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Aia

Road to danger

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Late September, 74CE

An imperial princess, a Briton gladiatrix, a Gallic interprex and a praetorian from Hispania went out riding one day...

Three of those people had a reason to be outside in the sparkling fall sunshine, riding away from the walls of Rome. An imperial lady could do what she wished for (most of the time), and Cynane and Decimus were on duty as her personal bodyguards. Out in the open it was harder to protect someone from harm than behind the walls of the palace, but the former gladiatrix and the veteran soldier presented a strong enough entourage to make the outing safe for Claudia Caesaris.

As for Aia... she was just along for the ride as a curiosity. She delivered a message and a small gift from Flavia Juliana to the princess, and since she arrived just as Claudia was leaving the palace, she was invited along to keep her company. It was strange, meeting Decimus in his official capacity as a praetorian, and Cynane too. Aia liked both of them, plus she had never really been in the entourage of such an esteemed person before, so she agreed to ride along, doubly happy that she could get into a saddle again. Roman ladies rarely went riding out like this, and Aia had to admit that she missed the exercise from her days with the legion.

It was a beautiful day for an outing like this. Fall had come to Rome, but it was showing a soft and warm face after the summer heat. Not many people were out on the roads; a lot of the countryside was busy with the harvests, and people coming and going for markets had already made their trips earlier in the morning. The countryside surrounding Rome was never completely empty, of course... but Aia felt like she was free to breathe, outside the confines of the city.

Riding out with the princess was going to be a perfect way to spend an afternoon.

@Atrice @Sains @Gothic

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Decimus had known for some time that the princess had chosen this day to ride. Ever since he'd arrived she'd occasionally mention the wish to leave the walls of Rome behind and venture out into the countryside and more than once she'd done just that. He'd accompanied her on a couple of them, though it was far more common that she'd only wish to take Cynane. He couldn't blame her. She was obviously more attached to the maiden that had been with her for several years already, and Decimus certainly wasn't one for jealousy. He was happy, of course, whenever he was allowed to come along. He'd certainly become accustomed to life in the city, but more often then not he'd find himself longing for the fresh air and rolling hills of the Italian countryside which reminded him of home. 

There was the odd caveat for this trip in particular, however, and the additional company of Aia settled uneasily with him. Of course he was happy to have her along, he'd have her around more often if he could manage it, yet there was always a fear that some sort of scandal was suspected between the two. They'd been careful of course and in truth they were innocent of any such accusation, though it certainly wouldn't seem it should any knowledge of their frequent rendezvouses come to light. While there was nothing to it, one wouldn't have to stretch their imagination too far to come to some embarrassing conclusions. 

Aside from that unsettling knowledge the fair weather gave him some confidence and he pressed his brown creature to speed up so that he might keep pace with the princess who rode in front alongside Cynane. He was comfortable enough riding just behind them next to Aia. Thinking on it, this had truly been the first time they'd been in each other's presence in a professional way for some time... He was just glad that he hadn't been asked to ride in a toga. His dress was rather plain, a dark leather cuirass set over a dull red tunica that denoted he was of some military bearing. The gear was comfortable for riding and that was all for the better since it was often a guessing game to see how far the princess would take them in a day. She was, after all, quite the explorer.

 

@Atrice @Gothic @Chevi

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For Cynane it was a nice change to come out here, away from the palace and the enormous city of Rome… out into the beautiful countryside, where there was actually space to breathe in and where the heat didn’t grow intolerable when the sun rose. All of that was definitely nice. On top of that, she was here with Claudia and Aia. She hadn’t quite understood yet why Aia was here, but she liked Aia and admired her. She had come far in the Roman world, despite how it was mostly ruled by men. Her hair seemed to be growing longer too and she couldn’t help but enjoy the sight of that glowing hair. Like fire. It would match the colors of fall that would soon appear.

Behind her and Claudia rode Aia together with Decimus, Claudia’s other personal guard. Cynane had grown used to him now and honestly he wasn’t the worst praetorian or warrior (or soldier, as they’d prefer to be called) she had met. You could actually talk to him, at least if they avoided certain subjects of discussion, and he didn’t taunt her or talk down to her, as the others would. So it was definitely also good company. She’d noticed how Aia and Decimus seemed to be friendly with each other, as if they’d met before, but she had no time to ask into it.

After all, this might be a nice afternoon in the countryside… but Cynane was also still working and couldn’t just relax on her horse. She had to keep watch all the time, no matter how peaceful it seemed here. She had a princess by her side and even out here; danger could lurk in the nearest gathering of trees. Not that she wanted Claudia to consider all that, for she was indeed just here to enjoy it… she looked at her young mistress, “How far away from Rome do you plan on going, Domina?”

@Sains @Chevi @Gothic

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Claudia had been surprised to receive a message and a small gift from her cousin, Flavia Juliana. Yet it was appreciated. Another strange curiousity was Aia, the woman who delivered the message right before she was supposed to go riding, and she could not help herself by inviting her to come with them. Riding was one of the few times she felt free, and her riding had greatly improved over the past couple of months. She rode Aurea, her golden coloured mare, and more recent addition to the stables. The saddlery was ornate, beautiful and expensive in quality. Naturally, none of them rode with stirrups. Her hair was braided down her back with any strays pinned to keep any stray hairs out of her face. The skirts of her gown were cut in different ways in order to both protect her from the gaze of men, and to allow her to ride easily without any issue. It was rare for women to ride horses, something she long wished to change and hoped one day to bring Rutiliana along with her sometime. She liked the company of her two guards, and Aia, the newcomer who fit in quite well. 

The sunlight was so pleasant yet not too extreme. It was always exciting being beyond the city walls without all the need for many guards or to feel as though she was on display for Rome. She beamed, a wide grin as their horses cantered at a reasonably quick pace yet easy enough to have a conversation with. They were not completely alone on the roads; farmers and other travelers made way, and Claudia was careful not to disturb the populace too much. 

Behind her and Cynane were Decimus and Aia. She could have sworn she had seen something between the pair of them, and naturally would 'interrogate' Decimus when they returned back to the Domus Augustana.  However, they were staying at one of the old villas that had been owned by Claudia's mother in the countryside. Her two other surviving siblings shared it with her. She grinned at Cynane's question, "as far as I can!" She teased, clicked her tongue and pressed her legs against her mare's sides to increase her pace and galloped across one of the open pastures. 

"Come on you lot! Keep up!" She called out playfully. Her confidence and skilled had increased over time. 

@Sains @Atrice @Chevi

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Aia decided on short notice that she liked the princess. Any imperial lady who was willing to ride a horse in plain sight of all the citizens of Rome, and venture outside the palace on her own, was a good role model in Aia's book. Maybe if she had been born into the imperial family instead of to a merchant, she could have been raised as a girl and learned things like riding a horse. As things stood, she gleefully settled for the next best option: Being in the entourage of a princess.

It was good company. Decimus looked all business, as usual - she knew this side of him from the legions - and Cynane was... basically the same, but somehow more admirable. Aia chuckled as she watched the two of them watching over the princess.

“How far away from Rome do you plan on going, Domina?”

"As far as I can! Come on you lot! Keep up!"

The guards did not look all too pleased with the princess running wild, but then again, it was their job to be cautious. Aia, on her part, kicked her horse into a gallop and followed along. Her dress was not specifically designed for riding, to she'd bunched up her stola and tunica to her knees, and wrapped her palla around her waist for extra coverage. Not that she minded exposing her legs to the autumn sun; she just did not want to cause too much of a scandal around Claudia. 

"You heard her!" she called back at Decimus with a grin. Keep up, indeed. "There is a spring up ahead somewhere..."

@Gothic @Sains  @Atrice

Edited by Chevi
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Decimus rolled his eyes and grinned as he watched the princess and the rest of group take off at full gallop down the trail. How perfectly like her! Nobody had to tell him twice and within a few seconds he'd caught up with the group. It had been some time since their last outing like this, but he'd not forgotten the familiar rush of the wind through his hair. Growing up in Spain had afforded him the opportunity to become somewhat of a horseman before he'd joined up and these outings on horseback were always a welcome reminder of the life he'd left behind. 

He was happy that Aia seemed to be enjoying herself too. He could only hope to imagine how simply dull was the life of a tutor in some far off villa. Comfortable, of course, but certainly dull. As much as he loved being at the side of the princess and the rigor that came along with being a guardsman, he couldn't help but note the thing that he missed most of the legion was where it had taken him. He'd had the opportunity that few outside of the military would understand, a life of adventure. Of course that life had been filled with all sorts of peril, but it was a life nonetheless; a life he'd think about on many a moonlit night from the small window he'd been afforded in the castra. Many times, he'd amused himself with the thoughts that those days might not yet be over.

They must have been a sight for everyone they passed, a party of women riding at full gallop down the rough trail, for the few farmers they passed seldom saw visitors in the area and Decimus had noted more than one dumbfounded expression set on the face of an old man tending to his crop. Admittedly, he thought it all looked a bit funny. Cynane was wrapped in her usual kit, of course, but the way that Aia's clothes sort of fluttered about in the wind made the party look rather comical. 

With the nagging concern that they were going quite too far still growing in the back of his head, Decimus could only wait and see how far they'd need to head before they finally emerged upon this "Spring" that Aia had mentioned. 

@Atrice @Chevi @Gothic

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Together their band had mixed success. His band of six men depended on travelers who were traveling alone or drunks. Always people who could not fight back were targeted for the attack. If they were wealthy -- blackmail or ransom. If they were poor or children? It was not uncommon for them to end up on a slave ship. Doomed to a grim fate. Malumus watched the riders, each of them looked as through the horses they were on were quality and strangely, a woman rode in front of them. Wealth... so much wealth.... He got on his crutches, younger women often tended to be the easiest to fool and would often help someone. In the hidden areas, the other six men waited ready to pounce and were ready to strike. At this time, they hadn't seen the others, or could have sworn they could take them. 

He stumbled out onto the road in front of the young woman. Stiffly, he jerked and fumbled. His clothing was poor as he lifted his leg to pretend he was unable to use it properly. He raised his hand, waved and tried his best in order to get her attention. Malumus had to trust his companions were in place and ready to strike when she approached. 

"Beg pardon! Domina... Please.... please! I need help!" He called out, waved more intensely. A lone and injured man may not have been enough to get her attention. What about an injured child? "Domina! In the scrubs, my child has fallen into the water and she may die. Please!" He said, crocodile tears streamed down his eyes and imagined what his pretend child dying.

"Please! She is my only daughter!!" 

@Sains @Chevi @Atrice 

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Cynane wasn’t sure if she liked that they were going this far away from Rome and the villa in the countryside. At some point it would turn dark and they should be on their way back by then. Still though, when Cynane wondered how far they were going, Claudia would go ‘as far as she could’ and all Cynane could do was keep up. She liked riding a horse, she’d known how to do it since a young age, but rarely got the chance in Rome. So this was nice, although she knew her inner thighs and her backside would be hurting tomorrow. Especially as Claudia began galloping and Cynane easily kept up with her.

Aia was all in on the idea and talked about a spring ahead of them. Decimus also easily followed and Cynane tried talking while riding, “Domina, we should… slow down… we don’t want… accidents.” Think of Claudia fell off her horse on her watch! That would not be good! Cynane did all she could to keep her position with Claudia… she liked her mistress and knew the life with her was far better than any other slave life she could have.

Soon though they would have to slow down, for from the side of the road came a poorly dressed man with a crutch and asked for help. Something with his daughter falling into water and needing help. Cynane eyed him, she didn’t trust strangers and especially not in Rome or near it, for that matter… the man could of course be truthful, he seemed so, but none the less, it was not the princess who should be rescuing anyone and putting her own life in danger. They could help the man, however, but it would not be Claudia, Cynane decided.

She rode closer to Claudia quickly and leaned close to her, “Domina, you must remain careful. Let Decimus handle this. We should not leave the road.”

@Gothic @Chevi @Sains

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She glanced to the side during the ride to see Cynane. The gladiatrix kept up with her or would easily catch up if she managed to get ahead. Secretly, she liked being able to gallop off ahead and gradually slowed her horse's pace down to a steady canter. Claudia saw the man, frowned and slowed her horse to a walk in order to hear him better. Claudia began to walk her horse towards the man who cried out for assistance, then stopped and looked at Cynane when she spoke. She was confused about what to do. She looked back towards Aia and Decimus as they were approaching them but still not here just yet. If the child was drowning than every second counts. 

Claudia wanted to help him and his daughter. However, she trusted Cynane and knew her safety was important to her. "Where is she? Where is your daughter?" She asked, walked her horse towards him and Aurea began to toss his head. Nervous around the bushes where he could not see through them, and sensed there was more going on. Her hand reached down to subconsciously pat the horse in order to soothe it. Still.... it was not like Aurea to be like this. 

Malumus pointed down towards the spring. Naturally, it was concealed with scrubs and was on a slope to make it harder. "Please Domina.... please... she does not have long!!" He urged. 

Claudia gestured with her hand to Decimus and Aia as they approached. "Help him! Go rescue his daughter." She turned her head to face him and did not notice Malumus' facial expression change while her back was turned. Using kindness was often a useful tool when it came to gaining what he desired from people. Now, would her guards and companion comply with what she commanded or not? 

"Please! Hurry! Hurry!" Malumus pleaded. He should have been an actor. 

@Atrice @Chevi @Sains

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This particular princess was a lot wilder than Aia had expected. She seemed like a woman who would make a good friend, if one had been born into the same high social circles as her. Aia enjoyed riding out with her, even though Cynane was right about maybe slowing down. They were out in the countryside now, and if Claudia or her horse took a tumble, it would be a long way back to Rome.

The man appeared seemingly out of nowhere, was was startling enough in his distress that Aia pulled up short as well.

"Beg pardon! Domina... Please.... please! I need help! Domina! In the scrubs, my child has fallen into the water and she may die. Please! Please! She is my only daughter!!" 

Aia glanced at Decimus, and then Claudia. None of them had any obligation to jump into water to save a child, but all of them were the kind of people who would, anyway. Decimus, for certain. Probably Cynane too, although she was more wary than the praetorian. And Claudia seemed to make her own choices.

“Domina, you must remain careful. Let Decimus handle this. We should not leave the road.”

 "Help him! Go rescue his daughter."

Aia nodded, starting on her horse towards the bushes. Cynane and Claudia would stay behind, and she and Decimus would go help the poor kid. They would have to dismount at the trees and continue on foot, but it shouldn't be too far...

They were almost at the tree line when Aia's horse whinnied too, and turned aside a few steps. Old instinct kicked in as Aia's eyes narrowed, staring into the bushes. It would not have been the first time she'd encountered hidden danger in a wild pace. Decimus would feel the same.

"Decimus..."

@Sains  @Atrice  @Gothic

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Decimus certainly wasn't one to disobey an order especially from one of the members of the royal family. With a nod of affirmation towards the Princess, he'd follow Aia almost immediately towards the bush line, scanning the area rather carelessly as they proceeded. In truth he'd only been there long enough to hear the end of the exchange between her ladyship and this strange old man, but the thought of a small child drowning in a spring had certainly taken some attention away from caring about their surroundings. That is until they'd finally gotten close enough to that thick line of shrubbery that supposedly held the spring just beyond its border.

It seemed strange to him before she'd said his name, and even before her horse had refused to go any further on account of some unseen danger. Unless the girl had already gone under, he expected he might hear some screams and cries for help... Thrashing even. No sound, not even the sounds of any songbirds about. Then came the nervous voice that he'd heard once or twice before on those long patrols through the dense forests of Britannia. Aia had noticed something and he had too. Halting his horse, he'd only needed to look for a few moments before he sighted what he'd been fearing since their ill-fated march towards the scrub began.  

With panic in his eyes, he turned his head towards Aia and pointed quickly back towards the direction of the princess, shouting quite loudly. 

"Away! Ride awa-..." 

The last of his words never left his lips as the sudden force of a well placed arrow punched its way into his left shoulder. Whatever he'd intended to say was replaced by a shrill cry of agony as he grasped rather clumsily at the reins, causing the horse to rear up and throw him. With the impact of the hard earth on his back, the guardsman could only grunt with pain as the wind was, quite literally, knocked out of him.  It was only out of muscle memory perhaps that he was able to draw the Spatha from his side so quickly afterwards and begin to stand.

It was then, and only then, that Aia may notice the shapes emerging from the scrub.

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Malumus would have preferred if the wealthy girl came down instead of the ginger and the young man. They would no doubt need to take him out first. The blonde fighting woman did not seem as taken in by his ruse but they managed to convince the younger, dark haired one. It was all going according to plan. He nearly broke the ruse and smirked in satisfaction, but again, managed to keep himself under control. Leaning against the walking stick, slowly he shifted and positioned himself. 

"Thank you, Domina! May the Gods bless you for your help! You saved her!" He praised, a little too much and slowly edged himself closer towards the golden horse. Ready to grab the rein in order to prevent her from leaving. Behind him, he heard rustling in the bushes as he knew his men were in position and ready. It was only a matter of time before they would realise that there was no daughter desperately trying not to drown. 

It had been a trap. 

It all happened quietly and suddenly. He heard the sound of an arrow loosened and the sound of it hitting the mark. Two men rushed towards Cynane with a rusted blade ready. Their intention was not to murder but to take for ransom. Coin being the most important thing. While three men yelled and ran to attack both Aia and Decimus, ready to capture them. Malamus grinned and got hold of Aurea's rein with one hand. The walking stick dropped on the floor while he reached up to try to pull her down from the horse. 

@Sains @Chevi @Atrice

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Cynane did not trust this stranger. He looked poor and that was just one reason for Claudia to not mingle with him. On top of that, she couldn’t help but sense that something was off. And she couldn’t hear any water or anyone splashing around in it and about to drown. She couldn’t hear that. And that was odd. Claudia, the sweet princess, was of course all concerned, but luckily decided to trust her bodyguard and sent Decimus and Aia to help the man’s daughter instead.

There was something about his face or his eyes. Something… not trustworthy, but why? Meanwhile, Aia and Decimus walked their horses closer to the bushes and Aia’s horse whinnied, just like Claudia’s had been acting out a moment ago. Next, everything happened quickly. Decimus shouted to get away, but before Cynane could do anything, an arrow hit Decimus’ shoulder and he was thrown off his horse. Fuck! She really should have trusted her instinct, but she had long since learned that a slave did not tell her superior how to act and what to do. And now it was too late!

Currently she was more worried about Claudia than herself and even more a  moment later, when two men rushed out of the bushes and came towards Cynane and Claudia. She looked around her. The one man who came first. Then two. Three more. Six men. And they were only two guards and she didn’t know how well Aia fought.

“Get the fuck away from her!” Cynane said when she saw Malamus reach for Claudia and before anyone could pull Cynane off her horse, she jumped down and the moment her feet hit the ground, she pulled her blade from the sheath in her belt. This was just like the arena… only without the roaring audience!

There was no way she could get to Claudia to help her in time, but she could do her best trying to protect her after, “Domina! Remember what I taught you!” She yelled at the young princess, seriously hoping she’d remember the lessons Cynane gave her. Meanwhile she stood up, holding her blade in front of her, ready to strike and kick at anyone who’d come at her, “Come on… get me!” She then said to the men in front of her and then clapped the rear of her horse hard, hoping to make it act out and hopefully stomp at least one of the bandits down.

@Gothic @Chevi @Sains

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