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Charis

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Late February 75AD

Charis looked as good as she felt, which was to say, awful. She was wrung out; eyes blood shot from retching into the latrine most of the morning, bags under her eyes from a lack of sleep - the night in her room spent awake and pacing or tossing and turning in nightmares. Her hands shook lightly as she wrung them together, working up the courage to go into the garden. Her conversation with Cynane played in her head, as did her pitifully empty coin purse. She knew time was moving away from her and her condition would soon alert the others; she'd already been on the receiving end of a quizzical look or two from Jocasta and Phaedo. 

What she needed was money, and there was only one person she knew and trusted to give it to her right now. She had half a mind to find Alexius, but couldn't face explaining nor the thought that he might refuse her. She thought this would be simpler, easier, and certainly quicker if she could just work up her nerve. 

It took her several more minutes before she finally stepped into the garden, and cast a glance around herself. Tertius was out of the house, Hector with him. Antonia was with Rufia having finally made up after weeks of childish, petty squabbling, and the other slaves were sequestered in their various locations doing whatever chores had been assigned to them. Naturally, Charis' work took her outside and so to a casual observer her presence wouldn't be suspect. Of course, the conversation would be, especially given she'd been trying to actively avoid talking with Teutus since his manumission. It was all horribly awkward and she'd rather preferred giving him space to work out boundaries. However, needs must. 

Approaching where he was sitting she coughed lightly to alert him of her presence and flashed a gentle albeit very forced smile. "Domine," That felt very odd to say, "Do you have a moment to talk?" She kept her eyes respectfully from his face but was glad of it this one time. She didn't want to look at him, this was humiliating enough. 

 

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Teutus - now officially Teutus Quinctilius Varus, and if that felt odd it wasn't the half of it! - looked up from what he'd been writing. The past month and a half - nearly two months - had felt so utterly bizarre and foreign that he kept expecting to wake up to find that things were all a dream and he was the same he'd ever been. The fact that Charis hadn't really spoken to him in the same two months only added to the feeling of strangeness.

He had slowly grown used to being addressed as 'domine' but this marked only the third or fourth time that he could remember Charis using the word, and the strangeness lingered.

"What is it?" he asked, and then registered her pale skin and bloodshot eyes. "You look ill - sit down. Do you need to go to bed - I can have Rhoda make you a soup or something."

 

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She swallowed and did as she was bidden, sitting on the other end of the bench silently. "No, I'm not ill domine, please don't worry Rhoda." She offered a half smile. Rhoda would fuss until morning if she thought Charis was ill and they both knew it. And besides, her brand of caring oftentimes came at a smothering price and Charis couldn't face the inquisition or constant presence of her hovering right now. Sighing, she bit at her lip, hands still folded in her lap to disguise their shake.

"I...have a request to make," She started haltingly and pointedly didn't look at him, keeping her gaze on her lap, "And...it isn't something I can go to your father with. It's...sensitive." She felt her nails draw blood as they pressed into her palm, but barely registered the pain. 

She wanted to tell him everything, to tell somebody she was close to besides Cynane and that had been her plan. She'd finally worked up the courage to come out here and tell him plainly what the situation was and what she needed from him, but she lost her nerve. She felt insignificant and feared a reaction like the one she received at least initially from Cynane; horror at her plan. A small part of her said Teutus would understand, he was bastard born, surely he wouldn't want a brother or sister to suffer a similar fate. But what if he told Tertius? What if his new position had altered his rationality? She couldn't risk it and after some silence, and swallowing the lump in her throat she uttered; "I need to borrow some money for something, something...private, and I don't know where else to go." 

 

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"Well, you don't look well," Teutus allowed. She didn't, she looked white and drawn and had dark circles under her eyes. If Teutus had been in the same position he had been a few weeks before, it might have been easier to persuade her to tell him. As it was...

He waited for her to get her courage up, but when she did, what she said was as cryptic as ever. "You need money for something private?"

A slave requesting to borrow money... This was not a slave conducting business on Tertius' behalf - which arrangement was allowed; it allowed the slave to earn money and gave the senator an income without getting his hands dirty by doing business, which was severely frowned upon for those of senatorial rank. Charis was a female and a house slave, so such a thing was unlikely in the extreme.

The question was, how much money, and for what. Although 'borrow' indicated some intention of repaying the loan, somehow.

"May I ask what for?"

 

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Charis swallowed and nodded at his question. Saying it was for something private was bound to raise more questions, although she silently pleaded to her Gods that he'd be astute - or merciful enough to not pry. But of course, he did. What was she to say? To lay it out as she had done to Cynane; 'I am pregnant and I want money to get rid of your fathers bastard child' was too crude, and too painful to say. But she couldn't lie to his face, she'd always been dreadful at it. She sat silently for a moment, eyes downcast as she pondered her next words very carefully. 

"You would not wish to know." She responded finally and winced at her choice of words, "I...mean, it is nothing bad, don't worry," She glanced up at him furtively and then back down to her hands still folded neatly in her lap, "It is just something I would rather not share," She sighed and then remembered herself, adding a quiet "domine." To finish. 

Please Gods let him think that is enough...

 

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Teutus knew, somehow, that he was missing something. He just didn't know quite what, and merely chalked it up to very different backgrounds, and being different genders. And also, probably, their new difference in status. He could not help wondering whether she would have come to him had things been as they were - although if it was money she needed, maybe not.

"Have you borrowed money, and need to repay it?" he asked, though why she would have borrowed anything was a mystery. Loan sharks preyed even on slaves, though, and Charis was naive enough to have gone to one of them rather than approach himself or Tertius, of course. It was the only thing he could think of that would explain her agitation and sudden need for money.

 

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Charis glanced up at his face, a frown on her own, at his question. Resolutely, she shook her head and forgetting herself, didn't avert her eyes. "N-no...I haven't." She felt a wash of irritation run over her. She hadn't anticipated it to be easy, but she had banked on their previous familiarity, their previous trust to get the coins she needed. Instead, she felt as if she was no closer to understanding whether it was likely or not. Teutus was as maddeningly difficult to read as his father. 

Feeling the irritation flare again she frowned, "You have to trust me, it isn't bad, I haven't done anything wrong I just need to borrow a little." She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from snapping anymore than she already had and she moved her pale face back to look down at her lap. Teutus was no longer her friend or equal - with whom she could snap and rile with no consequence. But she was on edge, tense, and her hormones and general despair had gotten the better of her senses. "Please, domine? I'm pr..." She stopped herself just in time before the words tumbled out of her mouth, and exhaled a little breath, "I'm sure I will be able to pay it back with my peculium." She stated - still no more transparent about precisely the reason she was asking. 

 

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"I didn't say you had done anything wrong," Tuetus said. "I was just worried for you, in case you had got into trouble with some bad people." He was not about to get into the intricacies of explaining Rome's criminal underworld to her, something he knew more from hearsay than actual experience (thank all the gods!).

"Come with me,"he said, standing up, his decision made.

She looked so utterly alone and helpless, somehow, a similar look to when he had first seen her in the kitchen that day. She still needed a friend, and Teutus could no longer really be that friend, though he would like to - but he was aware of the gulf between them. More aware than she was, probably.

 

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As he stood, Charis  blinked up at him but dutifully followed suit and stood on wobbly legs. She felt the familiar tickle in her throat and swallowed bile as it rose. To be sick now was an omission of the problem brewing in her belly and she didn't wish for him to see it. She struggled through the wave of nausea and gently padded behind him. For a moment she was concerned he'd lead her to Tertius' tablinum, to await his return but relief washed over her as he diverted towards his cubiculum. Her own - or at least the one she shared with Hector - was only the room next door. How odd, she considered, that two people so different in station could share a wall. She was only pleased said wall was thick enough that he didn't hear her retching or crying. 

She lingered in the doorway, not knowing whether she should enter or not. She hadn't been here before - not his room - although it was a marked improvement on his cot in the slave's dormitory, she'd give him that. 

"Thank you, domine." She managed to say quietly through another sweep of nausea as he entered the room. She would take the money as quickly as she could and then run back to her own room to retch her guts up, she was sure of it. If only he didn't drag this out...

 

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There was a chest in the corner in which Teutus kept his clothes, some few small things, and his money. He knelt to open the lid, and paused to ask how much she needed. His peculium would cover it - he had not saved to buy his freedom with it, as many slaves did, but had not spent all of it, not by a long shot. 

He closed the chest again and stood, approaching her - she had stayed by the door, and looked nauseous for some reason. 

He held out the purse with his savings in, and fumbled at his neck as a thought struck him. 

A leather thong hung from his outstretched hand a moment later, a pebble with a hole swinging from it.

"I meant to give you this, earlier," he said. "You might as well have it now. From... a friend."

 

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She took the purse with a grateful sigh and felt relief settle over her. "Thank you...I...promise I'll pay it back, in full." Tertius gave her little money but he sometimes doled out little trinkets that she knew to be worth a little. Given the urgency of the situation she hadn't considered selling them, it would take to long, but would mull it over as a way to pay back the loan. 

As he fished the necklace out she frowned. She vividly remembered it from that very first afternoon, her very first conversation with it. She knew it was supposed to bring luck and she felt tears well in her eyes although she managed to blink them away with only an errant few escaping. She pushed back on his hand, "No...no your mother gave it to you," She swallowed more bile in her throat, "You will need luck as well, in this house." She offered a slight, wavering smile. Perhaps that comment had been too far, but it was accurate at least. 

Unfortunately for Charis, and for Teutus, she could say no more as the wave of nausea rose again and she couldn't swallow it down. Instinctively, she reached out and found an empty pitcher (presumably for wine) and retched. Fortunately for them both, the nausea had prevented her from eating really anything for a few days and so all her quivering body produced was bile which burned the back of her throat. She sank down to her knees, still clutching the purse in a tight fist as she retched. 

 

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"Don't worry about it," he told her. He would get more, as his father's son, and Charis would need every as she got for herself.

He was about to say something more and was interrupted as she grabbed en empty wine jug and doubled over, retching. 

"You are ill," he said, chafing her wrist worriedly. She obviously had not wanted Tertius to know, though he would have to, eventually. "Stay there," he said, going to the door and looking into the atrium to see if any of the house slaves were around. 

One was and he sent him for a cup of water, and some milk - the former for Charis to rinse her mouth with and the latter for sustenance and to settle her stomach.

"Come and sit on the bed, it will be more comfortable than the floor," he added, returning to her.

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Charis stood on shaking legs and moved to sit on the bed, folding herself over as she continued to retch. "Pl-please don't let the slaves see." She swallowed, and looked up at him panicked. The last thing she needed was gossip to spread around the slaves and to make its way back to Tertius before she could have a chance to sort this mess out. She felt wrung out, exhausted and sick to her bones. Fortunately, the retching stopped after a while and she managed to sit back, her head hitting the wall behind the bed with a thump. 

"I-I'm not ill." She said breathlessly, but gratefully accepted the cup of water - sipping at it gingerly to settle her stomach. 

She felt so overwhelmed and unwell that she couldn't stop the tears from falling as they gathered in her eyes. She knew Teutus did not like crying women, neither did his father, but she couldn't help herself. She sniffed through the tears and shook her head; "It's all such a mess," She mumbled through her upset, "I'm so sorry I d-don't mean to put this on you," She swallowed the lump in her throat, still crying, "Such a mess..." 

 

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"I think you need this, at least for now," Teuts said, scooping up his good luck talisman from where it had fallen to the floor, and dropping the cord loop over Charis' head. "You can always give it back later - just leave it under my pillow or something. And if you're not ill, there has to be something the matter. People aren't sick like that without a very good reason, after all."

Something occurred to him, then, and he paused, looking at her more closely. If she was not ill, and yet 'it was all such a mess' and she didn't want Tertius or any of the other slaves to know... Oh Juno, it couldn't be.

He sat next to her, rubbing her back, wishing he knew what to do to comfort a crying woman and wishing for the millionth time that his father was a different sort of person, who did not have such a complicated household. Perhaps Teutus could find some reason to head to Hispania or somewhere to get away from this whole mess.

 

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Charis quietly accepted the token as he placed the cord around her head with as silent nod. As he finished speaking, she looked up at him and saw the realisation dawn in his eyes and on his face. Even the gentle stroking of her back was a sign he knew, or at least understood the gravity of what might be happening. If he suspected, then it would surely be better to confirm his suspicions lest he spread rumours or air his concerns? If she could admit it, and then shut it down by explaining her plan, then all would be well. 

Slowly, she nodded her head to the unspoken question. "Not ill..." She said quietly, her sobs lessening as she spoke, "I'm with child." The words hung like a cloud of ash over the room and the pair of them. It was such a monstrous thing to her that she'd rarely used the term pregnant. Quickly, she set down the wine pitcher onto the floor - her nausea easing mercifully for the moment. Hurriedly, she tried to explain in a shaky voice; "But I won't be soon," She squeezed the coin purse as a sign, "and he doesn't need to know." She swallowed and stared him down, directly into those warm blue eyes, "He won't know, and things...things can get back to normal." 

 

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"This house is a very long way from being 'normal' even without..." Teutus told her. The whole thing was dangerous - whether she had the child, or successfully prevented carrying to term, it was dangerous for her. He was glad she had his good luck charm, now, though he had no idea how efficacious it would be for her. Hopefully it would bring her more luck than it had him.

"If you think I would tell him..." Well, if she could get it all sorted out without running into any of the inherent dangers, he would not - but to know that one of Tertius' slaves was potentially risking her life so as not to carry her master's baby... Teutus did not want another child to end up with the life he had lived - and any child born now would have even less chance of being freed because Tertius now had his heir (which Teutus was glad of, from purely self-preservation).

"I wish he'd stuck with Hector," he muttered, though he couldn't wish that more than Charis was, probably.

 

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Charis didn't know she could relief like she did at that moment. She offered a wavering smile but before she could stop herself, she placed an arm around him and drew him into a hug. The boundaries of friends, and certainly master and his slave were gone in that moment as she sought simple human thanks and comfort. When she finally withdrew to squeeze his hand she laughed, "So do I...I think H-Hector probably wishes that to." 

She exhaled out a deep breath and let go of his hand. "Sorry," She muttered under her breath, "I'm not being a very good slave." There was a sly smile on her face - albeit a weak one. Teutus - from this interaction - didn't seem particularly bent on enforcing strict new parameters for their relationship, but of course that could change. 

She moved to stand on wobbly legs, still holding the coin purse. "I'm going to do it this afternoon, or evening." She swallowed the lump in her throat and the nagging voice in her head that said this was a bad idea. But then so was carrying a child to full term given her petite stature and slim frame, no doubt. This way, at least it would be over and done with. "You..." She exhaled, awkward, unsure what to say now the crying had subsided, "You have no idea how grateful I am for you." 

 

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"I'm probably a bad master," Teutus said. "You must know that doing this is dangerous, though. I would not want you to... I don't want anything to happen to you, and not just because I am..." he gestured at the room around them, signifying his freedom. "I don't think masters and slaves can be friends, not really, but I hope that you and I can be friends, as much as possible."

He sighed. "Do you have someone to go with you?"

He hoped that she did, because she would need someone - she would probably need someone to help her get back to the house, afterwards.

"You know that Tertius will want you at some point, so he will have to know that you've been ill," he added, not much liking keeping things from his father, but still more-or-less used to it because of just how this household worked.

 

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Charis smiled a little; "If you're a bad master, I am fine with you remaining so." But dropped her face down to stare at her feet as he outlined the risks, trying to block it out. She was naively ignoring the dangers, preferring the thought of this nearly being over. At his question she bit her lip, still looking down and shook her head; "No...my friend offered but I want to go alone," Less risk that way and she had been told it was a tisane for her to drink. Surely she could do that in the comfort of her own room? 

His second statement surprised  her though and she glanced up and then over her shoulder to the door which was still open a crack. "I've told him it is my monthly time," A convenient excuse, given how most men in Rome wanted to hear as little as possible about feminine matters, "But...but if I'm still unwell in a few days I will tell him I have caught an illness." A lie - another lie - but surely a better one? She reached across to hold his hand and squeezed it in solidarity, "Thank you...for being understanding I just...I can't," She swallowed, "I can't have his child Teutus...I can't be a mother to a slave." She had always dreamed of motherhood, longed for it, but not here, with him, like this.

 

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There was one way for Charis not to be mother to a slave, but it had taken years for Tertius to free his own son, he was unlikely to free Charis on the spur of the moment just so that he did not have a second child born into slavery. It was not the first time Teutus would have liked to wring Tertius' neck for him, though he never would, of course. Tertius seemed to know precisely how to exasperate people with the least amount of effort possible exerted on his part.

"I do not want you... do anything that would put you in any danger, of any sort," he told her, reaching to squeeze her hand. "I don't... I don't know why he took you to his bed - he hadn't for so long. I think my mother was the last."

 

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She returned his grip on her hand with a squeeze of her own and offered a weak, but genuine smile; "It is better this way than if I were to have the child Teutus," She said - forgetting that this was no longer Teutus, this was her dominus, "I could not mother the child if he descides to recognise it and that would...that would break my heart, and I will not have a child go through what you have," She swallowed, "Would you wish to have dominion over your brother or sister? Watch them serve you?" She shook her head. It was no life for a child to grow up in shackles, that she was sure of. 

At his statement she flushed and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, letting go of his hand to do so. 

"Novelty, probably." She admitted - modestly. She had only very rarely seen her reflection, but she hadn't been heralded for her beauty back at home, so naively doubted she was considered such here. That Tertius hadn't had a steady female lover since Teutus' own mother surprised her - Teutus was older than her, by a handful of years from what she'd gathered. The last time Tertius had taken a female slave to bed, she had yet to even be born? The thought mildly horrified her and she shook it off. "He will lose interest eventually, I am sure..." She offered as both a comfort to herself and her friend, her master. The question of course remaining that if he lost interest, what would become of her? 

 

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"I wouldn't want anyone to... go through what I have," he told her. He didn't think that any other child would get even the promises Tertius had made him for so long, either. And no, he wouldn't want to be served by someone he knew was related by blood. If he were still a slave, maybe it would be different, but he wasn't.

"I don't know - but you are very pretty. Perhaps you could take a look in Antonia's mirror when you polish it - how else are you supposed to know it's properly shined, of course?" He sighed. "If he asks, I know nothing at all about this, I don't want to know... but oh, I hope you will be safe." He knew almost nothing of women's matters like their courses and pregnancy and everything else that went along with it, but of course he knew enough to know that things were not always safe, especially the deed she was contemplating.

"If he loses interest, you will be able to go back to the gardening and everything, as before."

 

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"He must have had pretty slaves before." She said modestly, shrugging but didn't react otherwise to his compliment. The fact that he had said previously that he had liked her still loomed large over their friendship...or relationship now, and couldn't be easily shaken off. But that he wouldn't tell his father, and she had confirmation of that, was a relief unparalleled. Smiling, genuinely, she squeezed his hand again. "Thank you...if he ever finds out..." Then what? She didn't wish to think of the very real possibility it might cost her life, "Then I will say I saved my money - I promise I will not tell him you gave it to me." Because even though Teutus was now freed, and soon to be adopted (if Tertius were ever to get around to it) he was still at the mercy of the man. 

"You think he would keep me?" She asked genuinely. She had heard stories from other slaves who had moved into Tertius' household from others that once a master lost interest then you'd either be put out to pasture doing menial jobs until the end of your days, or were sold. The former she could cope with - although it severely diminished the prospects of her freedom anytime soon, the latter was stomach churning. She offered a wan smile, "Maybe you could buy me when you move out, get married - get me out of here?" Charis did not understand the complexities of the Roman family, nor that the likelihood was that Teutus would bring a bride back to live in Tertius' house. What a mess this all was.

 

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"I don't know," Teutus told her, and shrugged. He was probably still thinking like a slave, really, but faced with this, what else was he supposed to do?

He was never going to sleep with a slave-girl he owned, that was for certain. And if he did, he'd deal with it a deal differently from how his father had; he did not want to emulate his father in the way that he delayed things and pretended everything was all right when it wasn't. "It's all a mess, you don't deserve to have been dragged into such a mess."

He could wish that Tertius didn't hang onto his slaves so long, or deal with them the way he did. He was likely to see this as some huge act of disloyalty, but Teutus could completely understand Charis' unwillingness to bear a child in her situation, in this household, to this master. "I'm sorry you ended up here, with all of this."

 

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Charis swallowed and shook her head, finding his platitudes comforting but ultimately a little worthless. She was where she was. She might wish to be back in Britannia - with her husband, with her son or daughter who would now be a little under a year old - cared for by her brothers and sisters. She might even wish to be in Rome, in a household where she went unmolested, working in the garden in the day and giggling like teenagers with the other slaves in the evening. As it was, she was here; pregnant to a man that raped her, enslaved and ignored and even loathed by most of the rest of the household and she was only twenty-one. 

All she could say in response to his platitdues was a quiet, awkward; "Thank you." but it carried weight. She was likewise thanking him for not abandoning her as he so easily could have.

The thought raised another question though, one which he hadn't really answered a moment ago. A frown creased her brow and she bit at her lip. "Do you...do you think you will leave?" She heard that men in Rome had some sort of course they had to complete, but what it entailed or what it was called she had no idea. She thought it perhaps might have something to do with the military as it seemed all of Tertius' friends and he himself had been stationed abroad somewhere. She looked at him, anxious. She couldn't lose him, she didn't know what she'd do.

 

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