruse the domestic balneum. There were always many watchful eyes at the public baths, not to mention the questionable contents of the bath water. The massages were, indeed, very good, from what Clio had heard - she had yet to part with some of her meagre savings and experience for herself the deftness of the slaves' hands.

She smiled again. "... A basket?" If he was trying to distract her by convincing her to become a patron too, it wasn't working.

@Atrice

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Why should be discreet when he looked at someone in the bath? Maybe he was with the actual patrons here, but this woman was a slave like he and there was no reason to hide any interest he might have in her. Not that it would change anything – she already seemed to have made up her mind about him, after all. She certainly didn’t want Helenus to touch her mistress’ things, but things were done a certain way here and you couldn’t just leave the clothes here on the bench. Other visitors to the baths came here too and it wouldn’t be write to let the clothes stay here. The shelves were for that.

So she agreed with an annoyed sigh, wanting a basket or box to carry the things in, but before he could answer her, she commented on how she could just bathe at home and didn’t need a place like this. It was clear that she really did belong to a wealthy mistress – Helenus thought she was rather arrogant and not very nice actually.

“Apologies… you have not been here before? I don’t have a basket or box for you. You’ll have to use your hands.” He explained to her. A box or basket wouldn’t be smart in the baths, it was way too moist here and such things would end up becoming wet and either rot or fall apart. Either way, it wouldn’t be very hygienic. Besides, it just wasn't the way things were done.

“Come on then. You don’t have to fear anything here. It's not far. Please.” Helenus said; he had been out here in the open far too long now and he should have returned to the men’s section now. It was lucky no other lady patrons had appeared, or even any of his superiors. And now he would have to take care of this sort of difficult slave. All he did was his job, after all. How could she blame him for that?

@Liv

 

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Posted (edited)

No baskets or boxes, really? For such a grand bath complex, it seemed to be lacking in some basics. "Given what you charge for admission, your masters should be able to commission a few wickers to make baskets," Clio muttered under her breath. Perhaps the moist environment did lead to premature rot, but it wasn't like wood and reed were prohibitively expensive, not to mention that acquisition costs could easily be recouped by renting out the containers to bathers.

Her gaze hardened. "No, it is my first time in this complex," she replied tersely. Her domina had not seen fit to bring her along until that morning, and right then and there that became a new thorn on Clio's side - brought about by some cheeky thermae slave, on top of it. If she were to visit this place with Annia Comna again, Clio could only hope they would be attended to by a humble slave instead of this know-it-all again.

She had no choice. "Very well." Clio turned her back on the young man and began carefully bundling up her domina's belongings in her arms, careful to shield them from his view with her body. What to do with the little leather pouch? And the rings? Clio couldn't very well wear them herself, it would be most improper. Into the pouch they went, supported gently by Clio's dark fingers so they wouldn't clink -an attractive sound for a thief - when they touched the coins. But where to hide the purse? If she let it hang from her wrist and relied on domina's clothes to hide it, the string could and would be cut in the blink of an eye, or someone could just tug it out of her grasp. Clio allowed herself a few seconds of brain racking and then came to the only logical conclusion.

A look over her shoulder confirmed that the other slave didn't seem to have a good visual on her machinations. Still, for good measure, she shifted a little to the right, hoping to obstruct his view further. With quick and furtive gestures Clio settled the leather purse against her breast, between the strophium and her skin, and adjusted it so the contents wouldn't jingle as she moved. Short of putting the pouch in a body cavity, this was the best hiding place she could think of, as long as undressing was not required.

Satisfied with her plan, Clio faced the bath slave again, her arms cradling the fine fabrics as if a newborn baby. "I'm ready. Lead the way." The young man had better not try and lure her to a dark deserted corner of the thermae... if worst came to worst, she would bite and scratch and scream, and her masters could sue the baths for incurred damages. She still had her suspicions, but had grown slightly emboldened by the realisation of how bad it would look for someone to attack her.

@Atrice

Edited by Liv

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Helenus arched a brow when she spoke of the charge for admission. It wasn’t expensive! It was cheap because the baths were for everyone to use, even slaves, so everyone should be able to afford it if they wanted to. On top of that, did she think it was his decision with the price? “You’ll have to talk to my masters about that. I am not in a position to make any decisions about prices or baskets. I am only a slave here.” He explained, wondering why she thought that she was so above him. Wasn’t she a slave too? Didn’t she know how it was like to have your orders to carry out, no matter how people spoke to you? And all Helenus wanted was to do as he was told so he’d be treated well…

She said ti was her first time here, and finally agreed to carry her mistress’ clothes to the shelves. She took her time gathering it all though and Helenus could easily imagine she was trying to hide whatever valuables there were. Not that he’d attack her to gain anything. He wasn’t like that. Helenus wasn’t all that fond of violence, he actually preferred kindness. Only in the world he lived in, he didn’t always get far with it. The other slave looked at him over her shoulder and then she finally said she was ready.

“This way then.” Helenus said. It really wasn’t very far and she went through an awful lot of trouble to save her mistress’ things. Was she in love with her or something? She was just a slave, too. She had no say in anything. So why would she do so much?

“You appear to be very fond of your Domina. It must be nice to be with someone you admire.” Helenus had never belonged to just one person – he belonged to the empire. There had been his overseer, back in the day, when he was nothing but a boy, but that felt like another lifetime.

@Liv

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Ugh. Had the other slave ever heard of venting one's frustrations? Clio didn't expect him to have any decision-making powers, or even suggestion powers for that matter. And given that her own condition was one of servitude as well, it was inconceivable for her to go to his masters and make a proposition. As for her domina, what was or was not included in the admission price was the furthest thing from her mind, and Clio would not be the one to bring it to its forefront. "I'm well aware of that," she replied with irritation. "Do you think I would able to do that? Go and talk to them?!" She shook her head half in disbelief, half in resignation.

She trailed after him, turning her head slightly to the left, then to the right, then to the left again so as to take in her surroundings. The building was indeed impressive: solid and spacious, and yet fancifully decorated. A pity about the damp air, but all in all, it seemed to be a very decent place to be working in as a slave... if one ignored the more personal services that could be purchased by the patrons.

Clio's face lit up at the change in subject, and she hugged the bundle of clothes closer to her chest as if to bring her closer to Annia Comna. "Yes, she truly is a formidable person. Just, intelligent and kind. Far kinder to me than I deserve," she smiled fondly. "Domina has never treated me badly nor let anyone else do so. I am very blessed to call her my mistress." Fortuna had indeed smiled upon Clio when she was bought into the Canici-Phisceri, and she would forever be grateful for it.

It was only after singing her domina's praises that Clio came to realise that maybe the other slave had never had a proper master of his own; there was a certain melancholy in the way he had spoken. All of a sudden, she pitied him. "Have you always worked here? Were you born into servitude?"

@Atrice

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What Helenus was heard was this sort of arrogant slave complaining to him about there being no baskets. As if he could do anything about it; he couldn’t, he didn’t have a say in it. She seemed annoyed at his explanation though, saying she knew and she doubted she could go and talk to his masters, “You would probably have an easier time getting through to them, than me.” Helenus simply replied, but he wouldn’t apologize, because he didn’t feel he’d done anything wrong. And she wasn’t his superior. She was another slave. They wouldn’t have to bow and scrape to each other, although she made him feel like she wanted him to.

She followed him though, towards the area with all of the niches and he made some casual conversation, musing about how it must be like to admire your owner like that. She admitted she did like her Domina and practically put her up on a pedestal. Helenus thought that if he didn’t know any better, she was in love with her Domina. And maybe he was right? It wouldn’t be the first time a personal body slave actually fell for their owner that they came so close to. Even Helenus had been there, while he was still too young to understand that it would never last.

“It does indeed sound like you are blessed. Some god must be watching over you.” Helenus said as they reached the chamber with the shelves. The other slave then wondered about him.

“Yes… my parents were both imperial slaves. And I became the same. I have worked other places, but it is a long time ago now. I’ve been here many years.” Helenus replied, “I do what I can to please my masters, so they won’t send me to a worse place. It’s all you can do, isn’t it?” He added with a small sigh, it really was all he could do... his best, to please others. Looking over the shelves… “Here’s a free space for your mistress’ things.” He pointed at an available shelf. There were many other things here and he felt that now he was here, he ought to look… but he couldn’t with her here. What if his masters in the underworld learned he’d been here, but came back with nothing? And she was so angry with him because she didn't trust him. She thought he'd steal. And she was right... but she didn't know it wasn't really his choice to do it.

@Liv

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Posted (edited)

What a stubborn man this slave was. All right, he could not do anything about baskets or the lack thereof: how many more times was he going to state it? Was he proud of his own powerlessness? Or was he one of the 'woe-is-me'-types, out for commiseration from any unaware person who would provide it? Clio rolled her eyes and made what she thought was the wise decision of not saying anything else on that subject. 

Perhaps he was just generally chatty, Clio considered as they walked past occupied niches and finally into the room where the bathers' belongings were kept. "I've heard being an imperial slave can be quite comfortable," she mused, chewing absentmindedly on her lower lip. Not having a single master made them less susceptible to flights of temper that could end in punishment, in Clio's opinion, but at the same time, it might be more difficult for them to gain their freedom if they did not possess good enough qualifications; after all, how could they impress several masters equally?

"Indeed, it's all one can do." She understood his reasons well, and it was possibly the most likely motive for a slave to behave well... But Clio felt there was also a certain pride to be had in doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. To serve well not only because they feared the whip or the mines, but also to make life easier or more agreeable to their master and find fulfillment in that knowledge. But, she supposed, serving many could mean a shallow relationship to one another; the thermae slave's master were probably not as dependent on his help as Clio's domina was on hers, since there were certainly several other capsarii who could perform the same tasks.

Clio looked at the vacant shelf the man pointed out. It was just a bit too high on the wall for her liking, but nothing could be done about that. She gently placed Annia Comna's belongings on it, taking great care to avoid ruffling them. The leather pouch hadn't moved from its hiding place, but a muted clanging sounded as Clio shifted her arms. Damn it. The last thing she wanted was to attract attention to it! That just made Clio all the more determined to guard her domina's possessions.

"Are there any rules against me staying here? I would like to keep an eye on my mistress's belongings." There didn't seem to be any other personal slaves around, from what she could tell... Did that mean only the thermae slaves were allowed here? Or were the other patrons simply carefree about the possible illegal subtraction of their things?

@Atrice

Edited by Liv
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Helenus didn’t think he was stubborn, he just liked to explain things and he didn’t like to be misunderstood. And yes, he talked a lot, when he had the chance. He didn’t always, but it felt nice to chat to another slave and this one wasn’t even working here. That part was even nicer, because she wouldn’t tell on him to the other slaves or be in this for her own gain. Well she was in it for her own gain, but that was with her mistress and had nothing to do with Helenus or any of his many masters.

She said that being an imperial slave could be comfortable. Helenus gave her a look, “You heard that, did you? In some ways, it is. In other ways, not at all. And this job here…” He trailed off, he didn’t want to seem unkind towards his masters or the empire, but it wasn’t a comfortable job. It wasn’t that he was looking for pity, but living in the constant moist environment wasn’t good for his health, he could feel that. Add to that the stress of wanting to please everyone the whole time. And you couldn’t ever please everyone. So all he could do was his best and the other slave agreed.

Now they had reached the shelves and the other slave put her domina’s things up there. Helenus watched her carefully with his hands clasped on his back. He could hear she had something clanging under her clothes and wondered if she’d taken the valuables out of her mistress’ things and kept them herself instead. She really didn’t trust him! And now she would know if she could stay here.

“Apologies, but I can’t let you stay here alone. It is not only your mistress’ belongings that are here. And we can’t risk having anything stolen. Now I’m sure you won’t steal… but if something does go missing, it wouldn’t look good. I’d have to stay too and look at you and…” He looked up at her with a little coy smile, “I’m not even supposed to be here.”

@Liv

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Just as she had expected, the other slave didn't seem all inclined to let Clio stay and keep watch. There were a great many shelves in the chamber, a few waiting for a new user but most of them full of the patrons' belongings. It was as natural for her to be suspicious of him as he of her, but how should they solve this conundrum? She smiled back at him in so sweet a manner that it made her teeth hurt. 

"I understand. You want to make sure I don't steal anything... and I want to make sure you don't steal anything." There. No more misgivings or playing cat and mouse. "Since we have the same goal, why not make an exception this time?" Clio lowered her voice to a near whisper, almost conspiratorial. She tucked a lock of smooth brown hair behind her ear and looked at him with feigned interest. Her domina would have her go without food for this poor attempt at flirting; it was no way for Clio to behave, as the body slave of a respectable matron. Yet, if coy smiles and the batting of eyelashes didn't have an effect on the capsarius, perhaps he could be swayed by their now common understanding - partners in crime, almost, in defying the rules of the thermae in order to best carry out their tasks.

"If one of your group comes, we leave. In the meantime, I can look at you... and you can look at me... and maybe tell me more about your job here?" She raised an eyebrow in a silent invitation. "In what ways is it not comfortable?"

 

@Atrice

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He looked up at her when she said she wanted to make sure he didn’t steal anything. Well she knew, it wasn’t like it was a secret, but everyone came here anyway and he had not yet met any other slave so keen on watching their domina’s belongings. She suggested he would make an exception for her, let her stay. Why should he though? And what if someone saw him here? A male slave, in the women’s section? The slaves knew, but he was supposed to come and go quickly and unseen. He’d done none of that. He had failed. And now she even called him a thief.

“My goal is to please my masters. Any of them.” Any and all, but no matter what he did, he always ended up in a tight spot. Suddenly she seemed to change her expression though, it was suddenly very different from before and she suggested they’d stay until someone showed up and they could look at each other. He could easily guess what she meant, and it felt a little weird, considering her hostility just before. And Helenus didn’t like going against his orders.

“How about… if I leave, you leave too. That way I’m not here to steal. And you aren’t either.” And that would look a lot better for both of them. Maybe he should play her game though, if he wanted her to come with him. That might also give one of the girls here a chance, instead of Helenus. He wouldn’t be the one rewarded then. But it was better to not be rewarded, and at least still escape the whip, than risk getting caught…

“It is not comfortable in many ways. But it could be…” He trailed off, came closer to her and he held out a hand for her as his eyes looked at hers, “Come, I’ll show you a place where we can talk. And look at each other, if that’s what you want…” Helenus’ hand was still extended and he waited to see what she’d do.

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It was getting progressively harder not to let her impatience shine through, but Clio knew how important perseverance was in the end. She had to act the part and keep a cold head, for irritation would only bring about inattention. Still, she couldn't help but feel annoyed at the other slave's duality: he seemed to have moments of self-agency, and then a second later it was back to 'my masters' this and 'the rules' that.  What a stick in the mud.

Now she had no choice but to agree to his proposition - it was very similar to the one she'd put forth herself, after all. And after putting on charming airs, it would be mostly counterproductive to suddenly change her mind. "That sounds fair," Clio admitted. But it didn't completely do away with her reservations, for another slave could still enter the chamber during their absence and spirit away some of Annia Comna's belongings. What to do? If something was amiss when they returned to the chamber, how could she lodge a complaint? Clio only hoped it wouldn't have to come down to that.

She gazed at the hand the baths slave offered her. It looked strong, but not calloused like those of the farm slaves of her childhood, and it was bigger and rougher than her own. With a hardening of her jaw, Clio took his hand. His olive skin felt warm to the touch. "I'd like to know more about your life here." That much was true; she was curious about the duties of capsarii and how they juggled serving their many masters. Hopefully he wouldn't take her anywhere too scary...

"What was your name again?"

 

@Atrice

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Maybe he was kind of boring, because he wanted to please his masters, but he just really didn’t want to be manhandled, beaten, whipped or sent to somewhere worse than this. Because while this was not comfortable in the long run, it wasn’t the worst place to be either. And his mother taught him from a young age, that if he did well, he’d be rewarded or at least treated well – and that in itself was actually a reward. If he didn’t do well… it would be the opposite. And Helenus simply didn’t want to go that way.

The other slave agreed to the idea Helenus had now, of them both getting away from here, so none of them were a threat to the things stashed here. And then he had stretched a hand out to her. After she’d looked at it, she finally took it and he wrapped his strong hand around hers.

“Would you really?” He asked, while he calmly led her away from the shelves and towards the narrow corridor he’d been coming from. The corridor the slaves used, that would lead both towards the men’s section of the bath, but also away from this main area and towards sleeping and private quarters of the slaves that lived here. On the way to the corridor she asked for his name, “I never said. I’m Helenus… you?” He asked and realized that what he was about to do was also kind of forbidden – but at least better than before… and it was kind of thrilling to do this, because it was kind of forbidden, “You’re about to see a part of the baths not many see. Besides us who live here.”

The corridor was narrow and the light faint here and there were stairs leading downwards – there was actually a longer way between the two sections than you might think, and the corridor continued down the few steps. The air here was humid and warm and didn’t smell so good. Fresh air rarely reached this area. Helenus didn’t seem to think of it though, “Would you like to see where we sleep?”

@Liv

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It had come as a surprise to Clio herself, but she was indeed curious about how the slaves that took care of this place lived. It must be a very different life from hers, and yet very similar too: having to tend to the master's every whim and will, not being able to go out freely, not knowing if they would be treated with dignity or disdain that day (though that last part did not really apply to Clio's current household, fortunately)... And she, at least, was fortunate enough to live in a place with proper ventilation. There was no way all that tepid water could be healthy long-term; quite the opposite, probably.

It seemed they were approaching the private areas of the thermae, which patrons did not have access to. The corridor had got narrower and darker, and the beautiful frescoes had dwindled to nothing; it was clear the architects and builders had seen no impress those who would walk down these hallways. The idea of being led around by another slave lost much of its appeal suddenly, and Clio failed to suppress a shiver. Outwardly she could blame it on the colder air, but she knew that was not the reason. Her throat got progressively drier and she had to swallow a few times before managing to answer the male slave. "I'm called Clio. At least here in Rome, I am. Back home, it was more like Kleio." The difference in pronunciation had never bothered her, and a slave had whatever name their master chose to bestow upon them, anyway.

She wrinkled her nose at the stench in the air. It felt clammy and smelled of old sweat mixed with mould and unwashed clothes. Her domina would kill her if she turned up smelling like that, so Clio made a mental note to stand by one of the incense burners and allow herself to be fumigated once they were back at surface level. "Um, maybe later. Do you have kitchens down here? Or your own baths, maybe?" It did not seem wise or to let herself be shown the sleeping quarters just yet - or actually, ever. This was turning out to have been a really bad idea. Why had she let her pride blind her so easily? She should have just stayed put and waited somewhere for domina to be done with her bathing routine. Foolish, foolish Clio. She prayed silently to every deity she could remember not to let her come to harm, promising them daily offerings for a month if they protected her. Being in this deep, it was all she could do.

@Atrice

 

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The female slave followed Helenus, now that he held her hand in his. It wasn’t actually so often that he held hands with anyone, so this felt kind of nice. Sometimes the patrons of the baths would make good use of his body, but it wasn’t the same as tender intimacy and he sometimes had dreams about what it would be like. His former master, the overseer, had been that way with him, kept him almost as a pet and he had liked that. This life he now he had at the baths was nothing like it. And you never met anyone who’d show a lot of genuine affection.

He noticed though, how his companion went quiet as they left the public areas of the baths and the other told him her name when he asked. Clio or Kleio. He smiled, “That’s a pretty name.” He said to her, looking over his shoulder at the woman… and then wondered if he should show her where they slept. It was her who suggested they ‘looked at each other’, after all. Yet now she said that it would be ‘maybe later’ and suggested kitchens or baths. Was she suddenly not so keen on the idea after all? That was interesting.

“We have kitchens. No baths. There’s plenty of baths here in this building, after all.” He said with a little grin and stopped, pulled her a little closer by her hand… he thought he’d try and find out how serious she was, because he didn’t think she was serious at all about her former idea, “Are you sure you don’t want to see where I sleep?” Helenus asked, meeting her eyes, speaking in a softer voice, “We could look at each other there… if you’d like that…”

@Liv

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The last man who had complimented Clio on her name had deceived her and sold her off, so she was naturally not quite as elated by the comment as one would think. "Thank you. She is the muse of history. I don't know who chose it, probably my first master..." She trailed off, allowing herself a moment's silence to wonder what of the mousy man. He would be in his fifties now, if he lived still. And his daughter, who she had played so often with, was likely married with children of her own. Before her thoughts turned to her parents and siblings, Clio snapped back to the present - no use wondering what had become of them; she  knew they would not meet again in this life.

No segregated baths for the slaves? How very generous. "Such progressive overseers you have," she chuckled mirthlessly, letting herself be drawn along. "What do the old codgers say to the likes of you or me bathing alongside them?" In the households Clio had been a part of, the slaves would take care of their personal hygiene at times when it didn't inconvenience the masters, but the thermae were clearly their own little world, in more ways than one.

And in this little world, a headstrong slave was putting Clio's resolve to the test. She blushed and averted her eyes from his, unsettled by Helenus' intense gaze. "I, um..." She tensed up,  not realising the instinctive action had accidentally tightened the grip of her hand on his. "I d-don't really think I should..." Somehow her voice had naturally dropped a tone to match his, but she was now sounding more unsure than ever. With a modicum of courage, Clio looked up again, feeling the heat on her cheeks as they made eye contact once more. "My domina would have me killed if she found out." It wasn't an understatement; for this kind of transgression, Annia Comna's trust in Clio would be so irreparably broken that mere flogging would not sate her desire for punishment.

Finally aware of how tightly she was gripping Helenus' hand, Clio released it in a sudden gesture, as if it burned her. "I'm sure you value your life, within the bounds of our kind. I value mine too, and especially as it is now." Her voice was still quiet, but sterner; a little of her resolve had returned, now that it was no longer being drained away by the warmth of his hand. "In a place like this, I'm sure every brick and stone has eyes and ears, and many who would snitch and gossip simply to sow strife, I think." She bit her lower lip, still holding his dark gaze.

"Am I wrong?" 

Can you prove me wrong?

@Atrice

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Helenus listened while Clio explained the background of her name and how she didn’t know who chose it, “Have you always been a slave then?” Helenus wondered, if she didn’t know who gave her the name, she must have been a slave for a very long time. He was born as a slave and he had never known any other life. He didn’t know how it was like to be free and able to make your own decisions and honestly he’d probably not know what to do if it should ever happen. He doubted it though. Why should anyone free him? He should be happy he was alive and not working in a worse place than this.

Clio seemed surprised they didn’t have their own bathing area and Helenus smiled at her question, “We are meant to take our bath before we open for the day. And we can’t spend too long. We only get to bathe during the day if any patron desires it.” And then it was not really for bathing purposes, but usually other desires the patrons wanted met. Right now though, they were far away from the public baths and Clio seemed to suddenly take back her ideas on what they could do. Helenus would test her plans and she blushed and tensed up; he felt the grasp in his hand. Then she said she didn’t think she should and thought her Domina would have her killed if she found out. Oh and how would she find out? If no one told her…

“She wouldn’t have to know…” Helenus began, but then Clio suddenly let go of his hand and spoke of how they valued their lives and she thought they were being watched. Helenus looked around them in the faintly lit corridor. They were all alone here, “Well right here we’re safe. Up there…” He motioned for the actual baths with his eyes, “That’s another story. But if you don’t want to be here, we can go back.” It was her choice, he decided. If she was not serious about being interested in Helenus, then he’d have to show her back to the thermae. And she didn’t seem serious anymore.

@Liv

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What if she contracted some flesh-deforming sickness? The tryst would then be revealed, and her fate gruesomely sealed. Risking a decent life for a moment's fleeting passion was just not worth it: Clio had been a fool once, but that had made her determined not to let it happen again.

But if that was the case, then why was it so damned difficult to make a decision and stick to it? One explanation could be the lack of male company in the last months; another, that Helenus didn't look at her like a wolf does at a sheep, observing its next meal - many of the men at the ludus had that predatory glint when their eyes happened to meet during the gladiator trainings. Yet another that they were in near-equal circumstances; neither held more power above the other. And one more, that he had been the first in some time to address - and touch - her so considerately.

To buy time while logic and emotion fought it out, Clio answered his question. "Yes, I was born verna in a farm in Bithynia." Looked like she would be mentioning her family in the end, despite her best efforts. "My parents were slaves too, as were my siblings. I don't know if they ever knew freedom." Or if they still lived. She hoped so.

"Is it the same for you?" She was quite sure it was. People with their kind of complexion were either the result of slave relationships or came from long pacified parts of the empire, whereas newer slaves tended to come from the new provinces, inhabited by folk of light skin and hair.

A heavy sight escaped the body slave's lips. The distraction had only been momentary, and its effect gone too quickly. But she'd come up with a strategy, at last.

"Are we really safe?" Then, without waiting for his reply, she planted a kiss on his lips, lingering for a moment before pulling back. When she spoke, it was with defiance  in her eyes and voice. "If word of this gets around, then I'll know you were lying. If it stays a secret, maybe I can trust you after all." Some time had to pass before she could find out, anyway.

Feeling pleased with herself, Clio turned on her heels and started towards the upper floors. "Are you coming?" she asked, looking over her shoulder.

@Atrice

 

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Clio seemed a bit uncertain, but tried well to hide it. And when he asked into her name, since she didn’t know who gave it to her, she told him that she was also born into slavery in Bithynia. At least she had siblings – Helenus never had any. And Clio didn’t even know if her parents ever knew freedom… “I think my parents were born free, but I don’t know where they were from… I never asked.” And now they were both gone – his father dead and his mother relocated elsewhere. Helenus was left alone in Rome with no one but himself.

He heard her sigh after he’d told her that he thought they were safe here and then said they could go back if that’s what she wanted to. It was her suggestion that they left the actual thermae and now she would go back… so why exactly had she wanted to come here. Down here, she could not protect her Domina’s things against the other capsarii, after all, even if she got Helenus away. Maybe she hadn’t thought so far.

Now she wondered if they were safe, but before he could answer, Clio had leaned closer and planted a lingering kiss upon his lips. He couldn’t help but return it, he found it gentle and warm and almost something he wanted, really wanted, but then it was over and then she basically said she’d use it against him to see whether she could trust him or not.

“Why would I tell anyone? It wouldn’t serve any purpose for me.” Really it wouldn’t, he wasn’t a very good spy, he was way too dutiful and loyal. If anyone asked, of course, but why would anyone ask if he kissed this slave here? He didn’t even know her Domina’s name, even if she seemed wealthy. He couldn’t use it for anything but something to remember for himself. As far as he knew, with the way she acted now, the kiss didn’t mean anything to her. Now she was leaving.

“I suppose I am.” Helenus merely replied and followed her back towards the thermae above and the apodyterium once more. Almost absentmindedly, he touched his lips. No one had kissed him in such a way for a very long time. But it didn’t mean anything… he shouldn’t get his hopes up. It wouldn’t do him any good anyway.

@Liv

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Helenus' reply made Clio purse her lips in displeasure. Was he being daft on purpose, or just acting that way so she would write him off as harmless?  "You might not tell a soul, but I'm still not convinced the walls in this place don't have eyes and ears," she explained in a clipped tone. It was not outside the realm of possibility for another capsarius to have witnessed the meeting and do some identity digging with blackmail as their purpose, and if such an unfortunate thing came to happen, then Clio could be secretly relieved that nothing more had happened while being able to justify the faux-pas to her mistress with being deceived. "I guess we'll find out in the coming weeks." 

As they made their way back up to the bathing areas, colourful thoughts took the forefront of Clio's mind. How long had it been since the last time she'd acted on impulses like this? Able to to initiate something of her own will, not because she was ordered to, and with someone of equal standing to boot. Today's visit would be one to remember for some time, of that she was sure.

Just before they reached the apodyterium again, Clio stopped abruptly and turned around. "Do you..." Her voice was a whisper and her eyes darted nervously between his own and their surroundings, constantly making sure they were safe from prying years. "Do you ever leave this place? Like, run errands outside?"

@Atrice

 

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Clio was pretty, but he didn’t quite know what to think of her. It was as if she couldn’t make up her own mind about what to think, and now she’d kissed him and she would use that against him if she had to. But he really didn’t see why he should tell anyone about that brief kiss, it didn’t seem to mean anything anyway. Clio still didn’t trust him though, said that the walls had eyes and ears. They might have, but as far as he knew, there were no one in the corridor with them right now. And they weren’t standing next to a doorway. No one had seen them.

Soon enough they were on their way back to where they met and she stopped before reaching the apodyterium. Helenus might have stopped there too, he shouldn’t even have been in the women’s section anyway, so he thought he might leave her before they got in there again. Clio turned to face him and then whispered to him suddenly… wondering if he ever left and ran errands.

“Not so often. But sometimes, yes…” Helenus was usually tired when he finally had time to rest or eat, so it wasn’t all that often that he actually left the thermae grounds. They were huge anyway, there was plenty of space here… still though... was she actually interested in him? He really couldn't figure her out... “Why do you ask?”

@Liv

Edited by Atrice
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