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The sun's punishing rays made sweat drops bloom on Titus' forehead like so many miniature flowers for the third time in just as many minutes, and he wiped them off with the back of a calloused hand. Was it really absolutely necessary to replace the oleanders and croci with new bulbs on one of the hottest days of the season? It wasn't domina doing the (literal) dirty work, so expecting her to take the weather into consideration was too much to ask. And he wasn't even a gardener, by Jupiter! He hoped, however, that he didn't do such a poor job that it would elicit punishment. 

As if on cue, the mistress's voice sounded from inside the house, calling his name. Titus set the spade aside against one of the columns and wiped his hands on his tunic; when he'd put it on that morning it had been a clean if nondescript grey, but all the digging and pottering about had stained it black and brown and several places and his hands were faring no better. If only there were a basin with water nearby...

It would not be wise to keep domina waiting. Resigned that this was as clean as he was going to be for the time being, Titus quickly made his way in to the atrium, trying his best not to track dirty footprints inside. As expected, domina stood tall and proud in the atrium, but she was not alone: another, very familiar slave stood as well, appearing to await orders. Why would she have summoned Valeria too?

Titus could not afford to waste time thinking about it. Taking his place next to Valeria, he bowed his head and lowered his gaze to the floor. "You called, Domina?"

 

@Beauty @Joaquin

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Nymphias was lavishly dresses, her hair perfectly braided above her head with beautiful ornaments decorating it, and she stood there, waiting for her slave, Titus. Not much time had passed since she summoned him but she was growing impatient all the same, almost turning to Valeria to shout about how slow he was. Had she been the slave, she would have been dutiful and quiet, kind-hearted and compassionate, but as a domina, a woman with power, wife to a great husband, she had become sightless to gentleness and charity.

“I’m bored,” she said, speaking flawless Latin. “That was why I called.” She moved towards both the slaves and with her hands separated them from another. She didn’t want them getting the idea of being close to one another, not without her permission. But she wouldn’t give it. A pregnant slave was a useless slave. Pleasure, joy and happiness within a slave’s life made them idle.

“Come, follow.” With that, she turned on their heels, expecting them to follow her like the obedient slaves they were. For much of the walk, she said nothing, leaving them wondering. She pushed open the doors of a room. Inside had plants, chairs for her to recline in, wine and fruits. Nymphias rested onto one the chairs, relaxing and sighing.

“Entertain me,” she more or less demanded. “My husband is away, I’m not yet with child, and I’m tired of simply sitting around and waiting for him to return.” She paused suddenly as if realising some of the stains on Titus’ clothes. “Titus, you look ridiculous wearing that filth. Valeria, massage my feet.” Nymphias picked up a cup of wine, she’d just had three cups earlier too. “You may have some wine and fruits as well. I can’t finish it all on my own.” She took a big sip. Well, less a sip and more a gulp.

“You both aren’t planning to run away from me, are you?” she said, eyeing the both of them curiously. “Imagine if you did.” She laughed maniacally. “I’d send you to the Elysium. You’ve probably heard the type of things those slaves deal with down there.”

@Liv @Joaquin

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Valeria had been in the middle of preparing makeups for her domina when she had been informed by her that she was needed in the atrium. She carefully and quickly placed everything away and scurried out, where her mistress was, placing her hands at her front and her head down in submission. The matter seemed pressing, the manner in which the other woman had stood from the beginning made it seem so until finally she spoke. She was bored, bored – Valeria’s face expression seemed blank, perhaps a little dumbfounded but inwardly, she would have strangled the young woman with the same ornaments she had placed in her hair that morning.

As they were directed to follow, she did and not before tossing the other slave a look that was mixed between confused and exasperated. Their mistress liked to prattle on to which Valeria had thought that it might’ve been better if she took up reading to occupy her time, not that Valeria could read or write herself. Brushing the peach fuzz on her head, where her hair had been taken and used by the domina as a wig, Valeria kneeled into the floor to begin pressing into the woman’s small feet. She wasn’t going to touch the fruits when she was busy touching feet.

“No, we would never run away, never. Sometimes the streets get very crowded and coming home takes longer,” she said, assuming the woman’s ‘boredom’ was just an act to witch hunt. She also wondered if Nymphias had asked about running away because Valeria had purposely taken longer routes when leaving and returning to the home. “And yes, we have heard of the Elysium, we have it very lucky here,” Valeria said, certain her fingers were going to smell like Nymphias’s toes. 
 

@Liv @Beauty

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It took a lot of self-restraint not to twitch, ball up his fists, roll his eyes or groan at Nymphia's statement. Of course she was bored. Anyone would be bored being a trophy wife and even more so when they were too lazy, or stupid, to occupy their time with worthwhile pursuits like praying or reading. And of course her idea of entertainment meant nobody else could be enjoying themselves, even if all said enjoyment consisted of was standing next to a loved one. Bitch.

Titus returned Valeria's look with one of his own and a small shrug and followed their mistress as commanded. She led them into a leisure room and treated them to yet another of her trademark rants. 

The comment about his sorry state of clealiness stung a bit. ´No shit, Gordiana1. Whose fault do you think that is?' Instead of voicing his thoughts though, which would have been a very ill-advised idea, he merely nodded and agreed with her. "Indeed I do, Domina." Was she even in a good mood? It was so hard to tell, Nymphias was more mercurial than a chariot race. If she was letting them have fruit and wine, it could only be one of three options:

  1. She was drunk;
  2. She was feeling guilty or charitable for some reason;
  3. She was fattening them up like pigs to be slaughtered.

Whatever the reason, for once Titus looked forward to doing as commanded - breakfast had been a long, long time ago; last night, to be precise, when it had also been called supper. He didn't dare reach for the wine straight away and instead gingerly picked up the smallest of a bunch of apples. "Never, Domina," he corroborated between bites, shooting Valeria an empathetic look as the other slave massaged Nymphias' feet. Even if they weren't hairy and gross, feet were feet and so tended to stink. "Sometimes there are processions or some lictors push us aside. But you treat us so well, we would never run away. I pity the slaves at the Elysium." That last part was true.

His apple was now gone, core and all.  He wished he could give Valeria some fruit, but something told him that a slave feeding another was not the kind of entertainment their domina was expecting. His creativity was sadly rather limited, too. For lack of a better idea, Titus picked up three more apples and started juggling them, occasionally tossing one higher up in the air or crossing his hands to catch and release them. Maybe Valeria would come up with smarter entertainment if he kept Nymphias distracted just long enough...

 

@Beauty @Joaquin

____________________

- Gordianus is a detective and main character in Steve Saylor's Roma sub-Rosa book series

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When she had said amusing, she hadn’t meant boring. They were being much too agreeable, saying what she wanted to hear. She wanted something daring, something that would shock her to the core. Lictors and processions pushing them aside? Why couldn’t Titus mention something about others trying to beat them or something equally cruel. Now that would be a story worthy of hearing. She waved Valeria’s hands from her feet, her efforts were terrible. She’d have had better from a pig.

She was soon distracted by Titus’ juggled and let out a cackle, which caused her stomach to hurt, tears to form and for the girl to become breathless. She clapped loudly and then her expression seemed to darken, her smile becoming wider, almost demented, as it nearly touched the end of her ears and her eyes glimmered with a look that was most disturbing.

“With knives now,” said Nymphias. But then an idea popped into her head. “Oh, I know. Something better. How about Valeria, you stand up against a wall and try to catch the knives Titus throws at you?” Nymphias clapped her hands. “Wouldn’t that be amusing? Or should we get one of the other slaves from the kitchens? One of the more useless and hideous ones?”

She then reached for her cup again, drinking from it. “Well, don’t keep me waiting.”

@Liv @Joaquin

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Posted (edited)

Valeria played stunned as her fingers were swatted away like flies but inwardly, her stomach was doing backflips in celebration, before she turned towards Titus as their mistress’s attention was on him. The juggling was inventive given that they were limited by the spur of the moment request and the young woman seemed to be amused enough, even if it was temporary, and for that fleeting moment, she was relieved. The look that began to transform onto her face was telling and Valeria almost knew what was coming. Except she didn’t predict it to be as bad as catching knives. She pictured herself on the floor like a pin-pillow, putting even Julius Caesar to shame. She didn’t want to subject one of the slaves from the kitchens to such a fate, but she also didn’t want to subject herself either.

At ‘don’t keep me waiting’, Valeria instantly got up, did a rushed performance of how she was going off to the kitchens, then entirely vanished through the doorway. As she scampered through the halls, her mind raced with new ways of distracting Nymphias from her original plan until she entered the kitchen, but time wasn’t exactly on her side. “Porcus,” Valeria said to the first slave that came into view, thankfully it was one of the slaves that her mistress described: one of the ‘useless and hideous’ ones. “The domina wants a large number of knives. Can you help me with them?” 

She knew leaving Titus alone with Nymphias wasn’t the best idea and after the fact, it must’ve been worse than rushing around, collecting knives with the knowledge of what they were going to do. It was very likely that the mental gymnastics were on purpose but being in a room with her was as well. 

When she returned with Porcus and the knives in tow, Valeria was carrying a tray of fruits and other foods. “I was thinking, domina, would you like to see a contest?” she tried to sound excited so that the excitement may rub off onto her. 
 

@Liv @Beauty

Edited by Joaquin
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Titus had not foreseen his little trick going down so well with their mistress, but he would ride that wave for all it was worth. It started off well: she was laughing and clapping... and then smiling a little too widely. Titus sucked in a shaky breath, trying not to show how uneasy he'd grown all of a sudden: things were about to get dark, he just knew it. He could feel it in the pit of his stomach. 

Knives?! His focus disappeared practically instantly, and he almost let two of the apples drop to the floor before managing to grab them at the last second with some dexterity and a farce of an elaborate catch. Fortunately Valeria was quick on the uptake and bolted as soon as Nymphias presented them with an option, no doubt to fetch some unsuspecting sacrifice. Hopefully she wouldn't be too long...

... Because it was quite nerve-wracking to be alone with their crazy domina. Here he was, a grown man, juggler/gardener extraordinaire, afraid of a young woman. Said young woman held power of life and death over him, but when she was in one of her moods the scales shifted dangerously towards death. Not wanting to give her any reason to change her mind while it was just the two of them, Titus carefully put the apples back where he had taken them from, avoiding eye contact with Nymphias. He then poured himself just a little wine, hand gripping the cup a little too tightly as he brought it to his mouth and drank up.

He was saved from further efforts by Valeria's return, and subtly shuffled in place so he could see what she had brought along. The good news was that there was going to be a slaughtered pig today, after all; better Porcus than him or Valeria, it was not like anyone would miss that poor excuse for a slave. The bad news was that they had brought knives, as ordered, and Titus had zero confidence in his knife-throwing skills because he had none.

The animated lilt in Valeria's voice didn't exactly calm him down, either. A contest could be horribly misinterpreted. He shot the female slave a wary look. Please, don't make it worse!  

@Beauty @Joaquin

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When Valeria left her alone with Titus, Nymphias neck slowly twisted until it stopped, her eyes bolted to the man’s face. She observed his tough, delicately crafted jawline, his skin touched by Roman sun and darkened hair, so unlike her own. Her lips spread once more, grinning, and she slowly began to crawl on the chair she had been resting on like a wild cat. If her husband couldn’t given her a son, let alone a daughter, perhaps Titus could. A little creature to continue her reign of terror when she was too old to. And she saw the way Titus looked at Valeria, how close they stood. It would certainly break them a part a little, if not by heart then body. What a funny, little game it all was to Nymphias. Maybe Valeria could watch.

But then Valeria came in and Nymphias slinked back like a hissing creature that couldn’t take sunlight. It was a good thing Titus had avoided all eye contact with her, things could have ended very terribly.

“A contest?” said Nymphias, attention turning to Valeria. Well, they’d just about distracted their domina this once. “What type of contest? What does it involve?” Nymphias snapped her fingers and pointed at the wine, ordering Titus to pour him some more because she damn well wanted more and she’d get more. But she didn’t need more.

If a slave got hurt by this so-called contest that Valeria spoke of, the more enjoyable it would be. What her husband didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. She wasn’t at all playing with the slaves that he’d bought at the market but it wasn’t like the slaves could say anything against her either, how would it make them look? A little bit of Nymphias’ crocodile tears, lies about how they’d hurt her, and her husband would do away with them. This was like playing with dolls, only better. She liked seeing the light in their eyes disappear.

@Liv @Joaquin

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Their mistress was small, but she had the bloodthirst of a Roman legion. Valeria didn’t know how far or for how long even this would and could escalate if Nymphias had her way when their master was gone. For the time being, it was surviving the next minute and then the next. She caught the warning in Titus’s face, there was a short acknowledgement of it in her eyes, but she kept smiling a rather tense, wide, and rigid smile which mirrored a grimace more than happiness. At least, Nymphias was curious about her contest and it meant that they might be able to prolong what was likely the inevitable.

“A contest of knives,” she answered, still trying to sound as engaging and compelling as possible, even if she was making everything up where she went and the faux enthusiasm in her voice did not match the dread in the pit of her stomach. “What will it involve? Knives. Endless knives.” She nodded her head for emphasis. In a way, Nymphias was like a child enamoured with a shiny ball, except with knives in this case. “Titus, Porcus, and myself will compete against each other…” – at least no one would be throwing anything at anyone, decreasing the possibility of death— “… test our skills with the knife. Which of us can carve the best and the fastest, for example?” She took one of the knives that Porcus had and a fruit she’d taken in, rested it in her palm, and cut into it. 

“Ow,” she feigned cutting herself, dropping the fruit to the floor and quickly pressing the root of her thumb into her mouth just for show. If Nymphias thought that they’d be clumsy, hurt themselves, then she might just agree to it. 
 

@Liv @Beauty

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Titus was quick to put down his cup and bring the pitcher over to Nymphias the moment she snapped her fingers, by all appearances eager to serve but in actuality praying silently that she would soon pass out from too much drink. He told himself he would try his best to make that happen as he stood behind Nymphias and slightly to her side, in prime position to pour her the wine she so wanted.

As he filled his domina's fancy goblet to the brim, his mind digressed into the realm of murder possibilities. The pitcher in his hand was not particularly sturdy, but a well-aimed blow to the back of the head or the temple might just do the trick and knock Nymphias out for good. Yet another idea was to force her mouth shut, pull her head back by that ridiculously fair hair she treated better than any of her slaves and pour the wine down her nose; she would suffocate if it got into her lungs. He could also choke her with aforementioned hair wrapped around her little neck like a snake... Unfortunately, none of these plans made provisions for Titus' survival once the deed was discovered, and so they were scrapped and banished from thought instants after forming.

His hopes of Valeria having come up with a master plan were dashed the moment the female slave finished explaining her idea. Carving. Carving! 

Titus felt his stomach recoil in fear and try to merge with his spine. He stared at Valeria in disbelief from his safe position outside Nymphias' field of vision, mouth agape like a fish until he remembered to close it. How was carving supposed to be less deadly? Knowing their mistress, she'd sooner have them slicing rump steaks off each other's glutes and making them eat them than accept a fruit carving challenge as entertainment enough.  If Porcus shared his discomfort, the man's expression betrayed nothing, but that might also have been because he was too daft to understand what was going on.

Valeria's little show of cutting herself only added to his apprehension; Titus wasn't quite sure he was following. Were they supposed to feign total ineptitude? What if the sight of blood made Nymphias even more unpredictable? Or even worse, what if Valeria was throwing him under the lectica and had injured herself on purpose so he and Porcus were on their own? That would be the worst betrayal of all.

@Beauty @Joaquin

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Well, Valeria’s idea was a slight downgrade to what she called amusement. Testing one’s skills in knives wasn’t what she wanted, she wanted to see their eyes turn red and pop because of the pain inflicted on their bodies. Like, for instance, when someone, preferably her, was carving their bodies, piece by piece. Now, that was true amusement. Nymphias kept silent for sometime, as if to keep them all on their toes, wondering what she thought about Valeria’s orchestrated plan. Finally, Nymphias lips upturned into a wicked smile, eyes twinkling like they’ve never twinkled before.

“Come to me, Valeria,” she said, gesturing for the woman to come near to her. “And show me your thumb. If blood has been shed, we’ll go with your idea. And if there isn’t, I think I have a better idea of what we can do.” She then turned to Titus, snapping her fingers like he was a dog. Because, truly, to her, that’s all he was. A dog unless she needed a child for her husband but a dog, like him, didn’t need its tongue, eyes, or fingers, did it?

“Titus, set a fruit on Porcus’ head and take a knife into your hand,” ordered Nymphias, voice booming. “Porcus stand against the wall like the stupid oaf that you are.” Porcus did as was told, eyes skirting from Valeria to Titus, clearly begging them to help him. Beads of sweat rolled down his face and his lips quivered. “This is what happens if there is no blood on Valeria: Titus, you will throw a knife and try to hit the fruit, and only the fruit, on Porcus’ head. You miss? Well, Porcus will just have to pray he isn’t skewered.”

Porcus whimpered.

“Shut up,” said Nymphias coldly. “Keep moaning and we’ll all go into the country when you’re dead to watch pigs devour your flesh.”

@Liv @Joaquin

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The most of anything that was red that Valeria could have been sucking off of her thumb would have been what little pigment was left on her fingers from earlier, but it was hardly enough or of the right consistency to fool Nymphias. She didn’t want to simply fall into complacency and let the bloodthirsty woman do as she pleased with them but the moment that she simply called her over, she knew that there was little she could do in the way of delaying the predetermined. She walked over like a guilty child, hanging her head before holding out her hand for inspection.

Porcus’s mewling metaphorically cut her with guilt, even more-so when he cast his pleading eyes in her direction. At this point, she hoped that Titus missed.

@Liv@Beauty

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Well, they were truly and deeply fucked. Porcus worst of all, but Titus didn't think he and Valeria would be lagging much behind, not with how their mistress's mood was today. He stood bolt upright when she snapped her fingers at him and listened carefully to her words. As she spoke, an obvious loophole presented itself to him, but he kept his face as blank as possible so Nymphias wouldn't figure out he was on to something.

He risked punishment by doing it, of course, but any of Nymphias' slaves risked punishment by merely breathing. It would come sooner or later, like death. He muttered "Yes, domina" and stepped away with the pitcher, eventually putting it down by the platter from which he'd taken an apple. Then he dashed off to the kitchens, too caught up in his plan to spare a thought to what the other slaves might be thinking at that exact moment. Once there, he embarked on a frenetic search of the pantry and seconds later found what he was looking for: a melon. A nice big melon, about the size of five apples and weighing just as much. Nymphias had not specified which fruit nor where from, and a melon made a bigger target than an apple if poor Porcus was to stand a chance.

The melon stem and a bit of the rind were swiftly chopped off so the melon could stay in place and Titus ran back to his domina and fellow slaves, panting slightly by the time he got there. Porcus was already leaning against the wall, stiff as a board and a puddle of urine at his feet, and snivelled pitifully as Titus sidestepped the puddle and placed the melon on top of his head with trembling hands. It didn't roll off, but its juices made Porcus' oily hair look even more disgusting. Titus reckoned his own was just as nasty after all that sweating under the sun, but that should be the least of his concerns right now. Maybe Nymphias could grant him permission to visit the baths and get a haircut if he did well?

Taking a deep breath, Titus stepped away from Porcus, picked up a knife as he had been ordered and kept walking until he felt he was at a good enough distance. He squared his shoulders and stared grimly at the wall in front of him, trying his hardest to focus on the melon and not on Porcus' nose just inches below. He dared not meet anyone's gaze: not Porcus', not Valeria's, not Nymphias'.

Goodbye, Porcus. I will not miss your snoring. Titus raised his right hand at face height, knuckles white and bloodless from the tight grip, and put all his strength into sending the knife flying towards Porcus.

It zoomed through the air at amazing speed and embedded itself just below Porcus' right collarbone with a dull, wet sound. The slave howled in pain when the blade pierced his flesh, blood already trickling from the fresh wound and staining his ragged clothes. Titus let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. 

He had missed, but blood had been shed and Porcus was still alive (for now). Was this enough for Nymphias?

@Beauty @Joaquin

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Titus suddenly disappeared, leaving her with the other two. She hadn’t told him to leave the room but he did so anyways. She made a tutting noise to those who were left behind with her, folding her arms and tapping her fingers against her arm as she waited for him to return. She hummed a tune, slow and deliberately unpleasant as to make the others know she wasn’t at all happy. She was about to say something about Porcus dirtying the room with his piss but then Titus returned and she’d forgotten all about her anger, instead her attention was on the melon.

She hoped the melon being placed on his head would cause Porcus’ neck to strain and crush his skull. Sadly, it did no such thing. She watched silently, almost bored. That, of course, changed once Titus lifted the knife and threw the knife. The moment Porcus let out a wail, Nymphias cackled loudly and hysterically, holding her stomach as her cheeks turned red with mirth.

Nymphias wiped her eyes. “Again,” she said like a child demanding for another round of tickles. “But this time Valeria joins you. You both should compete against one another to hit that melon. Come on, Valeria, you’ve not said a word for a while, you’re simply standing there stunned and quiet. It’s boring. Why? Join in on the fun or you’ll take Porcus’ place.”

Porcus was covered in not only his own urine but his blood also, his hair greasy and his face riddled with tears. He was blubbering, muttering under his breath a hopeful “please, domina.” But Nymphias didn’t listen. After all, Porcus looked like a pathetic fool and was sodden with his own filth, it disgusted her. She could smell it all the way from where she was sitting, having pushed herself up from the reclining chair. Porcus, as if he had enough of this shit, stumbled from where he was and tossed the melon onto the ground where it splattered. Nymphias wished that had been the man’s skull instead. She gasped as if his actions were shocking.

@Liv @Joaquin

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