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Aeterna Roma RPG

Drowning sorrows


Liv

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April, 75 AD

 

Over the last two years Livia had become remarkably good at finding opportunities for slipping away and savouring the short moments of freedom she could find. That morning, one such opportunity presented itself, when Secundus had finally gone to bed in the wee hours of the morning after spending most of the night going on drunken tirades. If previous times were anything to go by, he wouldn't rise before noon, which gave Livia a few hours of blessedly alone free time.

She sneaked out of her room and almost immediately came across Aglaea, as she expected to be the case. "There you are!" Livia exclaimed with unusual yet somewhat contained excitement. "Have the kitchen slaves prepare us a hamper, we're eating outside today. I want to go for a swim."

Her swimming spot was nothing more than a stream that ran through the property and had the unfortunate tendency of drying in particularly hot summer weeks, but it almost felt like a world away. Secundus didn't approve of her doing so: the slaves or a traveller passing by could get an eyeful, and decent Roman matrons didn't do such things. But she wasn't a decent Roman matron any more than he was a decent Roman man, so that made them even in her mind.

"Oh, and bring a change of clothes for us both." Even if Aglaea ended up not joining her in the water, Livia could use them to dry off.

 

@Echo

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Aglaea had been up since dawn, being a naturally early riser. Plus, she hadn't been able to get much sleep with Secundus having been on one of his loud and disruptive tirades until early morning, so she had only slept a couple hours, and fitfully at that. After rising, she said a quick prayer of thanksgiving, then prepared for the day, donning a clean linen tunic and brushing her hair. Her toilette completed, the slave went to ensure her lady's clothes were prepared for the day. Soon after, Livia was awake and they met in the hallway. Out of habit, Aglaea dipped her head respectfully. "Good morning, domina," she said with a smile. She received her orders and nodded. "At once."

 

Entering the kitchen, Aglaea asked one of the younger slaves to pack a lunch for her and the domina. The Judean slave enjoyed a certain privilege of rank over these more common slaves, being a personal slave to Livia, and the other slaves usually followed her orders since they came from the horse's mouth, so to speak. But Aglaea also used her privilege to make sure the other slaves were as well taken care of as they could be in Secundus's domus. While the lunch was being packed, she packed a bag with extra clothes. 

 

Soon, she returned to Livia and smiled at her. "Ready when you are, domina."

@Liv

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Whilst her slave attended to her orders, Livia set about penning a quick letter on a small piece of parchment, looking up at regular intervals to make sure nobody creeped up on her. She had just remembered that it was the right day of the week for the honey merchant to pass by on his way to Rome and while she had no need for his wares, the old man had on previous occasions agreed to discreetly carry messages to Rome in exchange for payment and would certainly accept it again, especially if Livia allowed his poor beasts to drink from the stream.

As if on cue, Aglaea returned mere seconds after Livia had shoved the parchment into one of her stola's many folds and creases. She gave her body slave a nod. "I'm ready. Let's go before it gets too hot."

Outside, the sun shone in the clear blue sky, not even a single cloud to keep it company. Livia's favourite spot wasn't far from the villa, not more than a leisurely ten-minute walk, but it was usually secluded enough that she and whoever was with her could speak freely.

As they walked further away, passing by a handful of slaves already toiling in the sun, Livia turned round with a hand above her eyes to shield them from the sun's glare and gave Aglaea a crooked, conspiratorial smile. 

"He was so loud last night, wasn't he? I barely slept a wink, kept thinking he was going to barge in and drag me out of bed just to listen to his ramblings," she complained, rolling her eyes. As far as her husband was concerned, it had actually been one of his less violent episodes in recent times, and Livia regretted he wasn't more fond of drink.

"How do you turn a man into a drunkard? Do you think I should make a sacrifice to Bacchus?"

@Echo

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Aglaea turned her face to the sky, letting the warm sun soak into her skin. It amazed her how the natural wonders of the earth could so easily cleanse the soul, particularly after such a difficult night. Aglaea raised a hand in greeting to the toiling slaves and offered a smile. It was a beautiful day, and shaping up to be warm enough to entice even Aglaea to take a dip. 

 

Livia started talking about her husband and Aglaea gave a small smile. She wasn't inclined to speak ill of Secundus while in the house, but the outdoors gave her a sense of safety. Walls had ears, and there were none out here. "I couldn't sleep either. He's like a bull when he gets going," she said softly, giving a little chuckle. She shifted her bags to the other hand and listened while Livia continued talking. "Why would you want to make him a drunkard?" she laughed. "I fear that would just make it worse. I've found that a drunk man tends to have less sense than a baby, and about as much ability to speak as one."

@Liv

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Many masers would have bristled at being spoken to so freely and casually by a slave of theirs, but Livia wasn't bothered by it when it was Aglaea. Unconsciously, she even encouraged it, eager for the semblance of friendship. If it was all an act, then her companion was a very fine actress. Livia didn't dare to think of that possibility.

She stopped and bent to pick a couple of flowers, intending for the gesture to fool some overly curious slaves into thinking the two women were just going for a picnic. "Even a bull would be quieter," Livia mumbled as she stood up and tucked a poppy into a lock of hair right above her ear. She handed Aglaea another poppy and resumed walking.

"Well, for one, if a man's really, really drunk, he can't get it up." That would be a very nice side effect, although knowing Secundus, he would pin the blame on her. "And sometimes they drink so much they even pass out." Another blessing, if it went that way. Livia sighed, shoulders drooping. "You're right, though. In his case, it would probably just make everything worse. Sense isn't really his strong suit, is it?" Excess drink might just make him even more paranoid and irascible.

The water came into sight, raising Livia's spirits. When they were only three or four paces from the stream, she came to a halt and motioned for Aglaea to put down their food and clothing. Putting her hands on her hips, Livia cast Aglaea a questioning look, followed by a tilt of the head towards the water. "What shall we do first? Eat or swim?"

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Aglaea was careful to guard her speech when around Secundus; surely, he would never understand the relationship between his wife and her slave. But Aglaea felt free enough to speak less cautiously to Livia, without going too far. She tried not to give unsolicited advice. Aglaea paused when Livia did to pick the flowers, and she gave a barely-suppressed chuckle when Livia spoke. "You're right, I insulted the bull!" she whispered with a chuckle. She accepted the poppy and carried it in her free hand as they strolled along. 

The conversation continued, with Livia describing why it might be preferable to have a man drunk. She nodded thoughtfully, eyeing the poppy in her hand. "Well, if you really wanted to put him to sleep, poppies can make a sleeping draught. We could slip it into his drink if it becomes clear he is in a mood." Livia conceded that Aglaea was right about it, though. "No, he's never been very sensible.

Like Livia, Aglaea was refreshed by just the sound of the water. As Livia signaled her to put the bags down, she was already laying out a blanket for the pair to eat on. Finishing that task, she straightened up and smiled. "I'm a little heated from the walk. Perhaps we should swim to cool off first."

@Liv

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Aglaea did make a good point about the soporific effects of poppy seeds, but at the same time, resorting to their use would open the door to a slew of whispers and rumours that might turn out catastrophic for Livia. What with the way tongues tended to wag, slaves' and free people's alike, she would quickly go from concerned wife trying to assuage her husband's insomnia to deceiving wench out to murder him... and while things were admittedly bad, they hadn't quite reached that level yet. How odd it was, Livia thought to herself, that even a fleeting musing of the deed didn't immediately repulse her as its taboo nature warranted. 

Livia shrugged and looked around, making sure there was no one in sight. Aglaea would have received a light scolding for that comment if not for the lack of a breeze that might carry it to unintended ears, but then again, she might well have taken that into consideration before speaking - Livia found her observant enough, more than she got credit for.

"A very sound plan," she nodded in agreement before stepping over to Aglaea and holding her arms out parallel to the ground, in a silent request for help with undressing. "Be careful, I've got a letter somewhere in there." This time her voice was a soft whisper, impossible to hear more than a foot away. Poppy draughts were one thing, letters to Marcus quite another.

@Echo

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Aglaea obediently set to helping her mistress undress, unclasping her stola pulling it gently to the ground, careful to watch for any falling paper. When she saw none, she folded the stole and placed it on the blanket. Her own opinions about the morality of her mistress's love affair with Marcus aside, she desperately wanted to see her happy, so she was willing to turn a blind eye and keep quiet about it. She also knew that her suggestion of a poppy draught was not possible, but it was nice to entertain the idea anyway. 

Once Livia was undressed, Aglaea took off her sandals, intending only to soak her feet for a while. She might fully submerge eventually, but it was mainly her feet that were hot. "This is a beautiful spot. I am glad you are able to come here sometimes. If there's a benefit to Secundus' bullish behavior, it's the silence afterwards."

@Liv

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Once she was stripped down to her strophium and subligaculum, Livia put her arms back down and crouched to take off her sandals without teetering to and fro. "It really is. It's so peaceful and quiet..." That was the case most of the time, except when slaves came by to collect water for whatever purpose. "Almost feels like we're in a different world." She rose and looked over her shoulder, once again on the lookout for intruders. It wouldn't be the first time one of the slaves working outdoors invented some inane motive to come out and pretend to require her opinion while trying to get an eyeful.

"The only issue is never really knowing how long the silence lasts. Though we'll probably be fine if we return before lunch." As she spoke Livia closed the distance between their little picnic spot and the stream, and dipped her bare feet in with a girlish squeal. "Oof, it's still cold!" The sun hadn't been shining down on the water long enough to heat it up yet, but after a few minutes of getting used to the temperature, it should feel warm enough to swim.

"I think I like this little site so much because it reminds me of Hispania, when I was very young. Of course, you weren't with me back then, Aglaea... I'm glad you are now." Livia didn't turn around as she traced circles in the water with one foot, but a trained ear like her body slave's would have heard the rare smile in her voice.

@Echo

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Aglaea followed close behind Livia to the water's edge, breathing in deeply. The sound of the water whispering over the pebbly streambed brought her soul a moment of comfort. The smell of fresh water, too, was cleansing, hard as the smell is to describe. Aglaea laughed a little. "You needn't worry about the time. I'll remember." Seeing how it was her one purpose to keep Livia happy and healthy, getting her back to the domus was important. When Livia squealed about the temperature of the water, Aglaea put a few fingers into it and drew them back, shaking the droplets off. "I don't think you'll be able to entice me into that for a while yet!"

Livia spoke of Hispania and Aglaea heard the longing in her voice. Sometimes, Aglaea remember Judea in the same way. Despite the difficulties in her early childhood, she sometimes wondered what life would have been like if her parents had not given her up to her first mistress. She would probably be poor, for one thing. As Livia commented that she was happy that Aglaea was with her, she smiled wistfully. "I am glad I am, too." But a pang went through her heart, a familiar tug that made her wonder which she wanted more: her freedom, or to stay with her friend. 

@Liv

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Livia took a few more steps into the stream, the water now close to knee-level. It was still cold, but not as much as when she'd first tested it; not cold enough to reach into her bones and send pangs of pain through them, anyway. A particularly sharp pebble dug into her sole for an instant before she kicked it away with her big toe. She bent forwards and dipped her hands into the clear stream, feeling her arms break out into goosebumps. "Oh, come! You'll get used to it in a few minutes," Livia insisted, but without much force behind it. For some reason, Aglaea seemed to be more reluctant to let loose lately, although in Livia's presence at least she had never been overly relaxed.

She acknowledged Aglaea's comment with a glance towards the bank and a nod, and then launched herself forwards in a decidedly un-ladylike imitation of a fish, sending water splashing all around her. Brrr. She had better start moving soon to warm up. Using her arms and legs to propel herself, Livia swam over to the other bank and back a few times, the water now a much more bearable temperature thanks to the heat her muscles had begun producing. Oblivious to what Aglaea might be musing on, Livia flicked some water at the dark-haired woman.

"I remember there was a stream like this, though at the time Lucius and I were convinced it was a big river. And there were lots of almond trees, too... They looked so beautiful when they bloomed, almost as if it were snow..." Livia let herself get lost in reminiscence for a little while, though the memories were worn and faded - more glimpses and flashes of things and people than full sequences that could be replayed at will. "Perhaps we should have some almond trees planted. Do you think Secundus will find fault with that?" Then again, he could find fault with anything if only he wanted to.

@Echo

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Aglaea was settled on the bank, her legs trailing through the water up to her calves as she considered Judea and her life there. She watched as her mistress swam back and forth with an absent gaze, her elbow resting on her knee with her chin in her hand. Livia suddenly splashed her and she gave a short shriek. "Hey! No fair!" She laughed, though, good-natured. "Did you go swimming back then, too?"

Sighing, the slave rose from her seated position and walked toward their blanket, though she was still listening as Livia spoke. "I don't think so, especially if you mention that the kitchen slaves could use the almonds from the trees we plant instead of buying them. It might save money in the long run." As she answered, she, too, stripped down to her underclothes and folded them on the blanket. She pulled her hair back and then walked back to the stream. "Alright, you convinced me. I'm coming in!" Slowly but surely, she waded into the creek until it was up to her thighs. "I don't know how you stand this water, domina. I'm freezing."

@Liv

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Pleased that she had finally got her way and cajoled Aglaea into joining her, Livia bobbed back a little, half-sitting and half-lying in the water. "It's because you're not moving," she countered, waving her arms around her for emphasis. If Aglaea decided to beat a retreat back to land, Livia wouldn't resent her; by some deeply flawed logic, she thought it natural for her slave to shun the cold, since she came from such a hot land.

"I don't remember if I already know how to swim..." Livia squinted up at the blue sky, trying to poke her memory into coughing up results. "But I'm sure I was a splashing champion." Her recollections were so fleeting, and now more than ever seemed to have been from a dozen lifetimes ago. She was often torn between dwelling on them in a tribute to past good times and ignoring them so she couldn't compare them to her dreary daily life.

Once again, Aglaea spoke sense. Frugality was one of the few things Secundus didn't seem to mind, so he might just give permission to have the almond trees planted. It was not something Livia would have been able to command on her own, not with all the slaves knowing how her husband was. "Yes, that's a good idea. But we should get mature trees, so he doesn't grow angry waiting for them to bear fruit." She dipped back her upper body, stretched out her legs and let herself float face up at the mercy of the gentle undulation, unbound hair fanning around her head like some extravagant accessory. 

Bitter almonds could be deadly, Livia remembered, but chose not to comment out loud. A wife complaining about her husband to her trusted slave was much more innocent than the same wife discussing poisonous nuts with the same slave. Impatient for a new topic, one that would take her mind away from such forbidden things, she called out to Aglaea.

"Do you miss Rome yet?" Livia did. Gods, how she did. Countryside living was not for her.

@Echo

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Aglaea shook her head. "But that would mean I would have to get my belly and shoulders wet..." her tone was deceivingly whiny; she was actually in a good mood, and quite liked to swim. With a deep breath, she dove into the water, completely submerging herself in one motion. A moment later, she popped up hugging her gooseflesh-covered skin. "Gah!" She hopped from one foot to the other for a moment, then slowly lowered into the water again and swam back and forth a few times like Livia had done a moment before. 

After she was a little warmer, she sank into the water up to her shoulders and sat there, listening to Livia speak. Rome was an exciting city and her duties as a body slave differed there slightly than here at the villa. She often had to venture into the markets by herself and deal with haggling salesmen, or deal with the public more. No, she did not miss the city overly much. While the city offered many exciting things to do and see, the country life was quieter and Aglaea had space to breathe. "Not too much, if I am honest, domina. We couldn't do this in the city," she pointed out, gesturing to the creek and picnic spot. "I'll bet you do, though."

@Liv

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It was impossible not to laugh at Aglaea's antics, even though Livia's view of the whole thing was partially obstructed by her current position. It was childish good fun, and the gods knew how that had been chronically lacking in her life for the last couple of years. "See, isn't it better now?" She lazily paddled closer to the other woman, neither making a literal splash on purpose nor attempting to be stealthy. "Move your arms and legs a bit and you'll warm up in no time."

She'd had enough of floating. Bending her legs so her knees were hovering just above the riverbed, Livia took a deep breath to fill her lungs with air and went under, blowing bubbles underwater until the need for oxygen made her resurface. Had Aglaea drunk from the fountain of knowledge that morning or what? Sometimes she was almost infuriating with how sensible she was, but Livia knew it was just her own temper flaring up for a second. If it weren't for her slave's sense, things might have turned out quite different by now, and not for the best.

"You're right," she admitted, nodding without much conviction. "On both counts. I guess it's more... manageable here?" Not quite freer - the lack of distractions meant Secundus tended to overanalyse and doubt the few that did exist -, but more predictable. There was less variation to their days, fewer unknown quantities to set him off, and less talk of his episodes got out. "I miss having more places to go and things to do. Even the weekly market got old very quickly." Not to mention how much easier it was to find an opportunity to be with Marcus when they were both in Rome.

Livia dunked her head in the water again and repeated her bubble-blowing routine, again coming up for air after a short while. "I don't think I've ever asked you, Aglaea. What do you like best about this place?" Livia waved her arm broadly around them, meaning the whole complex of the villa rather than their little spot.

@Echo

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Aglaea had been fortunate to learn to swim. Her first mistress had had a massive bath in her domus and in order to help her bathe, Aglaea had been dunked more than once in straying too close to the deeper part of the tub. The slave floated on her back, slowing her breathing so that her inflated lungs would help her float. She kept her ears above water, though, in order to listen. "You're right too. The city is unpredictable and sometimes that's more exciting than the routine here." She paused for a moment and then added, "Plus, when you do go around visiting your friends, I can meet the slaves in their households. I interact with the same people everyday here." Even though Livia didn't say it, Aglaea knew she was thinking of seeing Marcus, too. 

The slave stopped floating and did a few laps again, intent on staying moving as she considered what Livia had asked. "I suppose I like the clean air. It's hard to breathe easy in the city, both because of the dust people kick up and how close everything is." She stood up near the middle of the swimming hole and brushed her wet hair off of her shoulder. "And, like I said, meeting new people." One thing she didn't say out loud was her ability to visit temple and hear sermons. The quiet of the villa made it easier to quiet her mind for prayer, but she missed hearing the teachings of the priests, as well as conversing with other converts. 

"Do you know when we will return to the city? I suppose we are at the mercy of Secundus in that regard." Aglaea shook her head in anger about the man. She wanted Livia to be happy and Secundus was the biggest impediment to that happiness. "And do you have any favorite parts about the villa?"

@Liv

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Livia had never really considered Aglaea's own need for socialising, but now that it had been brought up, she almost felt bad for having ignored it for so long. For her, Aglaea's company was a lifeline, a friendly voice in a world of bitterness. But just as she eventually had felt the need to seek out others, so it was natural for her slave to do. Seeing the same old faces and hearing the same old ramblings day in and day out tested anyone's patience.

She half-sat as she listened, legs folded under herself underwater, carried back and forth by the water's motion. Yes, clean air was certainly nice - in the countryside it carried the fragrances of different flowers rather than the stink of sewage and rotting food, and there was much less dust. At the second mention of 'meeting new people', a knowing smile appeared on Livia's lips. Had someone piqued Aglaea's interest lately? She opted not to comment on it right away, but she wouldn't be able to resist temptation for long.

"About that, we're in luck. My sister invited us to visit her soon, and I've been trying to convince Secundus to go. Or let me go," Livia muttered, her tone betraying the annoyance she felt. "I haven't lost all hope yet, but it all comes down to his generosity." She all but spat out the last word, anger surging in her breast like an inflating balloon. "Even if that's all we do - visit Horatia, I mean -, it would be a nice change of scenery."

With a couple of final kicks underwater, Livia's swimming session came to an end. She might jump in again before they returned to the domus, but for now she had had enough of splashing about. "I like the orchards well enough, and this place here." That she didn't list any other spots spoke volumes - could a person ever grow to like a prison?

Livia stood and wrung her sopping hair, letting it hang freely down her back when she was done. She cast Aglaea a mischievous look, the sort that only came out once in a blue moon. "I noticed you spoke about meeting new people twice..." she started in a light, teasing drawl. "Is there something you're not telling me? Did some handsome fellow catch your eye?"

@Echo

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Aglaea smiled as she said that they had been invited to visit Horatia. A visit to the city would break the monotony nicely and maybe she could get away long enough to hear a sermon, if the timing was right. "I am glad to hear that. I am sure Horatia will be glad to see you." Aglaea did notice that Livia only mentioned two places when she listed the places she liked, which sent a bolt of sadness through the slave's belly. If only this situation had an easy out. Perhaps Livia could find a good reason to divorce the man, but that would damage her reputation. 

As Livia left the pool, her slave followed, getting a fluffy towel to dry her off. As Livia mentioned the fact that she had spoken about meeting people twice, Aglaea laughed a little. "Oh, no, it's nothing like that." She finished patting her mistress dry and began drying herself off as well. "I just enjoy speaking to other people. Rome has so many provinces that you can meet all kinds of people and hear their stories." But Aglaea did wish she could find someone. A girl did get lonely not having one particularly person to care about them, though of course Livia did care for her slave in her own way. It just was not the same as the love between a man and a woman. 

"Are you hungry now, domina? I made sure the kitchen packed some of your favorites."

@Liv

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Livia wanted to believe Aglaea's optimistic words, but deep down inside, self-doubt gnawed at her. Would Horatia really be pleased by an eventual visit? She might be busy entertaining or forging connections in her husband's stead, to improve his standing - but even if she were inconvenienced by Livia dropping by, she would never let it show, in typical Horatia fashion.

As she left the water she cast a thankful look at her body slave, already dashing to dry her off. Once Aglaea was done and got started on herself, Livia grabbed her neatly folded clothes and stepped into them, haphazardly fastening various fibulae and clasps and giving herself a rather slipshod look in the process. She was no good at doing it herself but wanted to give Aglaea a chance to tend to herself without interruptions. "Well, that's true. You hardly ever grow bored in Rome." So long as you could roam its streets freely, that was. But she wasn't fully convinced.

"All kinds of people indeed, some more interesting than others... How about that temple of yours? Anyone interesting there?" Livia insisted, now smiling wryly. She had never seen anything wrong with allowing Aglaea to keep following the rites of her people - perhaps a legacy of their time in Antioch, with its eclectic mix of Eastern creeds and beliefs alongside the official Roman cult.  Thus, Livia thought it only natural that her slave should look for potential partners there, amongst her kind, the same way Livia's own selection had been confined to the senatorial class. What would happen afterwards however, was to be considered some other time, although letting Aglaea out of her possession was out of the question.

Brought back to the present by her slave's question, Livia blinked in surprise before replying. "Oh, yes. Let's eat." She lay down on the wide cloth that separated them from the grass and waited expectantly for whatever delicacies Aglaea would magic out of the basket. "Let me guess! Cheesy bread, smoked ham and blackcurrant buns?" She would hardly turn down juicy olives or dried figs or other fruit, though. "You help yourself too, Aglaea." There should be enough for the two of them, even if there were some foodstuffs she knew from experience her slave would avoid.

@Echo

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Aglaea continued with her thought about their visit to Horatia in her home. "You are sisters, after all. Sisters always have a connection. I'm sure it will be a happy reunion." Aglaea wish she had the luxury of having stayed with her sister, but she, too, had been sold into slavery by their parents. She finished her quick pat dry of herself and saw her mistress trying to dress herself, laughing and shaking her head. "Here, let me help." She realized that she had put her own needs before Livia's and recognized that that went against her job description. But the thought gave her pang. 

With expert fingers, the slave unclasped her mistress's clothes and fixed it, smoothing out the wrinkles and stepping back to look at her work. "I should have dressed you first, domina. I apologize." Quickly, she turned to pull her tunic over her head before settling onto the picnic blanket to arrange their food. "Of course. And, for a special treat, dulcet piperata." The kitchen had prepared several of the dense honey nut cakes and Aglaea had commandeered one for their picnic.

As she arranged the food, she considered Livia's question about people in the temple. She laughed. "No, I wish. I'm afraid there's just not much time to get to know someone like that." She didn't sound petulant, just matter-of-fact. It wasn't every day, let alone every week, that she got to go to temple or even meet new people, but she was used to that after years of slavery. Livia then offered Aglaea some of the food and she smiled. "Thank you, domina." Bowing her head quickly, she said a hasty prayer and then, took a piece of bread. 

@Liv

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Whatever connection she and Horatia had now, Livia suspected it was cobweb-frail. Distance and secrets had a way of doing that, and even if they were to rekindle their relationship and grow close again, it would not happen nearly as fast as Aglaea seemed to be implying. "I'm sure you're right," she acknowledged, putting on a tentative smile.

She felt bad about not letting Aglaea take care of herself, but a dutiful slave would feel worse about overlooking their duties. "That's all right," Livia insisted even as Aglaea fixed her clothes. "Doing it myself for once won't kill me." Never mind how poorly done it had turned out. "If you didn't dry off properly you could catch cold." And if her slave were to get sick and bedridden, that would be a much bigger problem than a few askew clasps.

Her green eyes followed in appreciation as Aglaea laid out their meal. "You know me too well!" Once everything had found its place, she propped herself up on her elbow and reached for a small bun topped with herbs that she knew was filled with gooey cheese. "It's nothing. Enjoy." Livia took a bite and enjoyed the flavours bursting in her mouth as she chewed in silence. Food was one of the few pleasures she could indulge in without facing glaring disapproval, but she did not fancy becoming a rotund slave to it. Everything in moderation. 

"But do tell. Have you reached that age where you would like to have a partner? I could ask Horatia, you know. I'm sure she knows of a decent slave or two." Although she tried to sound cheerful, inside Livia was seething. What would she do if someone were to take her place in Aglaea's priorities? If they took her most precious friend from her? It was an ugly feeling, but she hoped the day her body slave found a partner was many years away.

She tried to change the subject to a less divisive tangent. "When we go to visit Horatia you may have some time to yourself. Knowing her, we'll probably just sit and chat inside for a couple of hours, so I'm giving you permission already now to leave. You may go to your temple or shopping or whatever." There was a chance Aglaea might have to deliver a letter, too, but at that moment it was only a chance.

@Echo

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Even though Livia insisted it wasn't an issue that she had served herself first, Aglaea knew that she had had a lapse in judgment. She had momentarily forgotten her place. But she assured herself that it would not happen again. She would be hyper aware of herself for the rest of the day. Aglaea sat on her knees, in a position ready to jump up when Livia needed something, and took apart her piece of bread, eating one small piece at a time. 

Livia asked her if she wanted a partner and Aglaea blushed deeply, averting her eyes in embarrassment. Aglaea had certainly been considering her own wishes recently. There came a time when a woman wished for a companion in life. In some twisted way, Aglaea's biggest companion in life  was Livia. She couldn't imagine life without Livia by her side - though, really, she was at Livia's side, not the other way around. Eventually, she found her words again. "Yes," she said slowly, "I think I have. I appreciate you thinking of me domina. I wouldn't want to be an imposition - but if it came up in your conversation with Horatia..." She trailed off, blushing again. 

Then Livia gave her a kind gift: several hours by herself when they visited Horatia. She looked up and smiled. "Thank you, domina. You are very kind." Already, her mind was swimming with the possibilities of what to do with her time. But she would cross that bridge when she came to it.

@Liv

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The signs were there. Frankly, it was naïve of Livia to think Aglaea would be perfectly content living out the rest of her days a slave and nothing else, with servitude as her whole identity. Yet as naïve as it was, it was the only option Livia wanted to seriously entertain for the time being; any pretence of doing otherwise was simply for the sake of their relationship. It was therefore with some difficulty that she forced herself to giggle at Aglaea's reddening cheeks.

"Very well, then I'll ask her!" Livia assured with fake enthusiasm. "But you'll only hear of them after my vetting. Can't hand you off to just anyone." Won't, not to anyone. She helped herself to some ham and took her time chewing; as long as she was busy eating, she wouldn't have to keep smiling.

Suddenly visited by melancholy, Livia allowed herself a short stroll down memory lane before remembering the letter that by some miracle was still tucked between the folds of her clothes. "It's nice when you're interested in someone that's also interested in you..." she murmured to nobody in particular. 'Interest' could mean a lot: the scratching of an itch, pure and innocent love or even a lifelong commitment. Growing silent, Livia sat up and directed her absent gaze to the wild grass that surrounded their blanket island, wrapping her hand around a clump of weeds and pulling at them until their roots came out. Of course, sometimes what one thought would be a long-lasting interest was plucked away too soon.

@Echo

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Aglaea couldn't help what she felt. Though it was hard to think of herself as anything other than a slave, her few years of freedom, no matter how young she had been, allowed her to remember what she really was: a person. A person with feelings, wishes, hopes, desires. And one of those desires was to find a mate, someone who made her happy in a way that Livia could not provide, no matter how close friends the two were. She heard her mistress giggle and something in it gave the slave pause. She wondered if Livia was hiding her true emotions about the situation. "Thank you," she said, though she wondered whether she would ever hear about someone she approved of. 

Aglaea heard her mistress murmur something about people being interested in each other and she detected a note of melancholy in her voice. She paused, unsure of what to say. Finally, she spoke. "What is it, domina? Are you alright?" She was puzzled - the conversation had been so happy a moment earlier. 

@Liv

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Aglaea's voice roused Livia from her reverie. She looked up, blinking repeatedly, and met her companion's gaze with slightly unfocused eyes. "I'm sorry, what?" A heartbeat later, she remembered herself and where she was. "I'm fine. Was just somewhere else for an instant..." She chuckled, but there was no humour in it. Even though Aglaea knew all about it - had been there -, Livia resolved not to spend their outing dwelling on the past: she could do that well enough when she was inside and entirely on her own.

She helped herself to a honey cake and broke off a piece before shoving it carelessly into her mouth. "Mmm, the cook really exceeded himself today!" she praised between bites, forcing excitement into her voice. "If it were like this every day I'd be the size of a cow." And probably not all that interesting to Marcus anymore. The thought had her chuckling again, this time in cheerful irony. "What do you think my husband would say to that?"

@Echo

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