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A little help, please?


Beauty
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She hadn’t gotten any sleep, crying silently to herself for much of the night, but that was simply because she wondered where her sister, her sister’s child, Turi and Immin were. If they were all even still alive. They had to be. Her gods wouldn’t have allowed such cruelty, not after the tragedy that the family had faced what felt like eons ago.

But just like every day, she was able to find at least some strength to get up and get to work. She rushed about, doing whatever was needed of her until the time came when she was asked to head to the markets to pick some things up for the kitchens. Nervous about doing a good job, Nymphias had counted the coins with her multiple times. She hadn’t been careful enough to not filter through them out in the open where any thief could have seen. A naïve part of her was too focused on the quality of her work. She had heard horror stories of slaves doing terrible work, only to be re-sold to cruel masters or worse.

The markets seemed like somewhere she often found herself in lately, running errands. Where there were pretty jewels, she looked upon them with wonder and imagined herself wearing some. Where she saw slaves, what happiness or courage she had became fragile. But she had to stay concentrated.

She came to a stall and pointed to some fruits. “Two of those, please,” she said carefully and then the price was named. Nymphias dug into her coin purse, shifting through the coins. Just like before when she had been counting almost obsessively, she was counting all over again. She looked up at the shopkeeper, offering the man a small smile and a “one moment, please” before dramatically returning to counting. She still had yet to get a hang of Roman currency. Whether she had the correct amount or not, her heart raced and her eyes began to tear up pathetically.

Sometimes, she needed a little help and someone to tell her what to do. It was better to look like a fool in front of everyone and get the job done then never. She looked up to the first person nearby that she laid eyes on.

“Excuse me, I need help,” she said shyly.

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"Huh?" Rufus finished paying for what he wanted and turned as a soft-spoken girl requested help, speaking so quietly that at first he didn't realise what she'd said. Realising how lost she seemed, he stopped - he had a little while before he had to meet with his master again. Octavius was in another Senate meeting and slaves weren't allowed into the Curia for any reason whatsoever (unless, probably, they were Imperial slaves designated specifically for cleaning the place or to do other menial tasks best done by slaves).

"Sorry. What do you need?" he asked, taking in her blond hair and nervous expression. She seemed young and unsure, and looked vaguely familiar somehow, though he was sure he'd never seen this girl before. "What's the matter?"

She surely shouldn't be out here on her own - it was just asking for someone to take advantage of her. Maybe that was the problem - someone had ripped her off, or stolen something, or she was lost, or... Numerous scenarios went through Rufus' mind in the brief pause.

 

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“What’s the matter?” He had said, she wanted to say everything. Life was the matter. It was kind one moment and then cruel the next. A part of her wondered if it was intent on ripping away every bit of her dreamy nature until she was mechanical or dead. Most men terrified her with their strong jaws, large arms and deep voices, seeming like monstrous titans, but somehow, perhaps because of the young man’s foreign looks, he seemed less threatening.

She didn’t know what she was counting. Every time she counted, the amount seemed to change. It was either too much or too little. She wasn’t sure if it was the fact that she was panicking or if she had truly been pick-pocketed somehow. She knew she couldn’t return to her master’s sphere empty-handed but stringing together sentences in Latin was a difficult feat for the girl, even if she had improved substantially since her arrival into Rome.

“If I don’t do this proper, I’m in trouble…,” she said quietly, feeling stupid and embarrassed. Her sister had done all the book-keeping, instead her head had been in the clouds. Thinking about who she was going to marry, how many daughters she would have or how pretty the flowers were when they bobbed in the wind while effortlessly sewing. What good all that was now.

“I don’t know what I’m doing with count money,” she explained to the best of her abilities, wiping her eyes with the back of her hands. “I mean to say, counting money. What do I do to count proper? Can you help me? It’s too much or too little.”  

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If her face looked familiar, her accent seemed just as familiar, but he could honestly say he had never met this girl before. He couldn't think it too odd that she didn't know how the currency worked; there were all sorts of people in Rome who hadn't really used the Roman currency in their old lives, after all.

"Of course I can show you," he told her, stowing his own purchases and taking pity on her. "How much was it?"

He looked from the girl to the stall-holder, who rolled his eyes and said flatly, "Two sesterces."

"For that? You're taking advantage and overcharging her. It's not worth more than two asses."

"Uppity, aren't you? One sesterce, two asses."

"One sesterce, or I'll take her somewhere else."

The stall-holder let out a breath and smiled suddenly. "You're good. All right, one sesterce."

Rufus turned back to the girl. "Pick out what you were going to buy, and let me see what you've got so I can show you what to pay."

 

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Nymphias tried to pay attention to what the two men were saying so that she could learn, her brows furrowed in concentration. Her head looked at one man when he spoke and then the other, back and forth until she was addressed by the red-haired man. He must have been a nice person, being able to put up with her initial moping and enough time had passed now that she was embarrassed.

She quickly pointed at two fruits. “Those two,” she said before pulling some coins out of her coin purse and lay them flat on the palm of her hand. “It’s all too much or too little. I can’t count proper, it looks all the same.”

“Only because you’re stupid,” muttered the man as he stared off into the distance bored, likely trying to uphold some semblance of power.

Nymphias didn’t pay attention to the man’s words despite feeling as if he was judging her. She was staring at the coins in front of her as if somehow they’d simply give her the answer she was looking for. “One se…sesterce,” she said and with two fingers, she picked up a single coin. “This one? This one sesterce?”

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Roman currency was not he very simplest of things, Rufus could admit. 

"Yes," he said, and decided he would get this girl somewhere a fraction more quiet than the middle of the forum and give her a quick lesson in coins and equivalent values. "He's still overcharging, but not by so much - and it's easy to explain because everyone sets their own prices."

Her Latin would improve the more she spoke it and probably her haggling skills would, likewise, if she could learn to speak up. Either that, or she would be forever taken advantage of by stall-holders like this one. Better she find sellers who gave good value.

"What else do you need?" he asked, willing to give her a bit of time to get used to shopping here. It had been a while since he had been a house-slave, shopping for things, and it would be nice to do that again, just once.

"My name is Rufus," he added, suddenly aware that he was offering to help and she didn't even know what to call him.

 

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“My name is Nymphias,” said Nymphias because that was her new name. Her old name, her old identity, it all didn’t matter anymore in Rome. A slave was nothing, a slave was property. The very thought of it made her sick to her stomach but at least she had a roof over her head. “I give him this coin?” She asked simply to make sure she was on the right track, she was frightened of getting even something as simple as handing a coin wrong. She leaned forwards and handed the coin to the man, who seemed just about done with her. Claiming her fruits, she put them away into a bag happily.

The markets terrified her because of the crowds and noise but she did enjoy seeing the Roman world around her, it was nothing like she was used to back home and so everyday she was met with something new to see.

Her attention returned to Rufus, who was now seen as her saviour. “I need lots of things. I need bread, cheese, wine,” she said honestly. “Lots of things. I want to see something for sewing also.” She wasn’t going to buy it, she simply wanted to look. Back in her home, she would sew gowns for herself but here she wore whatever she was told to wear. 

“Do you help everyone stupid like me?” she asked curiously, stepping away from the stall. “Rome need more people like you who are smart.”

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"You're not stupid," Rufus said automatically. "Just not used to all this - are you new to Rome?"

He was new to Rome, himself, although not new to the culture or language by any means. His Latin was the fluent tongue of the native speaker, although with the accent of Campania rather than of the city-bred Roman.

He was still finding his way around in Rome itself, of course, but knew that he wouldn't stray too far from the Forum if he helped Nymphias with her shopping. He had the time, too; Senate meetings seemed to drag on forever and buying the few things on her list would still allow him time to return to the Curia to wait for his master.

"Bread - the bakers will be down here," he said, indicating the signs hanging above the shops. "The different shops have different signs, see, so you know what they sell. How much bread do you need?"

 

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“Thank you but, yes, I am new to Rome. I came when hotter and my skin felt like fire,” she explained, indicating that she had arrived sometime during the summer. When exactly, she didn’t know. Everything had happened rather quickly but felt slow and agonising all the same. Nymphias’ gaze turned to the signs that hung above and then back to the young man, who she assumed was foreign like her, simply because of the colour of his hair. She wanted to ask him where he was from and how he became as smart as he was because she knew sooner or later, she needed to take a page or two out of his book. But was using the opportunity to learn as quickly as she could.

“I need a lot,” she said, giving what was likely an unhelpful answer. “A loaf, I mean. I don’t know, I know when I see it.” He said she wasn’t stupid but not knowing how to explain how much she needed in the Roman language, she kept it at that. She then pointed at one of the shops nearby, she could smell the nice smell of bread wafting out into the open. It reminded her of home, when she’d make bread. “Is this where I get bread? Do I do what you do before? Tell him one sesterce or I go somewhere else?”

She beamed and proudly. She was beginning to learn, she thought. “That way, he won’t make the price so big for so little bread. It worked well when you did it.”

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"Here," Rufus said, and took her over to one of the shops. "How much for a loaf?" 

He was told a price, which was about what he would have paid back home in Paestum.

"Did you just want one?" he enquired of the girl he was with, and held up a finger. "One, two, how many?"

Latin numbers were easy once you got used to them, but he didn't know how familiar she was with them. Her Latin wasn't bad for someone who'd only been here since the summer. He'd have to find out where she had come from, though her accent was painfully familiar; his mother had never quite lost the British accent despite her fluency in Latin after having spent years living in Italia. 

 

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Her head snapped from Rufus to the shopkeeper before returning to Rufus. She held up a finger, just the way he did. “Two,” she said, showing two fingers. Things were much easier when she could see them, she wasn’t quite good with numbers but there was also the element of panic, which only aided in clouding her judgement. Imagine if she hadn’t met Rufus, she thought. She would have been doomed, left navigating the confusing waters of Rome all alone.

She turned to him cheerfully, a stark difference to how she’d been to when she’d first met him, a wreck on the verge of tears. “I never good with money,” she admitted. She helped out at home with anything she could, mostly cooking and cleaning, things she knew she was skilled at, but her gods knew she had tried learning how to handle money.

“My sister good at book-keep—book-keeping,” she said, her expression turning pensive and a little sad. “She was very smart. Is very smart, I mean.” Erea couldn’t be dead. Nymphias refused to believe it. “Were you book-keeping where you from?”

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Rufus blinked at the mention of a sister. She looked familiar, but he was sure he'd never met her before today... but a sister... He found himself taking a walk along the beach at home (well, his old home) in his memory. Mother Letinie, brother Turi, sister Ardra... From Britannia, tribe Parisi... Could it be?

"Let's see what you have," Rufus told his companion, banishing the thought to where it had come from - he could ask her that in a bit. Once she extended her hand to him, he indicated. "That coin, and that, make the price for two loaves of bread. And no - I just did a lot of shopping for my old master, so I'm used to the money."

He waited until she had paid, and let her take her bread before leading her away from the stall. "Have you always been Nymphias?" he asked her gently, quelling the rising excitement that he might have found  one of his friend's relations. "What was your name, at home - in Britannia?"

 

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She opened the palm of her hand, showcasing a number of coins and the way a dog waits for treats, she waited for him to indicate what coin or coins she had to use. She handed the shopkeeper the coins and happily took the loaves of bread before following Rufus away from the stall, the glorious Roman sun bearing down on them. As wet, windy and unpredictable as Britannia’s weather was, she much preferred it, simply because it was a part of home.

She turned her head left and right before pressing a forefinger to her lips. “Shhh,” she said dramatically. She had heard slaves got their tongues ripped out for even uttering their names. But one of the slaves at her master’s home had told her that merely breathing was an insult to Rome and therefore, a slave shouldn’t be caught dead breathing. Nymphias knew that wasn’t true but had been too anxious to even laugh. “Can I say my name?” Her voice was lowered, practically asking permission. Her eyes surveyed the area before leaning forwards to whisper in his ear. “My name is… was Ardra.”

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Rufus was a little amused at the girl's shyness. She'd been shy ever since she'd first asked him for help, but now it had reached a whole new level. She seemed almost to be asking him for permission (him! a fellow slave...) before she leaned forward to whisper in his ear.

Ardra.

He sent a silent prayer up to Mercury that he had the right Ardra - though how many girls could there be in Rome who had that name? Who had ever had that name, in fact?

"Are you from the Parisi tribe, in Britannia?" he asked next. He couldn't ask whether she knew any of the other names he'd memorised - he had no news of them at all. Except for the dark-haired girl who must be this one's older sister. He could barely wait for her reply.

 

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She turned her head to stare at him, brows creasing and lips forming a frown. She wondered if she’d ever seen him before in Rome or back home. The answer was no, they’d only just met. She’d have remembered a young man with hair like his. Nymphias stopped in her tracks and she was stunned, her expression probably showed it.

“How do you know?” she said, surprised and holding onto her things. There were a million thoughts running in her head of how he might have come to know that about her. Maybe it was obvious but it seemed very specific. “You… been following me?”

She was far too trusting but in the same breath, since her entry into slavery and the disappearance of her family, she could be paranoid. Her emotions and thoughts were usually turbulent. It could have been the crowds or noise of the market but it seemed to agitate her mind.

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"Oh, no, nothing like that," Rufus said, hastening to reassure her. "I was brought up from Campania, in the south, a few months ago to be sold." He indicated the direction of the slave market and the building where he had been kept. "And I met your sister - Erea. She asked me to help find you."

And your mother and brother, but I've had no luck there.

"She is well. She belongs to a Senator, a man called Tertius Quinctilius Varus." Whether the name made any sense to her was anyone's guess. "I promised her I would try to get a message to her if I found you."

He couldn't believe he had been lucky enough to have actually come across the girl, just out shopping, just while he was waiting for his master.

 

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She’d have asked him about Campania but now wasn’t the time. He’d mentioned her sister’s name. It was too specific and there was really one woman she knew who had that name that was family. Nymphias was in shock, blinking, trying to hold back a wide array of feelings. She hadn’t caught the senator’s name, only the “Varus” because it was short, nice and simple to remember. She didn’t know if she wanted to sit down, hug him in thanks or to just continue staring blankly as she was.

“What?” she said, trying to fight back tears. She wasn’t sad, she was both happy and relieved that Erea wasn’t dead as she had feared. But how simple now would it be to find Erea in a place as big as Rome, now that she knew she was here too? “And what about my brother? Mother? Immin?” She was so hopeful that they were in Rome too, perhaps the family could be together again. Nymphias would be resting easier in the coming days with the news of her sister’s survival.

Now that she could see he was a friend of Erea’s, she saw him as a friend of hers.

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"I don't know about anyone else, you're the first one I've seen," Rufus told her. "I've been looking for you - for any of you - since before the summer, and I haven't seen your mother or your brother."

He'd keep looking, but he honestly doubted he'd see their brother - male captives usually ended up at a ludus, if they were lucky, and Rufus did not think that he would have any reason to go poking around any of the ludi. He didn't even know if his new master liked the games, or had anything to do with any of the ludi or the gladiators beyond the usual involvement snenators had with them. Which was to say, practically none, beyond paying for them for one reason or another.

"Erea belongs to a senator called Tertius Quinctilius Varus," he said again - the name might be foreign to her, but her learning it would help her in the long run when it came to actually being able to somehow physically find her sister and meet again. "She is called Charis now - like you are Nymphias."

If she somehow ended up at the senator's kitchen door asking for Erea, the staff wouldn't have a clue who she was talking about and she'd probably get turned away without even a glimpse of her sister. Although somehow Rufus suspected that she would not be able to make her way to the senator's house at all. Slaves did not have the free run of the city, after all, especially if they'd been brought here as captives like Erea and Nymphias had been.

Rufus was lucky, in that respect, but even he couldn't just leave the house to go and spend the afternoon where he wanted.

 

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Tertius Quintilicius Varus, Nymphias tried to repeat in her mind over and over again. But the name “Charis” did ring a bell, Nymphias’ mind tried to search as to what conversation she’d heard it from. And then it dawned on her. Helios had mentioned such a name, only he had said the person who belonged to that name was anything but sweet. But there were probably a good few slaves with that name too.

“Are you sure her name now Charis?” said Nymphias, brows furrowing. And yet Rufus had said her sister’s name and her tribe name. But she was disappointed when he had said she was the first he’d come across. But she’d take any good news at the moment, especially with how terrible her days had been without family. “Is Tartarus Quintilicius Varus good man like my domine? Is Erea well? She not have her tongue cut out or hurt? How you know I was my sister’s sister? Do we look the same? How can I repay you for kindness?”

So many questions but she had a lot and being curious, worried and many other things, she just blurted everything that came to mind, even if she had more questions. And for a lot of them, most not asked, time could only give the best answers.

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"Yes she is well," Rufus repeated. "I don't know her master, but she hasn't been hurt by him, that I know." He held up his hands to try to slow the flood of questions. " You look like her, but she has darker hair."

Whether she could understand the Latin was debatable, but never mind. "We talked, at the market, and I saw again recently. She asked me to look out for Letinie and Turi, and Ardra, but I haven't seen them, only you. I can't get away from my master very much," he added, by way of explanation.

"I think her master is good. She told me she is learning to write." He had no other real knowledge of how she was treated in the Varus household.

"What shall I tell her about you?" The question was not quite theoretical; he knew where Erea live and could at least get her a message.

 

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Nymphias smiled widely, she was glad that her sister wasn’t harmed by her master and that he’d even said that she looked like Erea. After all, Erea, just like their mother, was an idol of hers, someone she looked up to and still did, even if they were apart. Nymphias’ own master was kind, as was his wife and children, though still very strange. But Romans were strange in general to the girl.

Nymphias’ eyes widened in awe of her sister. Erea had the mind for it and it sounded very much like something Erea would do. Nymphias, on the other hand, was not being nearly as clever, instead moping like the wreck she was and worse.

“That I am well and that not worry about me,” said Nymphias, playing with her hands because it was a habit of hers. But she doubted Erea would not worry, she was an older sister and worrying was rooted in their bones. The news of her sister lightened her mood considerably. “Thank you for helping us, Rufus. You are very kind man and I will repay you with very much kindness.” And then almost as if she remembered, she add: “And do I have niece or nephew now?”

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It would be easy for someone to take advantage of Nymphias, Rufus thought, especially if she talked about repaying a man just for being a decent person. "No, no little children." 

He thought at first that she was wondering whether Erea's master had taken her to his bed - what could this sweet innocent girl know about that? And then realised what she probably really meant.

"She didn't look like she was expecting a child when I met her, either time," he said gently, and wondered how he had managed to anger Juno that she would put him in the position of breaking probably (definitely) bad news to this innocent naive girl. Such things as pregnancy were women's matters, he had no wish to know anything about any of that!

 

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Nymphias’ brows rose in confusion. No children? That meant one of two things. One, the child perished or two, the child had been separated from their mother. But then Rufus spoke more and Nymphias listened. What she felt now was happiness but it was now intermingled with sadness and shock. But with the family’s losses, it seemed almost to be expected now. But it was mostly Erea’s loss, likely the last remnant of her husband. Nymphias had to assume the man was dead or elsewhere.  

“I see,” she said, not exactly cold-hearted, just disappointed, unhappy. But tears did form, enough for her to wipe at them. “But thank you. You helped a lot.” And it was true, he had. She’d just met Rufus, a friend of her sister’s, but he’d always have a special room in her heart because he changed her life for the better. She wouldn’t forget his kindness, nor his help from earlier. She kept wiping at her eyes, she was the worst at keeping herself from crying.

“I’m sorry, I keep crying all the time in Rome,” she explained, embarrassingly dabbing her eyes. “How you two meet?”

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"In the slave market," Rufus said, in reply to her enquiry. Being sold was an experience he had never anticipated and one he hoped he would never experience again. Everything he had seen indicated that his new master would allow him to earn his freedom, though, so it was unlikely that he would have to prepare himself for the indignity and uncertainty of the slave market again.

He had nothing to offer Nymphias to wipe her eyes with, but rubbed her shoulder soothingly. "It's a bit of a shock, isn't it? Did she... Did she have a child, when you last saw her?"

She had been alone when Rufus had first met her. He knew how ruthless the Romans could be, but did not think that they would have taken a child from its mother for no good reason, especially a very young child, but it was possible. Erea had not been in the sort of despair he would have expected if that had happened, but who could predict how anyone would react to such an event. The Romans were not a weak, sentimental sort of people, after all.

@Beauty

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Rufus and Erea had been together when sold, meaning the two had likely comforted one another in what was possibly one of their darkest moments. At least, it seemed quite dark to Nymphias because it was degrading and callous.

“She had child in her stomach,” said Nymphias, trying to explain that her sister had been pregnant. She probably should have kept her mouth shut, save her sister from potentially being viewed differently or telling a story that wasn’t hers to tell. But for anyone born in Britannia, loss was something normal. Still, while happy to hear about her sister, she wouldn’t be resting easy, or so she thought, until she saw her sister again in person.

“Erea is very lucky to have friend just like you,” said Nymphias. “Then how was she like with you? Sad? Angry?” She wanted to know if her sister had been upset during the time she was with Rufus, especially if she was newly a slave. At that time, Nymphias must have been still in Britannia, wandering through its green lands or with the family that had taken her in. “And I am sorry you were in slave market.”

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