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Nymphias

So whistle while you work

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The day she liked best were the ones where she stayed at the domus working. When running errands, she was often frightened of the many sights and sounds, somehow getting lost, dealing with shop-keepers who thought her an idiot because she was young, dazed and lacking in language skills. Days at her master’s home weren’t the easiest because they were busy. How she felt every hour and day changed. Sometimes she’d be simply fine and other times, she’d be in complete despair, inconsolable. Her emotions changed like the weather at sea, it was unpredictable, especially to her.

Despite it all, she worked hard because she was determined to become a free woman. She did extra work where she could. Lucius, a Roman man, had told her to work long and hard and she’d see herself free. Nymphias feared she’d be old and barren by then. But Lucius’ words played on in her mind… just like his face. That played on too. She imagined herself and him. Together. Married. Children. Kissing. All of the things she had no experience in. But she thought about it anyways because her imagination was the only thing the Romans hadn’t completely taken from her. At least, not yet.

She’d been busy in the kitchens, running around like a madwoman, when she’d been told she was to see “the master” himself. Nymphias stared dumbly around her, panicking and thinking she was being punished. But she was ushered out and told where to go. While she headed to her destination, she played with her fingers and tried to keep her mind blank. Just in case her master could read her mind. She didn’t want him or anyone to think she was stupid. Taking in a deep breath, she told herself that Erea and Turi would be strong. But the moment she stepped into the room, she wasn’t strong. Her body was rigid and she moved quietly, the soft pit pats of her feet silently echoing.

“Domine,” she said in a polite greeting but like a frightened rabbit, her voice barely audible.

@Liv

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Being hunched over a bunch of letters was never particularly fun or comfortable, but even less so when the majority of said letters were thinly-disguised requests for loans, or outright beggary. Did they all think he'd single-handedly exhausted the gold mines in Dacia? Muttering a string of expletives under his breath, he rolled a few papyri together and fed them to the fireplace one passus to his left with an easy throw. Concentration had abandoned him already, and perseverance was starting to fail too. Only boredom remained, and it was taking over like an army of locusts. Fortunately, he'd foreseen this, and had sent for the new Briton slave so that he would have an excuse to interrupt the mind-numbing task. There were a few things he wanted to take up with her, too - bad habits needed to be expunged before they settled for good.

And there she was, stiff as a pilum and eyes like a little mouse scampering through an open field. The girl looked scared, but that didn't detract from her beauty, Titus allowed himself to note. Her golden hair was rather captivating, as were her big green eyes; such a combination of features was not a naturally common one in the heart of the empire. At any of the brothels, she would have fetched a hefty sum. As it was, it was magnanimity Titus felt towards her, rather than lust: her skin had taken on a healthier hue thanks to the strong Roman sun, her plain clothes were clean and in good condition, and she was still undeniably capable of self-grooming. A depressed slave was like a contagious illness: spreading their nasty humours all around and difficult to heal, not to mention a waste of good coin - but she had not lost the will to live and seemed to be adapting relatively well to her new life. 

"You came quickly. Good," he praised, eyeing her approvingly. "Oh, and for your reference from this moment on, you'll have to speak up," Titus added as he pointed to his scarred ear. Truthfully, the old injury had not affected his hearing on the right side that badly, but he didn't care much for whispering slaves, and he certainly did not care at all to read their lips. What would her reaction be if he told her the scar was the handiwork of one of her countrymen? Would she feel vindicated, or anxious that she would suffer punishment for the actions of another? Feeling lenient yet again, he decided to share the piece of information some other time.

"So. I've been told you're a quick learner. Your Latin's improving, and Betua's satisfied with your help in the kitchens." Getting a compliment out of the Gallic cook was no easy feat, as the old woman was infamously known within the household for being as harsh with her words to fellow slaves as she was gifted amongst pots and pans. He smiled a little. "Seems like you've been doing a good job. I want you to keep it up."

Then he stood up from the stool and walked over to her as the smile morphed into a frown, folding his arms across his chest as he stopped just under an arm's length from the slave. He could easily reach out and slap her across the cheek if he wanted to; her face was at just the perfect height to do it, too.

"However," Titus started in a steely tone, "I've also been told about your little escapades. I don't know if your sense of direction is really that terrible that you get lost all the time, or if you think you can make a fool out of everyone in this house and make a run for it. For your sake, I sincerely hope it's the former." Intimidation was a powerful and versatile tool, one  he'd diligently honed over the years. It worked on foreign chieftains as well as trained Roman soldiers, and would probably make the pretty slave's heart leap right out of her mouth. It was paramount that his point got across to her.

"I don't think I need to tell you it shan't happen again, do I?" He raised an eyebrow as if expecting a reply, but quickly carried on without waiting for one. "Because if it does, you'll be sticking to the kitchens for a very long time. No more errands outside. Have I made myself clear?" Titus cocked his head to the side, this time actually wanting a response.

With that out of the way, he relaxed his posture and let his shoulders droop a little. "Now that we've got an understanding, I'd like to know what you make of your new life. How are the others treating you? Has anyone been mean?"

Maybe he shouldn't be letting her off the hook so easily; many masters certainly wouldn't. But tugging at Titus' heartstrings, however unconsciously, was the fact that the girl was only a couple of years older than his own daughter, still navigating the space between child and woman with uncertainty... and first-hand experience told him a little rebellion was to be expected.

@Beauty

 

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He pointed to his ear and Nymphias eyed it curiously, even if she’d seen it before. She’d often wondered how exactly he got hurt there, her mind often wandered to dramatic scenarios but realised now that he was dear in one ear.  In that moment, she felt sorry for him. At first, she was trembling, her body rigid with fear but the moment his compliments arrived, Nymphias calmed down a little. Left over remnants of anxiousness had her sweating. She nodded with a straight-face, trying to hide that she felt pleased that he praised not only her work in the kitchens but the fact that her Latin was improving.

“Little escapades”? Her heart began to race. What could he have possibly meant by that? But then he explained and she frowned, fearful that he was going to toss her out for sale. But wasn’t going to happen. She shook her head fervently at his first question and then nodded her head at his last. He had made himself very clear. She could have explained that Rome was much bigger than what she was used to with all its roads and buildings looking all too similar but instead of excuses, she’d learn.

“I am liking my new life, domine,” she said loudly so he could hear, giving him the answer she believed he wanted to hear. It wasn’t completely a lie though. After all, where her youthful and awkward infatuations was concerned, she was enjoying herself well enough that it kept her distracted from her general unhappiness. “No one is mean to me and everyone in Rome treat me so well. I am very grateful to domine, family and to Rome. Rome very nice place, not like Britannia.”

Most of her troubles lay outside the home, simply because some people took her for an idiot. She was new to Rome, not very fluent in its tongue, doe-eyed, young and small so it was to be expected.

“I want to know better Roman—I mean, Latin,” said Nymphias honestly. “I want to know more things so I serve family better.”

@Liv

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It was amusing to watch his slave's expression go from anxious to self-satisfied to fearful to relieved, though Titus kept his own carefully blank. The girl seemed to have understood what was expected of her and was smart enough not to try and explain away her detours with futile excuses, leaving him with a positive impression. She'd even raised her voice as he'd asked, needing no further prompting. If she stayed respectful and obedient, her life in the household had all the potential to be a tranquil one.

"That's good to know. You don't have to lie, though," he said with a chuckle, unfolding his arms and letting them hang at his sides. He thought Rome was indeed a very nice place and not at all like dreary Britannia with its lunatic priests and pesky weather, but no matter how magnificent the eternal city would appear to a new slave, it wasn't 'home' yet, and 'home' was best.  That was why Romans and barbarians alike fought so fiercely in the name of 'home'. "We both know which place you like best... But I hope you'll change your mind in time. This is a city like no other." Not even Alexandria could compare.

The Briton's reasoning was sound and added to Titus' opinion of her. And this particular problem had an easy resolution: practice, practice, practice. "That can certainly be arranged." Titus tapped his chin lightly in fake contemplation; an idea had come into his mind almost as soon as the slave had finished speaking.

A sly smile tugged at his lips. "Starting tomorrow, you'll be minding Valeriana in the afternoon. I'll tell Betua about it so she knows you won't be in the kitchens as much." What better than to learn the language from a young child? Simple words, simple grammar, and kids that age were brutally honest when it came to pointing out mistakes. Plus, the young Briton would get to learn some Roman habits and traditions alongside his youngest daughter, not to mention the quirks of his little family. "I take it you have some experience with children?" Surely she'd cared for younger siblings or nieces and nephews before... probably.

@Beauty

 

 

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He was right, Rome was like no other. But Nymphias hadn’t really seen anything like it before. She was used to the much simpler, smaller settlements of Britannia. Rome was very large in comparison with greater buildings and strange ways of living. Everything was a lot more green in Britannia, it was why it was so wet and windy all the time. Could she ever come to prefer Rome to her home? As it stood now, she didn’t think so.

Nymphias beamed, believing the chance to work with her master’s youngest child was an honour. It meant she was working her way up, or so she believed. She wanted to become a free woman, free to do whatever she pleased and, perhaps, if lucky, find her siblings and mother, if they were still alive.

“Lots of experience,” she said confidently. She was the youngest of four and not yet a mother but she’d spent a good amount of time with children. When her sister was with child, Nymphias had been excited about being an aunt and helping to take care of something so small and helpless. She’d never have her own children as long as she was slave, she believed, but would take care of Valeriana like a mother bear. “I like children so I help mothers and women in Britannia. When baby cry, I know how to stop crying. When baby wants to play, I can play too. When baby needs new cloths, I sew new ones for them to wear. I very good at sewing. I am very grateful for minding, I will do my best.”

@Liv

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His slave seemed elated at her new task, which was certainly a plus. Whether that was due to genuine fondness for children or to some misguided mental sandcastle remained to be seen, but Titus reckoned he'd find out within the next few weeks if she didn't screw it up. However, he needed to lay down some ground rules before she got too excited.

"Good. I like your enthusiasm. You're going to need all of it, Valeriana's got a lot of energy." Understatement of the year, Titus. "Please try to keep her away from your domina's cosmetics, will you?" The bloody things were far too expensive for a three-year-old to be getting her hands, mouth, nose, basically her whole face, on them. "There's two things you need to keep in mind, though." Titus held up two fingers to make sure the girl was following. "First: you're not allowed to take her out of the house. I don't trust you not to get lost." If she was indeed just getting lost and not going on reconnaissance missions whilst planning an escape... Not to mention the oddballs or criminals they could come across with ideas of theft, kidnapping or worse. The dangers were simply too great.

"Second: dim Brittonig. Dim ond Lladin1." Titus was no longer as fluent as he'd once been, but he still managed a simple phrase like that. Even if Nymphias spoke another dialect, she should be able to understand him just fine and realise how serious he was about it. There would be no room for misunderstandings - the gods knew his daughter had no need to learn yet another pig language, thank you very much. "Don't worry about how well or badly you speak it, she's got other people to learn from. But don't let me catch you speaking to Valeriana in any other language than Latin, all right?" Verbalising an eventual punishment was hardly worth it; the slave would have already learned it was implied if orders were not correctly followed.

Now that the Briton knew exactly what not to do, Titus allowed himself to relax a little and indulge his curiosity; he knew practically nothing of Nymphias but her name, origin, and that she was a relatively fresh catch - part of the reason why she had been so cheap, as his secretary had gleefully informed him. "Were you learning from a midwife?" Those would have been skills worth developing, even in Rome. "Or just looking after your siblings?"

_________

- 'No Brittonic. Only Latin.' in Welsh

@Beauty

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It took her a while to understand what “energy” was before it kicked in. How difficult could it be to take care of a young child? But she nodded her head and then nodded her head once again as he began laying down rules. She was on the same boat as him, she didn’t quite trust herself not to get lost outside the home but wanted to learn the streets and back roads of Rome like the back of her hand, especially because everyone and everything was so unfamiliar.

Her eyes widened as he spoke in her language, it felt almost surreal to hear her own language spoken to her after months of non-stop Latin. She’d heard one Roman speak to her in her language, though her master’s grasp of the language was a little more polished, perhaps due to his time in Britannia as a man of the military, and she was impressed but didn’t voice it.

“Rome bigger than my city,” she said honestly. “My city small… I know lots of people at my city and I help lots of wives with babies because...” She assumed a wife and a midwife was the same thing, her hands swayed awkwardly and her brows furrowed as she tried to explain her past life. She felt like she was being tested and considering the man was giving his youngest child to her, she believed his concern justified. If she had children of her own, she would have done the same. “I like to help people, not for learning but to be nice person and for happy society. I did not look after siblings because… I am youngest child like domine’s Valeriana. I learned from doing same as mothers.”   

@Liv

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