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To Walk Alone [M - V]


Sara
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62AD

A day's walk from Rome, towards Baiae

Horatia glanced upwards through the canopy of trees at the rain that petered down in drips and drops. It was the fine sort of rain that soaked one through and chilled the bones but was largely imperceivable until one's teeth started to chatter and goosebumps spread over your skin. She glanced sideways to Decius, who was dutifully trying to stoke the measly fire and break up the bread that they had managed to bring with them for dinner. The man was in his mid-thirties and had been, before all of this mess, a general house slave. Horatia had only learnt his name the day prior and yet now her life rested firmly in his hands. Shifting her sixteen month old son against her lap and smiling at his chattering - as all toddlers do, she tried to ignore the chill that permeated even her cloak and sent a shiver up her spine. 

It was still day, although the sun was just beginning to slip below the horizon - casting the forest in an amber glow. Her feet were burning and covered in blisters - rubbed red-raw by the ill-fitting sandals she had donned and her lack of familiarity with walking great distances. Her clothes were no better than the sandals; hastily borrowed from another of the households slaves - a tunica that more closely resembled a sack on her frame, made of coarse wool and offering little protection in the inclement weather. "Are you sure you don't wish for your cloak back?" She enquired gently and Decius blinked up before averting his eyes, shaking his head, "You and the little one need it more than me, domina." She felt swaddled up like a  newborn - wrapped in her own cloak and Decius' to shield Titus from the worst of the weather. Unfortunately, it did little to help his squalling as he began to cry. 

How had she ended up here? A crying toddler on her lap, sat in the forest like some runaway slave, dressed as one as well when not a month before she'd been happily exploring her new life in Rome as a patrician, and a wife and a mother? She tried to calm Titus as best she could and regretted, almost instantly as his cries didn't die down, that she had employed the help of a series of slaves to manage him. What sort of mother was she, that she couldn't even figure out his crying? Decius - obviously noting his domina's desperation, cautiously ventured; "Perhaps he needs changing, domina?" And Horatia blinked up. She'd had to ensure Titus' sleep throughout most of the journey with a little wine rubbed on his gums, but now he was most assuredly awake and it made sense. She felt humiliated that she hadn't thought of it, and despite being only recently turned twenty, suddenly felt much younger than her years. "I haven't..." She trailed off. Like many families, she'd employed the help of an army of slaves for Titus and never once changed his cloth.

Flushing she moved to stand on weary legs and rocked Titus against her chest - his weight suddenly feeling like an anvil (when had he grown so big?). She opened her mouth to say she was going for some privacy but Decius only smiled and turned back to the fire, obviously sensing her words before she spoke them. Legs like jelly, she carried the screaming Titus through the mud and undergrowth until she was sufficiently far from the camp that she couldn't see her companion, but close enough that she could still smell the smoke of the fire to guide her back. Tentatively, she took a seat on an upturned log and with another glance over her shoulder to ensure Decius wasn't watching (not that he could be, from her distance) laid Titus down upon it. "Mama!" He babbled through screams and Horatia let out a breath of frustration as she attempted - as best she could - to clean and change him using the little water she'd taken from the camp and a spare linen.

And then a scream. It was a blood-curdling sound, one of pure agony, emanating from the camp. Horatia felt her heart drum against her chest like a mallet against a wooden stake but Titus, oblivious, and now content, sat there grinning back up at her.

 

- Part 1 of 5 - 

 

 

Edited by Sara
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Horatia choked and her shock that accompanied the scream almost knocked her from her perch. Sense caught her at the last minute and she wound her arms around Titus and plucked him off of his log, feeling her back protest at his weight.  The scream had died to a mewling pain that echoed around the trees and even from this distance away she heard voices, more than one, from the place she had sought refuge with Decius. She sat rooted to her spot for a few long moments in agonising indecision. Where could she go? If she stayed where she was whoever had inflicted that raw pain on another human might find her, but to run away deeper into the forest risked her losing her way and who knew if she could find her way back to the road as night set in? 

Titus shifted against her chest and the motion blinked her out of indecision. Cautiously, on legs that felt as solid as the sea, she stood and as quietly as she could - she moved through the mud. It was slick against her sandals and she had to reach out to grip onto low branches and trunks to regain her balance as her other arm held her son. "You need to be a good boy, we're playing a game." She said quietly to her son, "You have to be very, very quiet my love." Titus grinned his gummy smile and nodded at his mother. She thanked Fortuna he was at least of an age to understand such commands.

She squinted into the dull light until she saw the embers flickering from the fire Decius had started moments before and immediately her spare hand came to her mouth to muffle her scream of shock. Decius lay prone on the floor and even in the dim light and drizzle the blood that swelled and bloomed from a wound at his throat was visible - soaking the leaves below him. Three men stood around although she could see four horses in the far distance in the clearing. She felt her skin come over in goosebumps and the hair at the back of her neck raise. Their conversation was muted but she could catch words here and there; they were taunting him. "Does it hurt to die?" One sneered and Horatia felt tears prickle in her eyes. Another snorted and moved with his sword to prod at the mans stomach until Horatia could look no more and screwed shut her eyes. "Let's do this again...Who was with you?" He asked and she heard Decius scream again. "N-no one was w-with me." Was his stuttered response through gargles of pain and it was in that moment Horatia realised what was happening. 

Whoever they were - bandits - Clemen's men -she didn't know, but she did know that they knew Decius was not alone and the wounds the man was receiving were in response to his silence. Horatia waited no longer, and before she could take stock of her surroundings, she bolted. Titus' face caught a branch. His screaming intensified at the shock of pain and before long she heard the sound of feet behind her. The light was fading but she had always been perceptive and remembered the route back to the road. Before long, she stumbled onto the dirt thats signalled the road and blinked. A man stood there, grinning a gap tooth smile as if he'd been waiting his whole afternoon for this moment.  She had forgotten about the one man unaccounted for in the clearing.

"Hello love." 

 

- Part 2 of 5 - 

Edited by Sara
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[TW: sexual assault]

Horatia screamed as a hand wound around her waist, knocking her infant son from her arms - who landed with a thump in the mud and dirt of the road. He began wailing, calling out for his mama as he sat there. She tried to drag herself back towards her son but the arm firmly planted around her waist yanked her back and thrust her unceremoniously down onto the road. She felt cold hands, slick from the rain, push up her plain tunica and fumble with ties on her subligaculum. His breath was hot in her face and the weight of him pressed down on her made it hard to breathe, let alone scream. She was crying hysterically now, desperately flailing her legs and her arms, trying to push him off, trying to get his hands from under her dress as they successfully yanked off her undergarments, trying to reach her son who sat screaming a few yards away. 

It was the Gods, she thinks now, that placed that jagged, sharp rock within arms reach but she knows it was her own desperation that made her use it. Her fingers found its sharp edges and in pure blind panic she lifted it and let it shatter down on the skull of the man  assaulting her, moments away from rape. He crumpled and a guttural groan left his lips as blood trickled down from the wound on his head, dribbling and pooling on her own chest. She hit him again. This time his eyes fluttered shut and the groaning ceased. 

She had no time to collect her thoughts as she heaved the man from her and crawled to collect her son, screaming and screaming. The sound of footsteps - even through the rain - was getting louder and louder. She was almost out of time. Hurriedly, she scooped up her son - placing the crying toddler on her hip. She couldn't go across the road into the trees there - they would surely assume that's where she went? Instead, glancing around herself - her wet hair now plastered to her face as the rain grew heavier and heavier, she ran - stumbling as she did so - back into the forest the way she came but a bit further down the road. Surely they would not presume she was coming back the way she had been chased? She ran, she ran and ran and ran until her chest burned and her tears were mingling with the rain. 

When she stopped she could no longer hear the footsteps and sank down to her knees, her breathing uncontrollable, every inhale burning her lungs. There was a hollow where an upturned tree had twisted its roots. Carefully, she placed Titus in it and knelt before him - their bodies shielded from the rain, and invisible in the fading light unless one squinted. "S-Shhh, shh my love." His crying and silenced to sniffles; "Mama hurt..." He gargled and pointed to the blood from the man on her chest. "N-no Mama is fine, y-you need to be a g-good boy, we have to s-sleep now." She wrapped an arm around him - sharing what meagre body warmth she had left. She had no idea where she was, no idea where the bandits were and no food or water. 

It took another hour for the sounds of Titus' gentle snores to fill her ears, and she raised trembling hands to smooth his rain soaked hair from his face. Then she let herself cry, and she didn't stop until morning. 

 

- Part 3 of 5 -

 

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