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Valeria Flacca

A peen by any other name would smell as sweet

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Quietness had come after a bustling and busy morning for the household and finally, Valeria had tucked herself away from the distractions of a husband and children to focus on her writing. Comfortably beneath the streak of light reaching through the window, Valeria curled her legs under her sprawling gown and rested against her thighs was a wax tablet. She had turned the corner into her imagination space in an effort to find colourful ways of boasting about massaging one’s member while peering in at unsuspecting (and equally busy) couples from the perspective of a frail, lecherous old man. All the while, she presumed, her four-year old was in the next room. Stylus in hand, she jotted ideas, scratched them out a second or third time, paused to re-assess the meter or verse, before returning back to the drawing board.

Her concentration wavered every now and again from a to-and-fro pitter-patter in the backdrop and immediately, her suspicions were that her four-year old was loose, free to run as wild as her little heart desired. Valeria peered her head outside the doorway of chamber to find one of the household’s newest acquisitions: Nymphias. She had made her face and name familiar to her after Titus had made her mind Valeriana. Despite their closeness in age and despite Titus’s ability to get responsibilities across, it was one thing when Sulpicia had her eye on her sister but the new slave, the conveniently lost one with the thick, bright locks was something else.

“Did you ever think of putting a leash on her?” she asked, purposely gesturing out a long rope-like shape to have her words understood.

 

@Beauty

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She’d just turned her head for a split second. Just one second. Nymphias was too frightened to play hide-and-go-seek ever. She didn’t want the little girl out of her site so she kept her close. But here she was having to run after the little child who, with such small legs, had managed to get very far from her. The rules had been clear. No Briton language, no taking the child outside the home. Nymphias followed those quite well. Taking care of the young child had kept Nymphias busy, much too busy to be moping as she had been previously.

Valeriana, much like Sulpicia were both much-loved by their parents, living in riches, had a family and had never seen anything horrible. At least, from Nymphias’ understanding and in some ways, Nymphias was envious of them both and wished she had what they had. It was a stupid thing to think but sometimes she thought it. She hated being a slave and wanted to be free so she worked hard.

Hearing her master’s wife speak to her, she stared dumbly at the woman at first, not understanding what she had said, before blinking and then jumped to respond. “Leech?” she said in reply as she caught up with the young child, breathing as if she’d run a mile, and directed the small child closer towards her, holding her shoulder gently as if to urge her towards her room in the domus. “She need nap but she is being difficult. She doesn’t want to sleep… domina.” She quickly added the last part. “But usually she good behaved. I mean, well-behaved.”

@Joaquin

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“She’s obviously not well-behaved,” Valeria answered, entertained by the girl’s exhaustion was induced by a four-year-old. Valeriana wasn’t quite her brother Porcus’s level of difficulty, in fact none of her children thankfully were, so Valeria had little to complain about, but Valeriana expertly toed the line a lot. The child seemed to be interpreting the whole affair as a game, including Nymphias’s nudging, which made her squirm and giggle before twisting and running again in another direction. Like a mind-reader, Valeria stepped out from the doorway and grabbed her daughter before pulling her up with an exaggerated groan. “Oof, I felt that,” she said playfully, resting the child onto her side. “Mummy’s spine just shattered into pieces, now she needs more wine to make herself better.” If anything, she was keen to get back to her poetry, especially while words were so fresh in her head, but now that Valeriana was wired up, it would take a few minutes for the energy to die down.

Valeriana began relaying how much faster she was than Nymphias before making some request about being let down so she could demonstrate her outwitting of the slave again to which Valeria gave a “no, no, you’re not going anywhere” and a smile.

“Next time, you ought to pretend like you don’t notice, she’ll get bored that way,” Valeria advised Nymphias. Even if it was likely that Nymphias didn’t understand a word, Valeria tossed in: “Or the leech, you could try the leech.” Children like Valeriana thrived when they felt as if you were their playmate and scuttling after her only gave her the playtime and attention that she wanted. “Come, I need your brain for something,” she added, waving her hand flippantly as she turned back into the chamber with her child in tow. As she settled back into her little creativity corner, she placed Valeriana down and gave her the wax tablet, which she would surely destroy, after washing away Landicus’s profanities. 

@Beauty

Edited by Joaquin
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Some of the things her domina said didn’t exactly enter one ear and leave the other, instead they were merely misunderstood. A shattered spine? But her domina was standing perfectly fine! More wine? Why? The conversation between mother and daughter, only served to further confuse the girl. Sometimes Romans spoke way too quickly, all words seemed slurred and rolled into one. It also reminded Nymphias about how she would likely never have any children. After all, the Romans controlled that too, hoping to suck any bit of joy from the lives of those they unjustly took.

When she was regarded, she turned her head to the older woman quickly and nodded, indicating that she was listening. Nymphias followed her mistress, saying nothing and walking stiffly because it was difficult to walk normally when expecting the worst.

“My brain?” said Nymphias, tone clearly uncertain and her heart beating uncomfortably beneath her ribs. Even breathing in and out slowly and deeply didn’t stall the apprehension that ate away at her. In fact, it didn’t help at all. Nothing seemed to help except daydreaming. “I give you anything.”

Except her hair, she thought to herself. There had been times Nymphias had caught sight of her mistress writing away, sometimes reading. Nymphias was able to pinpoint a few letters, perhaps from exposure but certainly not enough to read anything or be of value.

“And what do I give my brain for?”

@Joaquin

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Valeria smiled at the ‘I give you anything’, if only because in her mind, it came across like something that had sprouted out of a scene from Landicus, involving an unsuspecting girl on the verge of an oncoming night of debauchery. Valeria bit her tongue, it wasn’t her intention to pollute the slave’s mind with her imagination. The most she wanted from Nymphias was that she did her job as Titus had instructed and secondly, her hair. It was exotic, to her, it was fair with light waves and much different from her own hair, which was dark brown, straight, and lacklustre, perhaps the latter was a consequence of curling her hair to achieve same effect as what her slave naturally had. But for Nymphias, Valeria didn’t intend to make her part with her hair so soon, she wanted her slave to look good as she like many of the others reflected the household. As mulled over Nymphias’s hair, she felt a bite of inspiration: Landicus’s perverted son would steal the hair of virgins as they slept. 

“I need your brain because I need someone to bounce my ideas off and you just happened to be there,” Valeria explained. Normally, it might have been her personal servant who had been with Valeria for long enough that she was essentially a soundboard. It was her, in fact, that had become almost like a liaison in a chain of liaisons for Landicus and publishers, which partly helped with the fact that no one had ever seen Landicus, despite apparent sightings here and there. Valeria rummaged through the papers that she had haphazardly spread around her person like a conspiracy theorist in the middle of detective work. “What are your favourite type of stories?” She hoped the girl would understand because otherwise she might have to abandon the idea.
 

@Beauty

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Nymphias stared at the papers, they all made some awful crinkling and shifting noise. Hearing more, she had more of an idea of what her domina wanted from her but didn’t quite know how she would go about it. The girl was quite imaginative, daydreaming all kinds of things. Imagination certainly made the darkness at bay and the world a more comfortable place. She liked to forget horrible things, the things that plagued her memory and caused her body to twist in agony.

Most of her thoughts were shrouded with finding her family and going home where everything made a lot more sense but also, as of recent, it was of Helios, the man who had saved her and who she felt she was bound to by love. Thinking of him only made her heart flutter in ways it only had when fantasising before, now it was real.

“Love stories,” said Nymphias honestly, offering the older lady a smile. Every bit of nervousness began to leave her, especially since she now knew what she was getting herself into but she still felt the need to impress her domina, if only to one day become free. “I like hearing those ones the most because they are always happy and when they die tragic, you know everything is good because man and woman love each other very much. Not even death break their love.” Of course, Nymphias didn’t have a lot of experience when it came to romance but she loved the stories all the same.

@Joaquin

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Socialising was a lot like the anatomy, all it needed was a little lubrication before everything warmed up, and it seemed Valeria’s question had done just the thing. Valeria was probably considerably ‘friendly’ with her slaves, if only because she was vivacious enough a person to enjoy conversation. Some slaves were better than others. 

“Wouldn’t you say it was broken, though, if they’re both dead?” Valeria couldn’t quite help but ask. It wasn’t to purposely tear down her love of a genre, it was a respectable genre, but it was never a surprise that a girl as young as Nymphias would be enamoured with it, especially the most heart-breaking of the lot. Valeria had been the same but only briefly, she felt more fulfilled by literature and the arts than by the material world and the older she became and perhaps luck in a marriage contributed partly, the more she found herself preferring something a little less fiery and volatile in turn for something strong and sturdy where romance was involved. Yet most writers never wrote about that. In fact, under Valeria Flacca, she had written a poem about the quiet bond between an elderly couple in the country, though in her dissatisfaction with people made her feel that it wasn’t what anyone cared to hear or read about. They wanted to read about warty testicles, sagging breasts, and deathly flatulence. 

“I write a lot of romance stories,” Valeria explained with something of mischievous grin, although ‘romance’ wasn’t exactly the truest way to describe what it was that she wrote most of the time. “Now, I am going to tell you some of my story ideas and I want you tell me how they make you feel but you mustn’t tell anyone what I say.” 
 

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Nymphias smile which had been coated with sunshines, daisies, sugar and everything nice went running away, completely disappearing after her domina spoke. She was certain the woman was making fun of her. That, or she was a cynic but not very likely if she was married, seemingly happily from what Nymphias could tell. She couldn’t help but feel, perhaps, a little stupid. She would have argued with her domina to defend the eternal power of love but she kept quiet because perhaps her domina did have a point. As the conversation continued, Nymphias’ smile returned, only it was slightly weaker this time.

Nymphias nodded her head. Despite the older woman’s words, she was still quite excited to hear what the woman had in store. Nymphias lowered herself to the flow and rested on her knees, kneeling, placing her hands on her laps, intent on listening.

“I promise not to tell a single person in Rome, not to gossip,” said Nymphias firmly. She would sooner die. Anything to please her domina and get the hell out of the household. They were a very strange people though delicately disguised by a mask of normalcy and Nymphias didn’t want to stay a slave her entire life. She wanted to go home and be with her family.

“I will also be very honest,” said Nymphias but she didn’t know a thing or two about giving proper criticism, she liked any romance story that came her way, simply because it had love in it. The more raunchy stories weren’t of her taste but they made her giggle and blush nonetheless. Rome had plenty of those, so it seemed, and there was something a little funny apparently about buttocks and the likes.

@Joaquin

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“Oo, I like honest,” Valeria said, as if Nymphias had suggested something daring, and while that was certainly true, she didn’t feel that she would be getting any candour out of Nymphias anytime soon. Not when the young slave girl had repeated a promise not to gossip after Valeria told her not to gossip, an act of parroting which the woman found unnecessary. Slaves often did so, perhaps something about it was intended to set their masters’ minds at ease but after years of it, it was one of the things that made Valeria feel bored very quickly. With that, Valeria began fishing again through what she had written down on paper and as she silently skimmed through each, determining which or what she would share first. “You probably won’t understand a single thing I say, but I like my poems to be cohesive and unified, a collection that is almost like one large story.” 

She glanced between her daughter, busy butchering and disembowelling the wax tablet, and Nymphias on the floor. “Did I ask you to sit?” Valeria voiced, accompanying her words with a perplexed expression. Such an act might have been ignored if it were a personal slave that she had known for years, considering that the familiarity and friendship in some cases allowed that leeway, but it was different with a new slave, a completely new one, who had yet to learn much. “Stand up, stand up,” she commanded with hurried waves before purposely waiting as if someone had hit a pause. “Now sit down, girl, because I told you to.” 


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Most of what her domina said went into one ear and then out the other, simply because she used big words like “cohesive”, “unified”, “collection” and spoke swiftly, causing Nymphias to try and string together the sentence. Nymphias stood up as soon as she was told but found it strange that, even as a slave, she had to be told when to sit and when to stand. The Romans might as well tell her when to piss too. They liked to control everything, mainly because they had hearts of stone. No kind, compassionate person would keep another human like a dog. Granted, she’d seen dogs treated better than most slaves. It was this, among other reasons, that she despised slavery.

But she listened regardless, not even complaining as she stood at her full height. She was fearful that if she did say something, she would only get into trouble. Her stomach was like a bubbling cauldron and she began to sweat. She lowered herself again because she was told, her face blank, hiding her annoyance and anger. She rested on her knees again. It was one comment, one mishap on her part, and her mood was soured greatly. The woman always had a way with making her feel like an idiot and somehow, having no faith in herself since slavery, she had to agree.

@Joaquin

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Valeria watched Nymphias with a brief observant gaze, almost morphing into her father in how he wrinkled of his nose in judgement at the sight of something (usually people) that he wasn’t fond of. ‘You could at least pretend to like it’ was what she wanted to quip but decided to save the crack wise. While Valeria was quick to laugh, she was equally as fast at becoming peeved. The last thing she wanted or needed was to feel guilted by an adolescent, especially a slave no less, when she already had one to deal with. Still, she wasn’t heartless. While she was keenly aware that she couldn’t understand the feeling precisely, she could at least grasp how life must currently seem to the girl. But Valeria could only extend empathy so far before the logistics of it became questionable. There were plenty of men in Rome who advocated for the release of slaves from their bondage, yet never considered how the impact would be on their assets. Valeria was critical of many things, an idealist in many ways, but her head was still on its shoulders and not in the clouds with the birds.

“No need to be so glum,” the woman voiced with animated fatigue. “A word of advice, from an older woman to a younger one, you need to be stronger than that. If you don’t, you’ll fall behind. Not just in Rome, but in life.”  

“Yeah, fall,” parroted her daughter over the ashes and decimation of her mother’s ex-wax tablet.

“Valeriana, come here.” She put her writing aside and held her arms out, before she turned her head back to Nymphias. “You see, when you’re young and beautiful, looking lost and forlorn is heart-tugging... for a time, then eventually, you find yourself aged and then a sad girl’s tears don’t work anymore. That being said, how often does my daughter make you want to cry?”

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Nymphias wasn’t sure if she wanted the other woman’s advice. For starters, she was not a slave and so couldn’t possibly know anything about how Nymphias felt. But, at the same time, with her elder siblings gone, with no true guidance from the same blood as her, Nymphias sought such things elsewhere. Now, it was with Valeria, her domina, who she believed knew a lot more about things in Rome and life than her. Looking to her mistress, she listened and nodded slowly, her expression still clearly unhappy.

Her eyes, not quite watering but no longer as bright as they’d been moments before, followed the young child to her mot’er's arms. Nymphias’ attention returned to Valeriana’s mother.

“It is not daughter who makes me cry,” said Nymphias honestly, trying to explain that the child was a handful, certainly, at times, but not the reason for her plight. She cried for other reasons. If the older woman were to ask any of the slaves, they’d tell her mistress anyways that she cried all night, especially in the beginning and well before she’d ever been entrusted with the family’s youngest.

“But I don’t want to fall behind,” admitted Nymphias. “How do I not fall behind? How do I be like you, like an older woman?” Her older sister, Erea, seemed like she had everything sorted, even when their life at home had been, quite frankly, falling apart.

@Joaquin

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Oh gods, do you make me feel so old,” Valeria sighed, brushing her jaw with her fingertips, feeling as if she had seen the ages come and go in a moment’s flash. She helped Valeriana up onto where she was sitting, then pulled her over in her arms. Truly, Valeria didn’t feel old, she had only endured three decades of life so far, but she was reminded of just how quickly it was going by. Her father had become elderly, her mother wrinkled, her children grown – a phenomenon accompanied with every fleeting disbelief that the realisation of ‘did that come out of my vagina?’ gave, and her half-brother dead. Nymphias’s behaviour was understandable. Until a certain point, everything still made sense, the world fell into place, and she hadn’t had the same slow introduction that Valeria had to the truth, that nothing made sense at all.

Nymphias was indeed young but not as young as her soft features and light voice fooled one to feel. Sulpicia, by comparison, felt wise beyond her years. Still, being a three-time mother, Valeria often saw the reflection of her own children in the eyes of anyone largely younger than she was. If it had been Sulpicia asking her the same, she wouldn’t have played the snark. She often did play as if she didn’t care as much as she did. It was certainly manipulative, but it was Mother Nature’s doing. “Well, fine,” Valeria agreed after a pause as if she had made a difficult choice of it.

“Wipe those tears. I’m not telling you to be like me, we don’t need any more of those,” Valeria said. “But consider what I said. You can’t be glowering and looking hurt all the time. It won’t help you.” Was this going to turn into an entire lesson?   

 

@Beauty

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The world glowering escaped Nymphias’ understanding but the rest of the woman’s words made some sense to the girl. Raise one’s voice, speak up, stand straight, stop looking so hurt all the time, Romans really did think they knew everything about life. Her domina, as well as the rest of adult Rome, knew next to nothing about life at large, being cushioned by riches and touching shoulders with polite society. And still Nymphias listened because no matter how old she felt, she was really just a child still and looked at everyone else older than her to tell her what to do and how to think. Nymphias let out a sigh, perhaps it was her who knew next to nothing.

“I don’t have tears to wipe off,” explained Nymphias, her hands gestured at her eyes which were completely dry, no matter who sullen she looked otherwise. She cried going to bed, waking up, and looked a little lost when out of the domus, simply because she was a young girl trying to make sense of everything and survive.

“You say you want bounce ideas with me,” said Nymphias. She hoped she would be able to prove her worth. The faster she did that, perhaps the faster the family would free her. “I am very good with ideas. I have a lot of… image in my head.”

 @Joaquin

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