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The knock on the slaves' side door could hardly have been better timed; Teutus was about to leave the house on an errand. He was the slave with the most liberty to come and go and not all of his 'errands' were official and ordered by the master of the house. 

This one was, however, and Teutus had to bite back some uncomplimentary language as the ragamuffin on the doorstep thrust an equally nondescript plain wax tabula at him. 

"For Charis the slave of Tertius Quinctilius Varus," the child said, looking up at Teutus hopefully. 

Teutus bit back another round of uncomplimentary language.

"From Rufus the slave of Octavius Flavius Alexander," the child intoned, its (Teutus had no idea of the kid's gender under the dirt and oversized boy's tunic) eyes round at pronouncing the name of one of the Emperor's close relatives.

Teutus sighed, fished out an as and took the battered tabula. 

"She'll get it," he told the kid who exchanged tablet for coin and ran off to spend his (her?) earnings on a penny bun or something.

Teutus could not delay his own errand so it was some time later, once he had returned home, that he cornered Charis.

They had barely spoken since their argument, and Teutus had no real desire to speak with her now. 

"If the master finds you're seeing a man outside the household, he's going to be furious," Teutus said, launching into it without wasting time on preliminaries. The sooner Charis learned what was and was not permitted, the better. It would be even better if she could actually follow those rules, but Teutus wasn't about to hold his breath.

 

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Charis turned around and threw her waist length hair over one shoulder at the interruption, frowning up at the familiar voice and sight of Teutus. Or...familiar might be the wrong word, given she'd barely passed a handful of words to him in the last few months since their argument. Stubbornness was one of her many, but probably her worst trait and it was one of the few she'd not shaken in her time in Rome. She certainly wasn't going to be the first to apologise or admit defeat. 

"What man?" She scoffed and ducked her head to avoid the tell tale blush on her cheeks as she resumed her sweeping of the garden, the dead and dying leaves littering the paths. How on the Gods earth did he know about Alexius? She blinked up to look past him and was relieved to see that the great, looming man wasn't here. But the ex-Gladiator turned bodyguard was the only man she could think of that fitted his accusation, even if all that had happened was a chaste kiss several weeks ago. 

"You are imagining things, I might as well start calling you Hector. Don't make drama where there isn't any." She rolled her eyes and turned her back to him to resume her sweeping. 

 

TAG: @Sharpie

Charis' Latin has improved in the 9 months she's been in Rome that I'm not going to write in broken sentences anymore.

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Why in the world Charis couldn't plait her hair, Teutus didn't know. Surely even the uncivilised British knew how to do a simple plait?  Or was it merely that the girl was trying to play up being uncivilised?

She was in Rome now, though, and should learn proper civilised habits. If she could learn to read (waste of Tertius' time teaching her, surely) she could learn to keep her hair tidy.

In the meantime she seemed as determined to rile Teutus as ever.

"Imagining things?" Teutus asked, producing the wax tablet. "I must have a very good imagination, then. Who is Rufus?"

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She kept her back to him until he mentioned Rufus, at which point she spun around on her heel and took a step forward. "None of your business," She snapped and shook her head, "Just a friend."

But she spied the wax tablet in his hand reached out to try and snatch it. "Give me that." She didn't ask, but stated. Gods she couldn't wait for this ridiculous ritual to be over in a few short weeks, and then Teutus would actually be her master. That would be better than this imperious, irritating little show he sometimes liked to put on when he was just a slave like her underneath it all. 

"That belongs to me." She said firmly and laid down the broom to rest against a marble bench. She had absolutely no idea what was inside, but whatever it was, it was worth Rufus sticking his neck out to write to her about. She just wished it had fallen into friendlier hands than Teutus'. 

 

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Oh, so she was playing up being an uncivilised barbarian. "If the master wants you for a bed-slave, it is my business," he said. "Just a friend? Sounds like a bit more than that to me."

He was quick to move the tablet out of her reach. "I don't know about Britannia, but there are such things as manners, you know, and you won't get very far without them, especially around here. Say please."

She was just an irritating little barbarian, when all was said and done, and Teutus really couldn't work out what Tertius had seen in her. At least Hector knew better than to try to lord it over Teutus - mostly; they did still have their disagreements thought they'd mostly worked out a truce. Something that he and Charis absolutely did not have.

 

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She glared at him, “Just a friend.” She repeated, cheeks flushed with irritation, “You know what a friend is, don’t you Teutus? You used to have one.” She grit her jaw. It was sad. They had been friends, Charis had thought good friends. But something in that argument they had that day in July had broken something and driven a wedge that they couldn’t surmount. That and their enduring stubbornness which presumably meant neither wanted to apologise for sniping.

Prideful Charis considered just taking a swipe at his balls and grabbing the tablet from his hands but her position in the household (one she had never sought or encouraged) was precarious and she didn’t need Teutus and Hector telling tales.

Instead, she extended her hand for it. “Please may I have my tablet.” The muscles in her jaw worked, irritated. Tipping her face to the side she studied him through narrowed eyes, “Or read it aloud, if you don’t believe me.” How cruel Teutus could be. Just like his father! Still, surely Rufus wouldn’t write her anything inappropriate, and perhaps it’s innocence would embarrass her once-friend. 

 

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You used to have one, Teutus thought. There was a part of him that felt sorry for her; she had not really sought Tertius' attention, but she had not seemed to regret having it, at least not where Teutus could see. He had liked her, but something had happened back in July and he didn't know how to fix it - probably she expected him to apologise although he had nothing to apologise for. His position in this household wasn't his fault, after all, and he'd had so many promises made and broken that he didn't trust anyone any more.

At least she'd said please, though it would have come across better if she'd said it in the first place. "Of course," he said, and held it out to her.

He was not his father, to insist on reading her correspondence for her. If it was something that Tertius wasn't going to like, well, Teutus had absolutely no wish whatsoever to get involved.

 

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She swallowed and took it from him, retreating from him as soon as she had and moving to sit on one of the stone benches. Both Hector and Tertius were out, and unless Teutus had turned so much in the last few months that he’d consider her reading when she should be working intolerable, she saw no reason she shouldn’t crack open the tablet. 

When she did, she frowned. She had practiced reading on perfect handwriting which had been manageable. Words often escaped her and she made frequent mistakes, but it was not as difficult as she had feared. Faced with the prospect of reading a hurriedly written correspondence to her, she was struggling. 

In frustration, she slammed it shut and put it on the bench next to her. She’d only managed to read a few words. She had always considered herself smart, or at least capable of learning. Perhaps not. Frowning up at Teutus, embarrassed, she tucked her hair behind her ear. “Are you going to tell him I have friend writing to me?” She queried, not knowing where his loyalties laid with her. 

She hadn’t even realised that she was sat on the very bench where he’d consoled her after that first time with Tertius. How times has changed.

 

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"I don't tell tales," Teutus informed her, and took a breath, realising that he'd probably sounded shorter than he had meant to. "I leave that crap to Hector."

The other slaves distrusted him as it was, Teutus saw no reason to make it any worse, which he would if he told tales - anyway, Tertius wouldn't think much of him if he did that. Hector could get away with it because he had Tertius wrapped around his little finger, the smug bastard.

He couldn't help being somewhat amused that she only had the tablet open for a moment or two before slamming it shut. So, the barbarian couldn't read despite Tertius' efforts in teaching her. Teutus really couldn't say that he was surprised.

Who was this Rufus anyway? Friend? Boyfriend? And how had Charis met him in the first place - she'd only left the house to go shopping, and to the baths which were single-sex. Anyway, the ragamuffin who'd brought the tablet had said it was from a Senator's slave. She really needed to be careful, but Teutus wasn't going to tell her that. If she got in trouble, it would be her own fault.

 

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“You don’t tell tales like him but you like to make my life bad like him.” She mumbled, like a petulant child and more to herself than him. In the intervening weeks she’d considered approaching him to apologise, but pride had stopped her, and an odd feeling of guilt for taking her frustrations out on him, as she had done that day. 

She didn’t look at him and took the tablet back in her hands, considering giving it another go. Her fingers traced the plain wood as if she was on the verge of opening it but she was too embarrassed, too flustered to concentrate as hard as she needed to to read. Instead she wrapped her fingers over the edge until they turned white. 

“Is there something else you want?” She felt embarsssed and shot a glare up at him, externalising her irritation. “Or you have nothing better to do than stand there and make me miserable?”

 

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"What the.... How in Hades have I made your life miserable?" Teutus hadn't done a thing to her except stay out of her way ever since that day. He'd had nothing to do with his father's taking her to bed, and wished like fury that Tertius had kept up with his decision not to take a woman to bed again. Hector might be a conceited little shit, but at least there was only one of him.

He shrugged. "Don't blame me, I had nothing to do with anything," he added, and pushed himself upright from the column he'd been leaning against. "You've got work to do, so don't let anyone else catch you reading that."

He had work to himself, of course, and hanging around Charis wasn't helping his temper. She was just an irritating part of his life that had to be dealt with, like a bad pair of sandals. Not worth wasting his time with. He turned to leave the garden to get on with his own work.

 

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“You’ve has nothing to do with anything! Exactly! Where were you?” She railed, exasperated and watched him turn away. Half of her wanted to let him leave so she could try and shrug off this uncomfortable interaction, but a much more primal part of her wanted to talk. Tertius’ decision to take her into his bed had dramatically cut down her circle of friends in the house, and Teutus was amongst the culled number. For a woman that thrived on community and family, it was desperately lonely. 

“I needed you,” She spat, venomous, “And you weren’t there. You shouted at me,” She glared, “And then ignored me.” Highly hypocritical given she’d made absolutely no attempt to talk to him. But now she had started, she couldn’t stop. Maybe it was better to air it all out? It was unlikely, but she couldn’t stop herself. “It’s not easy for me.” 

Her fingers were burning as they furiously clasped the tablet.

 

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Teutus' initial reaction was to yell at her again (he was thoroughly Roman and as such, a hot-blooded Italian, through and through) but managed to bite it back before saying (or more likely yelling) something that would make a bad situation worse.

"It hasn't been easy for me either," he said, turning back. Maybe they could clear the air a bit - he didn't really want this bad blood to continue. "You think it's easy to be his son, in his house? He's promised and promised, over and over and over and I'm still a slave, sleeping in the dormitory." His shrug this time was bitter. "It's never going to happen. And you and Hector have a nice room in the family part of the house that you don't even sleep in at the same time."

And no, of course it wasn't easy for her, but she at least had the option to make the best of being so close to their master.

 

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Charis swallowed a big part of her anger, although it simmered just below the surface. “But that’s not my fault,” She opined, “And he’s doing it now, he said he’s planning your feast.” Although Charis had yet to see any fruits of those plans. She was trying to be comforting, at least in part, but her words sounded tense and a touch insincere. She arched a brow at the mention of the room and scoffed, “I get a lovely room which Hector likes to rifle through, and only for as long as this whim lasts.” 

She shook her head, “What do you think’s going to happen? That he’ll keep taking me to bed when I’m old and grey and hideous?”  The thought of a pregnancy ending Tertius’ little fantasy, which was much more probable, naively didn’t even cross her mind. “Think of somebody else for a change, Teutus.” She muttered, cruelly perhaps.

Charis knew full well that she’d be out in the cold as quickly as the winds changed once Tertius’ was bored of her. Which meant she had to use the current circumstance she found herself in to the best of her advantage, regardless of how it twisted her stomach and made her nauseous. She was a practical woman, and knew this was the best opportunity she was going to get, but it didn’t make the act much easier.

 

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Teutus threw up his hands. "Take your own advice," he suggested. "You might have a pretty face, but if you want the rest of the slaves here to want anything to do with you, you'll play nice. The way Hector doesn't know how."

What did she think would happen to Hector once he lost Tertius' favour, after all?

"And I don't care if that's from a friend, or a boyfriend or Apollo himself, but Tertius will, so don't let him catch you with it."

Actually, he probably wouldn't, but Charis needed to learn how to be cautious. Especially if Hector did like poking around in her things - she needed to read the message and scrape the wax to erase the message, whatever it was.

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Charis blinked at the compliment (rare, in this house) and bit back the sardonic remark she had at the tip of her tongue.

She could try and be nice all she wanted, it didn't soothe Jocasta's ego that Tertius had ignored her completely, nor did it make wretched little Hector anymore palatable. But she sighed and shrugged her shoulders. She'd always been more pragmatic than emotional - she grit her teeth and got on with any task given to her in her 'old' life and whilst that had remained true here, obviously those 'tasks' had become orders. And displeasurable ones at that. Because of this, she'd noticed her demeanour changing to be even more hard and perhaps even cold in order to keep her head down and just get on with the business of surviving everything that had happened and was happening. Maybe Teutus had a point, she begrudgingly thought.

"I'll give it a go." She admitted with a sly, half-smile and shrugged; "Being...nicer. If you do too." She arched a brow, encouraging him to admit that he likewise overreacted, without forcing him into the messy business of apologising. "I know soon," If Tertius actually started planning, "You won't need to be nice to us but for now..."

At his remark about the tablet she blinked down and nodded mutely, fumbling with it to open it up. The words looked like a jumble of squiggles to her, even though her proficiency had improved. She noted when she was tired, or stressed, it became harder to concentrate and that was evidently true now. Blinking down at it she sighed, frustrated at herself. "I can't read it." She mumbled to herself, and thrust it out to him, "If you want to be nice, offering to help might be a first step." It would take her far longer to read than him, and surely whatever Rufus had said wouldn't be intimately personal?

 

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Well, maybe they could get past whatever had gone wrong that day (Teutus still wasn't quite sure what had gone wrong, precisely) but took the offered truce, running his hand through his hair.

"I know... I know it wasn't what you wanted, being chosen for... that," he said. Teutus was a Roman and therefore not exactly prudish, but he had absolutely no wish to know anything bout his father's love-life, even though he could hardly help learning about thanks to Hector (it was one of the things that had not endeared him to his father's body-slave), though even Hector didn't go into every tiny detail. Well, most of the time.

"I'll try to be fair, at least," he said. Maybe he shouldn't have used the word nice, but he had.

He took the tablet she thrust back at him, and indicated the bench. "Can I sit?" he asked. Charis had shown how spiky she could be and he had no wish to set her off again.

 

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His acknowledgement that she'd had absolutely no desire for her fate to be a concubine to his father was a boon to her, and she breathed a sigh of relief. "Fair is better than nothing, I suppose." She offered a half-smile, eyes narrowed, "Maybe I should try and be fair then, rather than nice." Her half-smile cracked into a proper grin now, and she hoped he realised she was only teasing. She didn't want this fragile truce to end almost when it had begun. 

She nodded that he could sit (amused that he should ask her permission) and took a seat next to him, although some distance away. She had not forgotten that awwkardness in the garden, that day she had tried to dance with him and thought it best to err on the side of caution.

"Rufus is a friend," She explained - figuring he deserved some explanation if he was to be her translator, "I met him in the slave market - he helped with that," She pulled her hair over her shoulder and gestured to the fading whip mark across her back that edged out from underneath her sleeveless dress at the top and sides. "And he's very sweet, said he'd write to me to help me practice." 

 

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He opened the tablet and glanced ad its contents. The writing wasn't the best, but it also was not the worst that Teutus had ever read - and it was in script on one leaf and capitals on the other, the same message. Nothing seditious, so that was a relief.

"I'm sure you can read it, with a bit of patience," he said, showing it to her. "It's the same thing twice, look. I suppose he thought you might find one form easier than the other?"

He pulled his stylus out and paused. "You can read, a little, can't you?" he said, unwilling to risk the uneasy truce they seemed to have by doing anything that might hint of impatience, or give her cause to think he thought she was stupid or something. "Do you find one easier than the other?"

He could read it to her, of course, but he thought she might prefer to read it for herself rather simply being told what the message said.

 

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Charis eyed him and then the tablet before nodding. "Domine says I'm quite good, a quick learner." She scoffed, "Not bloody quick if I can't even read that." She raised her arm on her knee, placing her chin in her palm looking like a dejected child. Perhaps Tertius simply flattered her to put her in a good mood? It was fairly likely, given how proud she'd felt about herself after their little lessons. 

She took the tablet from him and frowned, and lifted her face from her hand. She indicated with a jerk of her head that she found the capitals easier and slowly, with her forefinger began to trace the letters. The frown her face was almost comical in concentration. 

It took her several minutes of studying before she began to speak in hesitant, broken sentences with plenty of pauses. "T...To Charis, f-from your fri...friend Rufus, gr...gr...something." She rolled her eyes and moved onto the second line, rapt with concentration. "I tr...tr...tr-ust this find you well. I h-have so...sole g-good news to r-r...something," She frowned, not knowing the word and not bothering to want to learn it. Good news. She continued attempting to read. "I have f-found your..." She hesitated, swallowing, and took a sharp intake of breath. Glancing at Teutus as if asking if it was true. She quickly moved her head down again, trying to read, as if verbalising it would make it even more real. "S-Sister Ardra. S-she is known as Ny...ny...nyam...mphias and is slave in hous...hehold of T-Titus Sul...Sulpius Rufus, a s-senator..." She choked and dropped the tablet in shock, it clattering at her feet in the dust. 

Without hesitation, and forgetting herself and their argument entirely in that singular moment, she wrapped his frame in a hug, face buried in his neck and choking back tears of happiness. She didn't bother to continue to read the rest of the tablet.

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Teutus nodded as she stumbled her way through the writing on the tablet, letting out a startled squeak as she threw her arms around him, obviously overcome with happiness.

Happiness, to know her sister was here, in Rome, a slave - surely it would be more happiness to know her sister was still in Britannia, free. He didn't know what else to do except hold her, startled to find that he was pleased for her, glad despite the rift that had appeared between the two of them. Maybe it was better now?

"Would you like me to read it for you, properly?" he asked quietly, into her hair, getting a strand or two into his mouth as he spoke.

 

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Charis held Teutus tightly, thin arms squeezing as hard as she could. She felt overwhelmed but...happy. Ever since Tertius had unceremoniously taken her husbands bracelet off of her, links to her old life had disappeared. She struggled, sometimes, to recall Immin's voice, or Ardra's laugh, or the petulant way Turi sometimes glowered at her as she told him off. To think that Ardra was alive, and in Rome, so close? There was something completely and utterly overwhelming about it.

She nodded mutely at his question and finally withdrew from the hug, not in the least bit embarrassed by the intimacy. She quickly bent to scoop down the tablet and deposited it in his lap. 

"She's here..." The grin on her face was the most genuine it had been for months, "And...the name...the name of her Dominus," She frowned, "I have heard it before..." Gods only knew where though, as she tried to wrack her brain, recalling where it was.

 

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If Hector wants to do his spying, @Joaquin as per Tertius' instruction - watching Teutus and her have a big old hug and cuddle is probably a bit suspicious!

 

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"All right," Teutus said, turning the battered tabula around so he could read it.  "Anyway, here. If you look at it while I read it..." That would be easy enough, seeing as the same message was on both leaves.  He began, reading slowly enough that she could hopefully keep up with him, "To Charis, from your friend Rufus, greetings!

I trust this finds you well. I have some good news to report: I have found your sister Ardra. She is known as Nymphias and is a slave in the household of Titus Sulpius Rufus - he must mean Sulpicius Rufus," he added, thoughtfully, "a senator. I have no news yet of your mother or brother, but your sister wishes you well and hopes that you will both be able to meet very soon.

"I will keep looking for your mother and brother and hope that I will be able to send you news of them soon."

He handed the tablet, and his stylus to Charis. "You probably want to erase it," he told her, indicating the blunt end of the implement.

 

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She listened, rapt with concentration as he read it. She didn't do as he asked and instead fluttered her eyes shut, screwing them up so she could concentrate on what he was saying. It came to her after a moment of hesitation and she blinked her eyes open, staring at him as he finished, a sly grin on her face. "Titus Sulpicius Rufus, that is one of the men domine is having over tomorrow, isn't it?" Tertius had mentioned the names off-handedly during their lesson a few days prior, and she'd seen letters from him on her masters desk. 

Ignoring his suggestion she should erase it with a frown and a mumbled; "No, I want to study it." As if the words themselves could magic her sister for her, she narrowed her eyes on Teutus. "Do you think I should ask domine if I can see her?" Dependent, of course, on how his meeting with this Titus went tomorrow. She had banked a few good days with Tertius, where she hadn't irritated him (much the opposite, if his glances and noises were to suggest anything) and perhaps if she approached it tentatively, carefully, he might just agree.

She forgot completely, that their truce was still very fragile and she had reverted back to what had caused the argument in the first place; talking about herself and ignoring his own issues.

 

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Teutus could only wish he knew what it was like to be as Charis was right now. His family were all free,  where Charis and her sister weren't, yet Teutus lived in the middle of one of the most convoluted, complicated families he knew of. At least Charis didn't have that to worry about - she might live in the same household but she wasn't related to the paterfamilias who made everything about a thousand time more complicated than it needed to be.

"I don't know," he said in reply to her question. "I suppose it depends on how you bring it up - and if he's pleased with you. He'll be more likely to say yes if he's in a good mood, after all." Hector had Tertius wrapped around his little finger, or as good as, and knew how to wheedle things out of Tertius that even the man's son couldn't get. Which was just another point of contention between the two of them.

"I hope you can," he added.

 

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