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It had been a good long while since she’d last laid her eyes upon Charis. Actually not since that day they went to the park, drinking and talking to Helios of the Domus Venus. She worried about her friend, wondering of course why she hadn’t seen her. She’d gone more than once to the play they had departed before, close to her house but not too close, hoping that Charis would show up. But she didn’t. Hopefully she was alright; hopefully nothing had happened to her. Maybe it was her hard-to-read Dominus who had locked her up for unknown reasons. Or she had behaved in the wrong way and displeased him and he’d killed her.

All kinds of thoughts had gone through her mind and she had even considered going to knock on the door to ask for Charis – she just wanted to see her safe. She knew her friend probably wasn’t as fragile as one might think, but on the other hand, she was no warrior like Cynane and she was so delicately beautiful.

Again she had a few hours where Claudia wanted to rest and other of the guards had taken over, and Cynane once more discovered that her feet led her to Charis’ home. She rounded the corner and found a place in shadow nearby, where she could watch the house. She probably wouldn’t come. Cynane crossed her arms, feeling a little bit irritated and angry at Charis’ dominus. Although to be fair, he probably didn’t even know about Cynane. She didn’t know if Charis had dared to mention to him that she had friends outside the house.

Just as she was about to leave, a person came out from the little alley leading to the servant entrance to the house. And it could only be Charis! Cynane smiled at first, happy to see her, but the it faded, because she was still worried. When Charis came her way, she waved at her, “Charis! Thank the gods, it really is you!” She said in their own tongue, when the other was closer to her, “I was so worried!”

@Sara

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Charis rolled her eyes at Rhoda's list. "I thought you wanted to go out?" She retorted at the gesture. Charis only grinned in return with an arched brow, "I do - but I go to bath, not market....I did not realise I bring back whole market full of food..." Rhoda swiped at her arm and grumbled to herself, dolling out the money into a little purse which she handed to Charis. "It's just a few things, and you can pick them up after the baths...and don't be too long, we need some of it for this evening." She nodded at the older woman's instruction and with a final grin to her companion, she left the kitchens. The last week and a half she had spent with the older woman since her self-imposed (and Dominus imposed...) banishment from the gardens had been a revelation. The two women had grown closer, despite the Greek's constant tutting at her failed attempts at cooking, and Charis was in a good mood as she left the domus. 

Her face was healing, almost fully - there was just the remnants of a purple shadow across her cheekbone and under her eye, and her headaches had gone. She smiled to herself as she left for the baths, and secured the little coin purse to her belt. She was paying no real attention to anything as she walked, until a familiar voice called out and she almost jumped out of her skin! Bright blue eyes flicked to the source and she felt her grin spread across her face, "Cynane..." She breathed, before collecting herself and called out louder to her friend; "Cynane!" 

Without thinking, she moved to embrace her friend in a hug, laughing to herself. It took a few moments and a furrowed brow at her words before she realised it had been weeks. Five at least, perhaps six since she had seen her Briton friend, and without a word at that too! She had been so wrapped up in herself she had failed in her duty as a friend and chided herself. "I...I'm sorry, thing here are changed." She said and glanced over her shoulder as she remembered herself, dropping her embrace. "Come..." She took the taller woman's hand to lead her around a more secluded corner. "I should have sent word, I fine, promise." A broken promise within a few minutes of a reunion...well done Erea! She tried a grin but it fell flat, "How are you?!"
 

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She really had been worried about Charis and honestly feared something had happened to her. So seeing her again, alive and well, made her happy. Although when the other came closer, she noticed a fading bruise on her face and that in turn made Cynane’s smile fade a little. Charis saw her too though and grinned widely. When they approached each other, they hugged and Cynane held her close. She didn’t have a lot of friends and with Charis still being new in Rome and new as a slave too, she had every reason to worry about her. It had been over a month since she last saw her, after all.

Charis apologized and said things had changed and then she slid out of the embrace, while looking over her shoulder. Cynane inhaled a breath, trying to keep her thoughts to herself, as Charis asked her to come and then apologized that she should have sent word to Cynane. And she said she was fine. Was she really? With a fading bruise. Cynane, as a former gladiatrix, knew all about bruises and their stages. She knew what a fresh and a fading bruise looked like. And this looked as if it had been bad. Of course she instantly thought that Charis’ master had done it for some reason. But she decided to wait with commenting to the right moment, and instead Charis asked how she’d been.

“I’m alright, things haven’t changed all that much in my part of Rome.” Cynane replied, squeezing Charis’ hand as they walked together and now she couldn’t help herself, “What happened to your face? Is that part of the… changes, you speak of?” She sighed, hating the thought of Charis being beaten and especially by her master. If she had done something wrong, surely it was because she was a new slave and that’s all. She could not imagine Charis would do anything someone would want to punish her for. It would seem there had been a reason why she worried so much.

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"Mistress still happy and easy?" She asked after Cynane had spoken. She wondered if it would be easier, to serve somebody her own gender but decided it probably wasn't unless you lucked out and got a decent, kind woman. Charis knew all to well the manipulation and scheming women went to, and men were so much...simpler to understand; sex, power, money...of course that didn't help her a great deal with her dominus given he seemed to be the only man in Rome with completely hidden agendas and moods. 

She returned the other woman's squeeze of her hand but shook her head, trying to sound light and breezy. "No...no, I was coming back from the baths and it was dark." She shrugged, "Two men tried to rob me but fortunately a gladiatrix happened to intervene." She grinned genuinely, for a moment, enough for her dimples to appear; "It seems you lot are always useful for something - you saved me from getting lost in the market, this one saved me from Gods know what..." She knew exactly what Thessala had saved her from but didn't particularly want to verbalise it. Besides, the implication was fairly clear. "But it's meant that domine doesn't want me in the house as much, so I've been in the kitchens mostly rather than the garden." She thought it prudent to leave out his lessons for now, and besides, she didn't just wish to talk about herself! 

"Tell me things I've missed!" She grinned again, "It's been so long!" 

 

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Charis wondered of course how Cynane’s mistress was and she smiled and nodded at the other woman’s question, “Yes, she’s the same as always. Young, pretty and royal… but she doesn’t give me much, if any, trouble.” Cynane actually couldn’t recall just once that Claudia had been mean towards her. Sure she was Cynane's mistress, but she was so young and she had apparently been brought up to not be the mean kind of Roman lady. Not like others she’d heard about.

There was something about Charis though, that she noticed and she had to know what happened to her face. She naturally assumed it was Charis’ owner who did it, and she instantly hated him for it… but Charis shook her head and told how it happened. How she’d been attacked in the streets and a gladiatrix saved her. She arched a brow at that, a gladiatrix? Charis was amused by this, telling how both this gladiatrix and Cynane had saved her and they were useful. She nodded silently at Charis implied mention of what else could have happened. Charis then said she’d been more in the kitchens lately and that kind of surprised Cynane too.

“Well I’m glad someone was there to save you. Even if you earned that face… but I assume it’s been looking a lot worse.” Cynane replied, “At least it keeps you away from your strange owner, then.” What she recalled, Charis wasn’t very fond of him so working in the kitchens away from him must be good. Then of course Charis changed the subject and would know what she’d missed.

Cynane smiled, “It seems my life is not half as eventful as yours – even if I serve a member of the imperial family. I escort her to parties and social events and when she needs to visit a temple or her friends and anything else like that. Whenever she leaves the palace… or, most of the time. There are also the praetorians, but she likes having me with her. I can go where the male guards can’t.” She explained, trying to make Charis understand her life a little better.

“It seems today I’m escorting you though.” She chuckled, “Where are you off to anyway?” Charis hadn’t seemed to expect seeing Cynane, after all.

@Sara

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Charis winced, "You should have seen it a few days later...Gods I looked dead." Perhaps a slight exaggeration but the ugly purple bruise that swept from her temple, blackened her eye and down her cheek had certainly been shocking - even for a woman who wasn't in the slightest bit vain. She didn't, however, pass comment on Cynane's suggestion that the bruises had kept her away from Tertius, and instead only smiled tightly. It was a sore point for her - both...what had happened, and what was happening now. She had begun to relax in their daily meetings and hated herself for it, and her complete spinelessness. When she had first arrived she had resented being treated like an animal, but here she was now - happy and grateful for whatever morsel of a treat her domine provided her, which in this case was reading. 

She listened with good natured interest as Cynane talked, but began walking from their little hiding spot around the corner. "She likes you." She asserted with a small, sly smile. "She wouldn't drag you here, there and everywhere when she has no need to, unless she likes you. That's got to be a nice feeling, right?" Gods to be respected or at least liked by a master...that would be a fine thing! 

Laughing, she arched a brow. "The baths." Holding up a hand, she rolled her eyes, "I know, I know, how luxurious of me to go in the day but after what happened, domine doesn't want me going out to them in the evenings." Another small mercy, she supposed, although he probably failed to realise she'd just have to work later in the evenings to compensate. Or maybe he did realise and just didn't care. Grinning at her friend, she narrowed her eyes - Gods she missed Cynane! "And what are you doing here in the middle of the day, besides stalking me?" It was meant in jest, in the way she used to tease her little sister. "Are you free? To come to the baths?" Whilst in no way was she comfortable with the constant demonstrations of nudity in Rome, she was getting better at handling it and besides - she'd do anything to spend more time with her friend, even if that meant she had to do so in the nude...

 

TAG: @Atrice

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Charis mentioned how bad her face had looked, which earned her a concerned look from Cynane. Gods she wished she’d known about this, not that she could have done anything to prevent the attack, but she had worried about Charis and apparently with a good reason. It was such a pity and so stupid that they were both slaves, so she couldn’t always be there for her newest friend. As a slave and bodyguard especially, she didn’t have a lot of them. She valued all that she had.

Cynane then explained a little more about her life with Claudia, and what she mostly did and Charis thought it must be because Claudia liked her – else she wouldn’t bring Cynane with her to all those places… “I suppose it is a nice feeling. I never really thought about it like that. I just do what I have to do.” Cynane replied and then smiled, almost considering telling Charis about the secret she actually had with Claudia; that she’d been training her ever since she became Claudia’s bodyguard. She’d taught her young mistress how to defend herself if she should ever be attacked and she hoped that if it ever happened… Claudia would remember. Maybe she should teach some to Charis too?

She wondered where Charis was off to, and she explained she went to the baths in the daytime, because her owner didn’t want her to go out in the evenings, “That’s clever of him, at least. And nice, almost… he doesn’t want you attacked again.” Cynane made that conclusion, because that had to be why. He didn’t want his slave attacked or violated by someone else. Before she could say more though, charis had wondered what Cynane was doing here and if she could come to the baths.

“I guess I can. Claudia is resting and isn’t going out anytime soon, so I’m not needed.” She said, not considering that she used her mistress’ first name when she spoke this time. Considering the baths, it wasn’t a big deal. Cynane had been in Rome in a long time now and she’d adjusted a long time ago. Being naked around others wasn’t weird to her. She looked at Charis again though, to answer her other question. It might have been said in jest from Charis, but there was a serious answer, “And I wasn’t doing anything else but stalking you, in fact. I didn’t see you or hear from you in a very long time. I worried something more serious had happened to you.”

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"Nice, almost. Indeed." She only muttered with a roll of her eyes. Gods only knew why Tertius did what he did most of the time, she certainly couldn't make heads nor tails of it for the most part. But at Cynane's agreement she could come to the baths, Charis grinned and squeezed her friends hand. "Good! I still don't like them," She wrinkled her nose, as if displeased, "But it's not as if there are any streams or rivers or lakes near here instead." Charis evidently had yet to see the Tiber. It wasn't like home here; nice and secluded and peaceful - no, here in Rome they of course made a show of everything, even bathing! 

But as the conversation turned once more, Charis cast her eyes down - her posture shifting to be more awkward. She felt a wave of guilt wash over her, Gods she had been so wrapped up in herself she hadn't even thought of her friend! "I'm sorry." She winced, but kept her eyes averted. "It has been..." She swallowed, stuck for words. That never happened to someone as conversational as Charis. She struggled in silence for a moment before drawing to a stop again in a secluded street. "Different. I..." Gods where to begin! She didn't especially wish to dredge it all back up again but Cynane was worried - and rightfully so - and in any case, what had happened with Helios might well impact her as much as it did Charis, who knew who else the blonde fool had been telling tales to? 

Hesitatingly, she spoke quietly; "Helios came to see my domine." She breathed deeply through her nose. "He told him...everything. For money, I think. About the drinking and slacking off and...of what I said about dominus." Gods she felt sick to her stomach - reliving it all. "Domine was furious and..." She sighed, "He kept me in the house for weeks - only allowed out to the baths if I asked his permission." She quickly realised she had neglected Cynane's part in all of it and hurriedly added; "I didn't tell him your name, I'm not sure if Helios did but if your mistress hasn't mentioned anything then Gods hope he hasn't been selling his poison to as well." She also knew she had left out a substantial part of Tertius' reaction, but that could wait.

 

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Charis agreed that her owner was almost being nice, when he didn’t want her to go out at night anymore. Well nightlife could be dangerous for a woman in Rome, especially one as petite as Charis here. And she probably didn’t have a lot of skills. Honestly Cynane should teach her. The baths usually had grounds for exercise too, so maybe she should suggest it to her friend. They kept on walking though and Cynane had agreed to go to the baths. Charis said she didn’t like them, but there weren’t any streams or rivers here, “Not any you’d like to bathe in. They do use the Tiber for washing clothes, but in a city as big as this… the water isn’t clear. The baths are better, it’s cleaner. And the capsarii won’t steal from us. If you left your clothes on the bank of the Tiber… they might disappear.” She said with a grin, although afterwards she recalled that Charis maybe didn’t even know what they were.

She’d then also told what she was doing out here and she wasn’t doing anything else but trying to find out what had happened to Charis – so she was happy to see her again. Again she’d mentioned how worried she was, and Charis then suddenly began talking, seeming a bit tense. She spoke of Helios seeing her Dominus… Helios, the slave they met in the gardens? Cynane arched a brow, while Charis went on about how Helios had told him everything she said that day and for money too. So he’d traded his knowledge. That wasn’t uncommon, but it was dangerous. And especially for Charis, it seemed, because of course her owner was furious. Cynane had tried to warn Charis to be careful with Helios, since they didn’t know him… and apparently she was right to want to be careful. She was upset when she heard that Charis’ owner had kept her in the house for weeks… and Charis only worried that Helios might tell on Cynane.

“I haven’t heard anything about it. But really… he told on you? For money? Gods, some people here…” Her hands curled into fists while she recalled that Helios was from the Domus Venus. She could find him. Surely he’d not be missed… but she shouldn’t consider him right now, she had Charis right here and felt bad for her too. She tried to consider something to say to cheer Charis up after that whole ordeal… “At least your master only kept you in the house for weeks? I’d say that’s almost nice of him too. That he didn’t punish you further. Is he taking a real liking to you perhaps?” She looked at Charis, recalling how Charis came to work in the gardens of her domus because her owner liked to look at her. If her owner liked her, at least she was lucky there. It was far better than an owner despising his slaves…

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Charis felt palpable relief when Cynane mentioned that her mistress hadn't confronted her. Then again, she supposed, Cynane had had the sense to keep her mouth shut unlike herself, and so what could Helios really sell? That she'd enjoyed a couple of cups of wine and some cakes? Not for the first time, Charis chastised herself for not being more like her friend. Still, she kept silent and awkwardly stood still in their quiet little enclave, although she couldn't help but fidget and pull her hair behind her ears - a nervous habit. 

"No, he's not taking a liking to me." She said with a mouth that felt as dry as sand. Swallowing, she breathed heavily through her nose and started walking again to distract herself - and try and keep the awkwardness with Cynane to a minimum. Whens she spoke again, her voice was quiet - almost ashamed. "He took me to bed, forced me..." She waved a hand, "Although I don't think it counts as forcing if you agree, does it?" She swallowed again and bit her lip. She was getting upset. "I couldn't say no, you understand? He said he wanted to show me my place...He already took my husband's bracelet," As if on cue, she moved her fingers to the spot on her wrist which now only had a thin linen band on it to try and replicate the feeling of what she'd lost, "And I was...afraid." She was silent again, ashamed at what she saw as her complete lack of spine. In her mind, she should have been stronger - she should have told him no, she should have ran or fought or done anything but lie on her back. The sensible part of herself knew that she had no choice but to do as she had done, but her upset was making her irrational. 

The entire time she explained what happened she hadn't looked at Cynane, but now she cast a sidelong glance at her friend with a wavering, upset smile. "At least he hasn't done it again since. I must have really been dreadful."

 

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Maybe Cynane’s mistress hadn’t confronted her about Helios, because Helios hadn’t come. She tried to remember back and Charis had been quite open, shared a lot of information about her master. Cynane had made it a habit of hers to prefer to not tell who was her mistress – she didn’t want to endanger Claudia in any way. She’d told that senator, Lucius, whom her mistress was, but only because he also told her his name. It was a fair deal and she could easily make up a story about him if he ever threatened her or Claudia. Although she doubted it. He was like an annoying sort of puppy; mischievous and charming. But what about Charis? She was almost surprised that if Helios had shared dirt on Charis’ opinions on her master, that her master hadn’t punished her all that much.

Charis said he wasn’t taking a liking to her and Cynane looked at her as she noticed how Charis kind of seemed to… act differently. Then she spoke in a quiet voice, said her master had taken her to his bed, although she didn’t think he’d forced her – because she couldn’t say no. Cynane looked at her, feeling very bad for her friend, that she had to go through that. To show Charis her place… it made sense. Her place was beneath her master. It was just one way to prove it. Charis said he’d also taken her husband’s bracelet and she was afraid.

Cynane stopped walking, while Charis tried to convince herself that her master wouldn’t do it again. She pulled Charis into an embrace, hugged her tight, kissed her hair, “I’m sorry to hear he did that to you.” She said, “You didn’t say he could do it, you didn’t invite him, did you?” She didn’t think it sounded like that, “He did it to prove a point and I understand it if you were afraid.” She sighed and pulled back, looked at Charis again, “I’d still say it counts as being forced. Just because you can’t say no doesn’t mean you wanted it to happen. At the ludus, they’d sell us too, like prostitutes. It wasn’t always very nice. I didn’t want to do it… but if I refused, it would just be a lot worse.” She sighed, “At least where I am now, it’s better. And hopefully your master thinks his little scheme worked and he won’t touch you again. I hope that. For you.”

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Charis sunk into her friends hug as she often did to her mothers when she was a girl. She slung her arms around the older woman's waist and buried her face in her hair. Gods she felt so...pathetic, but she needed this comfort. The only source she'd received it was Teutus that morning after, the rest of the slaves - even Rhoda - had casually decided to brush it under the carpet, and had never brought it up or even ask if she was alright. It stung - she wasn't Hector, she hadn't wanted this.

She listened silently until Cynane pulled back and she blinked up at her friend with wide, watery eyes. "I d-didn't invite him, no." Over the weeks since it happened she had wondered if she had - if she'd led him on, tempted him...and had been drawn back to that night in the garden. But even then she had defied him, even if she'd afterwards flattered him. Yet that didn't mean she wanted him in her bed. Watching her friend, she eventually dropped her eyes back down to the dusty street. Oh Gods, poor Cynane. She'd only been forced into one man's bed, she couldn't imagine having to do it over and over again. "I'm sorry Cynane...Cinnia." She offered a half-smile. weak, at the woman's British name. 

Frustrated at her own emotion, she groaned and rubbed her eyes before taking a deep, cleansing breath; "I need to pull myself together, Gods Erea!" She moaned aloud before offering a hoarse laugh. "I hope not, and he's being...almost nice now, if you can believe it." She scoffed. "After what happened I went to see him and now he's making me visit him everyday until my face heals, but is teaching me to read." She emphasised with a shake of her head, swallowing the lump in her throat. "Can you imagine that? Maybe he feels bad? Knows what he did was wrong?" Any other person in Rome would tell her she was being a fool, but Charis held out hope he felt...guilty.

 

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Charis accepted the hug and returned it and Cynane closed her eyes for a moment. She felt sorry for Charis. Now this had happened of course to thousands of other slaves, but the first times were never easy, especially when it was with someone you didn’t like or maybe even despised. It was never easy to be forced, no matter the reason and no matter who it was. Yet it was the life of a slave, quite often, and especially for the attractive ones. And Charis was very attractive. Cynane thought her master might have been looking at her for a while and now he finally had his excuse to take her to bed. Charis confirmed she didn’t invite her master. It really wasn’t her fault and Cynane didn’t want her to feel it was.

Then she explained to Charis that she’d tried it too and many times. Not anymore though, but she’d gone through it as a gladiatrix. A gladiatrix rarely fought to the death anyway, it was just a show for the crowd, so they could enjoy seeing two women fight and the wealthiest spectators might be able to sleep with one of them after. Charis said she was sorry to hear it and used her old name, “I am too. But it’s in the past now. And it sounds… wrong… but… you get used to it. And then it’s just another part of your daily routine.” She said with a small sigh. Charis was still upset over what happened though, said she had to pull herself together and then said she hoped her master would not touch her again.

But then she went on about how he was nice to her and she saw him every day and he was teaching her how to read. That was surprising! But then Charis thought he felt bad and Cynane shook her head, “He sounds like he was raised a proper Roman and I doubt he feels bad. He wants to keep you close and I think he does like you. Not that many slaves know how to read and write and especially not the female slaves.” She explained, “It makes you special to him. You must have made an impression. I don’t know him like you do, but I won’t lie to you either… I think he’ll want you again sometime.” Honestly though, at least Charis only had one master and wasn’t sold to every man in Rome. She could make a good life for herself, if she became her master’s favorite bed-slave. She wasn’t quite sure Charis would understand that though. All she could do was try and be there for Charis and be someone to talk to.

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Charis listened with a gritted jaw. It was as if Cynane was reading the rational part of her mind - the part she was trying to suppress in favour of hopeless optimism. "Special!" She interrupted, exclaiming with a roll of her eyes. Then again - maybe in her own way, she was. Surely other slaves who had done what she had done would have felt the wrath of a fist or a whip, instead she'd been bedded and then sent on her way. She had even had the pleasure of spending the night in his bed. 

Swallowing the lump in her throat she blinked and started walking away, calling over her shoulder; "We should be going to the baths before we spend all afternoon talking." She didn't want to dwell on what Cynane had said, she wanted to ignore it and remain naive to the very real prospect that soon she could well be back underneath her master, but try as she might she couldn't get the images from her head. She continued to walk as she spoke, and her voice was hurried and babbling, as if she was wrestling with her own emotion. "I will just say no...he won't do anything if I say no, emphatically this time." She blinked, "He might...he might, but I need to say no - for my own peace of mind. He did it to punish me last time, I'll just have to be good and then it won't happen again...it won't..." She was getting flustered again and moved to stop, leaning heavily against a wall - her cheeks flushed. "I-I just want it to stop. I-I want to go away, run away, home." And Gods she wished she had the courage to.

 

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Cynane was a realistic person – she didn’t like to lie or to do things the wrong way. Had she been born and grown up in a Roman family, she might have fit into that very well, with her outlook on life. Right now, she was trying to make Charis see what was going on. Cynane had been in Rome longer and she believed she knew what the Romans were like. At least those she’d met. And it sounded like Charis’ owner was the standard Roman, with his principles that couldn’t be changed. Charis however didn’t like the idea of being special and she soon continued walking. Cynane caught up with her, she could see Charis had a hard time grasping what Cynane just told her. That she might end up in her master’s bed again. But really, she had to know that the possibility was there and to Cynane, it sounded very likely to happen.

Now she tried to convince herself that she could say no if he wanted her again, because this time he wouldn’t have to punish her. And she thought that if she was good then he wouldn’t do it. Cynane stopped as she did and followed her to the wall, standing in front of her – not to block her way, but maybe to shield her from everything else around them. Charis spoke of running away then and Cynane’s eyes widened a moment and she shook her head then.

“Don’t, please don’t run away. If they catch you, you’ll be fugitivus. They’ll brand you and punish you worse than you’ve been before. They may even kill you. I don’t want to see you dead.” Cynane said, her voice firm, she didn’t want this to happen and she had to make Charis understand how dangerous it could be! Sure she’d once dreamt of running away. But then she met slaves that had been caught. And she understood it was better to not run away.

“Charis, please… Erea.” She said, looking to meet her eyes, “Please try and just… relax. You have to relax. And I know you don’t like it, but if you tell him no… the Romans really don’t like when you go against their wishes. If you say no, if you don’t just agree, it may end worse than if you at least agree. But…” She gave her a small smile, reached out for Charis’ hand, “He's at least not here, right now. Come, let’s go to the baths. I think you need it.”

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Charis wanted to cry, but managed to keep herself held together. Just. She'd seen the brands on some of the slaves at the market - some on their arms, one with FVG on their cheek. Unconsciously she raised her own small fingers to her cheekbone. She said quietly, timidly; "I...I just want it to stop."

Blinking and sniffing away her upset, she purposefully tried to keep her eyes from Cynane's - ashamed at her own weakness. When she did look up at the other woman, as she spoke, she did so with big watery eyes. She stayed quiet at her friends instruction, absorbing it but ultimately dismissing it. Tertius had never raised a hand against her, and if anything he seemed drawn to her irreverence. Maybe a refusal wouldn't be as bad for her as it would have been for Cynane? Maybe he'd understand? She knew, however, there was little point explaining her rationale to her friend (mostly because, in part, she recognised it was irrational...) and so instead just took the bodyguard's offered hand and squeezed it. 

"Yes." She said, trying to sound decisive but failing. Gingerly, she peeled herself off of the wall and started wobbling steps towards the baths - not far now. "You have to ignore me," She scoffed almost at herself, "I always thought I was so strong, so resilient but...this place." She cast her eyes around to the buildings and people milling in the streets, oblivious to the two Britons and their odd little language, "I don't know how you've lasted so long here." She meant it as a compliment, although it didn't sound like one. Deciding to change track, as she felt the big black cloud of depression beginning to envelop her, she offered a weak smile to her friend; "Can you read? Maybe if he teaches me enough I can teach you and then we can send notes." 

 

TAG: @Atrice

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Cynane had rarely cried, even as a gladiatrix. There was no point and where she was brought up, it was only weak women who’d cry. Cynane might be a woman but she’d never been weak. She was taught to be a warrior and to endure battles and fights and scars and had done it as long as she had been deemed grown up enough to do it. She wouldn’t blame Charis for crying though, even if she didn’t think it would help anything. Crying didn’t make things better. It didn’t change anything. Still, some people needed it.

When she told Charis about the fugitive slaves, the other touched her cheek and said she wanted it to stop. Cynane nodded, “I know.” She said, she understood, but she also knew they couldn’t do a damn thing about their situation. Charis’ eyes were blank, she was on the verge of tears, but they didn’t come. And in the end, Cynane decided they should move on towards the baths and they did so, holding hands. On the way, Charis said to ignore her, because she always thought she was strong but now she wasn’t, “Strength comes in many forms. Enduring pain and surviving it… even though it’s tough… that’s also a kind of strength.” Cynane replied, “You’re not weak… you’re just adjusting.” She added while they walked.

Not long after, Charis smiled again and wondered if Cynane could read. She shook her head, “I only know what my own name looks like in writing. But that’s it. I’ve never had a position here where I needed it, so no one taught me.” She didn’t know the letters or how to read and write anything else. To her, it just looked like drawings. And someone drew something that apparently was her name, so when she saw that drawing, she knew what it was. But the rest… was just gibberish… “It might be nice to be able to read. I’d love it if you taught me.” She said with a smile to her friend and looked up, they’d arrived at the nearest bath house and she held out a hand to gesture that Charis could walk in first. She looked in her purse to check how much she had and gave Charis another smile, as she had an idea, “I think I have enough coin for some proper soap. When did you last get your hair washed?”

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Charis offered a wavering smile at her friend; "I will teach you." Not that she put much stock in her own abilities. Tertius had only been helping her for under two weeks and who knew how long his patience or whim would last. That wasn't to say she wasn't good, she'd been a quick learner, but she knew well how quickly things could change. "Just think how pleased your mistress would be, if you came home with a new skill..." Gods how depressing. They couldn't even learn for the pleasure of reading and writing for themselves, only for the enjoyment and satisfaction of their owners. 

As they drew near the baths, Charis reached into the little coin purse and withdrew her fee, and arched a brow at Cynane. "I..." She was about to suggest that she needn't spend her coin on her, but then if it was offered... "I wash it with the flowers that I've removed from the garden, in the yard, but it is freezing so...not as often as I'd like." She managed a full smile now. Now the heat of the summer was up the freezing water was a respite, but only when one dunked their head in the first time...after that it slowly became unbearable and Charis would often return to the slave quarters, teeth chattering and waist length hair dripping a mess across the mosaics of the finer parts of the house. 

Upon paying and entering, Charis led her friend into the women's apodyterium, glancing around. The women here - removing their clothes - were most definitely not slaves, judging from their finery and Charis felt a shiver of embarrassment run up her spine. Now she was allowed to the baths in the day, the clientele was most definitely different - as mostly her fellow enslaved friends could only spare the time to visit once the chores and duties were done. Here, now, however, were women visiting just for pleasure or for a gossip. Moving to the side of the room, she found a space on one of the benches and sat down to remove her sandals - hesitantly. She always hated this part - undressing in full view of others. With a wince, she arched a brow at Cynane as she undid the braids that fastened a low up-do in her hair - delaying having to undress; "I swear to the Gods if they steal my clothes..." Not that she had much to steal, compared to the wealthier clientele and her work in the gardens meant her long tunica had already sustained a few small tears from the thorns on the roses. 

 

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That would be interesting, learning how to read and write. Cynane knew it was a status-symbol here in Rome, to be able to do that. And what if she was freed one day - then it might be very handy. Would it be hard though? On the other hand, if Charis could, Cynane was sure she could learn too. Charis mentioned how pleased her mistress would be with such a new skill, but Cynane just shrugged, "She might be pleased, I don’t know. I don’t need it in my position, after all. But you never know if it may be handy someday.” Cynane replied, although she was of course happy that Charis would teach her.

They’d arrived at the baths now and Cynane offered to buy soap for washing their hair. First Charis didn’t seem sure, but then she didn’t deny the idea either. She explained how she often washed her hair, but how cold the water could be. She wasn’t as privileged as Cynane was. They had baths at the palace, also baths that the slaves could use, in case they didn’t go to the public thermae, like today. And if Charis wasn’t even fond of coming here, she could understand it must be hard sometimes, “We’ll get it washed today then. I could do it for you.” She said with a smile while they paid the symbolic price to enter the thermae.

Soon enough they came into the apodyterium and found a bench where they could undress. Many people in here were clearly free Romans, but Cynane was used to mingling with high and low in her job and it wasn’t all that strange to her. It also wasn’t all that strange to undress in here, for her. Cynane sat down to quickly unstrap her sandals and then stood up again to undo the belt and remove the palla she’d worn out today. She folded it neatly and undid her hairstyle too, while she looked at Charis who muttered about having her clothes stolen. Cynane chuckled, “They won’t. Look at all those ladies… when they compare ours to theirs, I think we’re safe.” She said in a low voice to her friend and slipped the half-long tunica she’d worn today over her head and then removed the breeches she wore. Not many women wore breeches and such a short tunica, but Cynane was a bodyguard and by now, she felt most comfortable wearing clothes she could actually move in.

At last she was naked. No one had come to aid them, they weren't important enough for the thermae slaves to look their way. Cynane wrapped a small towel from a stack around her body, although it didn't leave much to the imagination. She thought that Charis might be lucky in that department, she was shorter, so the towel would cover her more. Then she waited for Charis, discretely taking her in. She was very pretty, also underneath it all, she thought to herself. And she had such gorgeous hair! At last, Charis seemed ready to go and she smiled, “Alright, it’s time to soak a little bit. I think it’ll do you good.”  

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Charis laughed, genuinely, at her friends comment and cast an eye over the other women’s clothes. The clothes of the wealthy were an anathema to her, and looked so fine and flimsy that they’d surely not be practical at all? She had been pleased, at least, by her serviceable long tunics - even if the wool was unbearably hot in the summer, before she’d been given a thinner linen one. 

Discretely she kept her eyes off her friend as she undressed and braved herself before undoing the thin ties at the shoulders of the tunica which held the two strips of fabric that made it up, together, and slipped it off. Hurriedly she reached and grabbed a towel but fortunately her long hair shielded her (admittedly very modest) chest. Unfortunately it did, however, leave the scar visible across her shoulder blades. 

When she had shielded her modesty, she turned to her friend and blinked - evidently her friends enviable figure was less easily concealed! She blushed, both out of her own embarrassment and the less than modest way she glanced over her friend. “Yes - lets. The warm bath?” She grinned and tried to hide her flush as she stepped through into the larger room. Cautiously, she slipped off the towel and hurriedly sunk into the warm water. She grinned now, broadly and genuinely - the relief of the water washing away her stress. “Did you swim at home?” she arched a brow, “My tribe were by the sea - we used to swim all summer long if father could spare us from home...” Then again, her tribe was encircled by the ever fractious Brigantes - Cynane’s own tribe - so maybe it was a sore point! 

 

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Cynane was very glad that she’d never been a house slave and forced to wear proper dresses – she would feel so awkward in such clothes, she hadn’t worn them since before she was enslaved. And even back in Britannia, she preferred clothes she could move in, because she was training as a warrior. Sure she knew that eventually she would have married, if she hadn’t been captured… and she would have settled down with a husband and probably children, but her life took a different turn and now she preferred her breeches and short tunics. Charis was a house slave however, so she wore more feminine clothes – which suited her, Cynane thought. She couldn’t imagine Charis as a warrior, she simply couldn’t.

Finally Charis was done too and also picked up a towel to cover herself with. Cynane let Charis walk first and she picked up the soap bar that she bought. She noticed a scar on Charis’ back, half-hidden by her long hair. But they’d talked plenty about unfortunate incidents today and she wanted to cheer Charis up. Charis was blushing a little bit and Cynane couldn’t help but smile at her reaction to being here in the baths. She would get used to it, hopefully. She would have to. Charis wanted the warm bath and Cynane nodded and followed her friend. Soon they were at the warm baths and Charis was first to remove her towel and slip into the water. Cynane followed a moment later. Charis asked if she’d swim at home.

“I did. I didn’t live near the sea, but we had lakes and rivers.” Cynane said. She knew that Charis and she might have been enemies, had they both still been in Britannia, but they were here now and here they got along – and they had to, among the Romans, “I wonder if they’re building baths up there too now. I imagine they are.” She said thoughtfully and with a little sigh, everything was probably changing too in the area where she was born. She tried to push the thoughts away, looking around at the other women here. The women’s section of the baths were smaller than the men’s, she knew that. Not quite as much space here, but still enough. The others were just chatting and sharing gossip though, but that stuff kind of bored Cynane, so she looked at Charis with a playful gaze, “Can you dive under the water?”

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Charis grinned at Cynane's memories, feeling more relaxed by the minute as the warm water soothed her tired body. "I still don't understand why they all complain about Britannia so much, or the weather." She rolled her eyes, the 'they' being the Romans that surrounded them, "I remember one summer it was impossibly hot and I just lazed in the rivers all day." She smiled to herself at her girlhood memory. In her mind, the Romans couldn't appreciate natural beauty, only manmade - it explained why they loved their Rome so much but couldn't enjoy the sweeping mountains and lakes and coast of England. Well...that and the fact that the British hadn't been the most...hospitable hosts to their new occupiers. She only murmured; "We'd never take to it...they'll build the baths but nobody will go." She imagined these grand buildings all lying empty as her people stubbornly stuck to their ways. But time had already moved on, it had been nearly six months since she'd arrived - eight since she left, and who knew what the Britons were doing, Tertius certainly never told her. 

"Hmm?" She arched a brow at her friend, distracted by her own thoughts and then laughed - a deep, genuine laugh. "Dive? Of course!" She glanced around at the women - bobbing demurely or gripping onto the sides of the relatively shallow water. She wondered how many of them could swim, probably not many. With a playful, dimpled smile of her own she backed away from her friend and gracefully (or so she thought) duck-dived into the water, her legs popping up as she did. 

She took in the silence under the water for a few moments and shut her eyes before resurfacing in a little wave, breathing deeply and spluttering a little at the water in her nose. She heard the very loud mutters of disapproval being angled their way (and the giggles of little girls who evidently wanted to try similar...). Wiping the water from her eyes she grinned at her friend, "Can you?" it was a challenge more than anything, and she added with a laugh; "And don't...look at anything whilst your down there!" She flushed a little - she hadn't failed to notice the way Cynane glanced at her as she undressed.

 

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Cynane smiled and nodded at Charis’ memory about hot summers in Britannia, “I don’t know why they complain either. And yes, our summers could be very hot… but not like Rome. It’s like the warmth here gets to you worse.” She said, recalling some very warm summer days at home. The grass would turn yellow and the streams would dry out, but still it couldn’t be compared to the heat of Rome. Maybe because this was a big city and there were so many buildings and people here, so the heat couldn’t escape again…

She mused a little whether they’d build thermae in Britannia, those bloody Romans, and Charis said they might but the Britons wouldn’t go. Maybe not. Or maybe they’d get curious. Cynane couldn’t imagine returning now, everything must be so different from what she remembered. Charis seemed to drift off to her own thoughts a little, but then Cynane was bored and wondered if she could dive. She seemed thrilled about the question and glanced around, before she ducked under the water. Cynane watched her swim a little underneath the water, before she came up again and wiped water from her eyes and face.

Charis wondered if she could dive and then said to not look at anything. She even blushed, but Cynane just laughed, “Why? You haven’t got anything I haven’t seen before… I think.” She said with a wink, “But I’ll try not to.” And then she too pushed from the edge, ignoring looks their way and she dived down too, like Charis, with her legs popping up first and then going underneath as she did a few strokes under the water. She was careful to keep her nose and mouth closed. Then she turned under the water and came up right in front of Charis, “That was nice.” She said, pushing her hair back over her shoulders and wiped water from her eyes, “Did you want me to wash your hair? Although I think we need to do it elsewhere, so the soap won’t come into this water here.” Maybe in the frigidarium… she’d ask one of the slaves who worked here, they would know.

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Charis laughed as her friend dove under the water, feeling as free as she had when she was a girl. She had missed this, just having fun for the sake of it. As Cynane popped up in front of her she grinned and clapped, "Very impressive...if they hadn't taken you for a gladiatrix, you would be a good merrow*." Gods she missed swimming. Usually her trips to the baths were functional and short, she rarely had the time (or inclination, alone) to enjoy the space. 

Nodding, she gingerly moved to the steps to exit the bath, and hurriedly grabbed her towel to shield herself as much as possible. "Are you sure? I don't want you to feel like you have to..." Cynane was a slave as much as her, and Charis didn't want her friend to feel burdened. But it was almost a sisterly act - she'd done the same for Ardra when they were girls, as her mother had done to her. 

Gently padding away, she pulled her hair over her shoulder and arched a brow at her friend? "Where shall we go?" 

 

TAG: @Atrice

*Merrow was a term for mermaid in Celtic mythology. 

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Charis clapped at Cynane after she dove under the water and said she’d have made a good mermaid. Cynane laughed, “Really? I don’t know if I’m that good though. The Romans call them nereids, daughters of a sea-god.” Cynane couldn’t help but explain it and really, anything that Charis could learn about the Romans was good. It would make life easier for her, or so Cynane hoped. Now though, she thought they should move on and get Charis’ hair washed. Sadly they didn’t have all day to be here and just fool around. Charis seemed uncertain about it though, while she got out of the water.

“I’d like to do it for you. And it’s nice to be able to do something for someone else, because I want to. Not because I have to.” She said with a smile and got out of the water too. her towel was almost of no use, it wouldn’t cover much no matter what and she wasn’t as modest at Charis. She decided to just wrap it around her waist and hold it with a hand. Charis wondered where to go and Cynane waved a slave over, asking where they should go. She confirmed that the frigidarium was the right place to go and they had some basins for washing hair.  

Cynane led the way into the colder room and unwrapped the soap from the little parcel of cheap cloth it came in. She quickly looked over the room and went for one of the basins of cold water, “Alright, make your hair wet. And sit on this bench, so I can reach it.” Cynane said, there were a few benches placed near the basins. She waited for Charis to make her hair wet and noticed again the scar on her upper back and sighed, wondering again if she would dare ask about it.

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