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Broken Conversations


Sara
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Early May 75AD

Charis smiled softly, one hand holding the basket of browning leaves she had painstakingly plucked from the rosebushes, the other hand on her bump. She was now almost five months pregnant and was taking to pregnancy as a duck to water. The gentle curve of her stomach suited her petite frame; the neat bump lightly showing now beneath her tunica. She had first felt the baby move the week before last but now the little flutters were stronger and the sensation so unfamiliar it stopped her in her tracks. She smiled to herself as she felt the movement beneath her fingers and gently stroked the fabric of her plain tunica. 

Whilst her body might have recovered from what she had done to it in late February and the month of solitude Tertius had ordered her to, her mind had certainly not. Gone was the pragmatic yet passionate woman who schemed and devised plans to ensure her survival and freedom. In her place, observers would find a quiet young woman, meek and placid who went through the daily tolls of life as a slave without complaint. She had been thoroughly broken and the pieces of her mind had yet to be put back together. To her, she needed to behave, to serve her dominus and his family as best as she could; she had betrayed him, and herself and it was only the real Charis - buried deep down and hidden - that saw that this behaviour should not be unexpected. No woman who saw her husband killed, her family enslaved; was carted over land and seas in shackles, lost a child, been raped and now grew another in her belly, could keep up the pretence of happiness and normality forever. The trauma had been bound to catch up to her eventually, and when it had, the breaking down had been spectacular. 

It had been almost six weeks since Tertius had let her out of her little room but she had barely crossed paths with him in that time. She was no longer his favourite (much to the delight of both Hector and Jocasta), she was a spurned woman, damaged goods and most of the other slaves equally gave her a wide berth. Rhoda had been concerned at  the dramatic change in her personality, but no amount of coaxing could return the woman she had known for a year. That Charis was so buried it would take a giant to unearth her. 

She didn't hear footsteps behind her as she smiled to herself, one hand splayed against her bump.

 

TAG: @Atrice

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It had been a little over a month since Charis finally decided to relent and apologize for everything she’d done. From breaking his trust, betraying and deceiving him instead of being honest concerning the pregnancy… to trying to rid the child from her body and in the process almost killing herself too. None of that was fine and alright and easily forgiven. Not by Tertius anyway. But she had apologized and she had been allowed back to her duties in the garden and in the kitchen once more. And it was fine. He did sometimes miss her soft and feminine curves in the bed and he also kind of missed the lessons he used to give her. Did she even remember anything he taught her – the reading and writing? She hadn’t asked about the lessons and she was so changed that he thought maybe she’d forgotten those too.

Not that it mattered. Before the incident she had been a good slave, or so he had thought. But really she hadn’t. She had fooled him, she had pretended and after the incident, the way she spoke to him… spoke the truth about who Charis was behind the façade of an obedient slave. So she’d been punished – but apparently so much that she was now just a shadow of the woman she used to be. Not that he minded. All of the time, since he purchased her a little more than a year ago, he had wanted her to become a good and well-behaved slave. And he had finally broken her. Finally she behaved the way she was meant to and he did not think she was playing him now. Now it was real.

He saw her today. Not that he avoided her on purpose, but with her working in the garden and kitchens now, he didn’t have to spend time with her. But he noticed her in the garden now, smiling and placing a hand on her belly, that was most definitely growing now… with his child inside. How strange it was, with her now. She used to be his lover. He used to… do so much for her, because he had liked her. Maybe he had even been infatuated with her, with everything he did. And now, all that was gone. She was just a slave who was pregnant with his child. But he still had the memories and talking to her was kind of awkward now; so he barely had. Still though, as she stood there in the soft and warm light in the silent garden, she was quite beautiful.

Tertius kind of wanted to talk to her. But what to say and how? He looked out over the garden and then smiled to himself, as he had an idea, “Charis… I see the garden is looking better every day once more.” The garden had, after all, not been tended very well while she was locked up. Of course some of the other slaves had looked after it, but Charis seemed to have a special knowledge of it all and it showed. It wasn’t just something he said, actually. It blossomed along with her. Almost as if it was meant to be.

@Sara

Edited by Atrice
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Charis was startled by a voice and blinked up, turning over her shoulder to look at the intruder. When she realised it was Tertius she immediately averted her eyes to the floor and set down her basket, moving her hand from her bump. She was presentable today - a marked difference to the last proper time they had spoken in that little room; although she'd taken care to Latinise herself and her hair, instead of being loose about her shoulders, was neatly braided into two long plaits. "Domine." She said quietly, respectfully and folded her hands in front of her in a mark of respect. A pity that the little life inside her was fluttering away.

At his compliment she flushed with pleasure, pleased she had done a good job. The real Charis screamed in frustration somewhere deep inside her. "Thank you domine." She added and then glanced to the roses to her right, just beginning to flower again. "The roses are difficult, they don't like the heat, but I'm pleased they have flowered," She swallowed and added, "And that you like them." She was behaving like a model slave, for the first time probably since she had arrived. It was odd, as was the slightly dazed expression she wore which he would have noticed if she ever dared to raise her eyes. 

Hands still folded in front of her, she asked, quietly; "May I fetch you something domine?" It was unusual now for him to wish to speak to her just to speak, after all.

 

TAG: @Atrice

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Of course she was startled by Tertius standing more or less right behind her and suddenly speaking to her – and while he in the past would have found this amusing, he didn’t now. Of course he had not meant to startle her, but on the other hand, a slave should always be ready when her master appeared. Now she turned around and looked to the floor, setting down her basket and standing straight. Her hair was neatly braided and she spoke politely to him, blushing at his compliment for the garden and then complained about the heat. As she always did, he thought to himself.

“Of course I like the roses; if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have them.” Tertius replied to her, looking her over. The pregnancy suited her. Some women would gain weight and look more round than they were supposed to, but Charis was still slim and pretty and the pregnancy very visible on her. The medicus had said that getting out into the fresh air and moving about had done her well and Tertius thought so too.

She asked if she could fetch him something. How well-thought of her, he thought. But he wasn’t in need of anything right now and a good slave would not be disappointed by a denial. Or, they could be, but they would not show it.

“Not right now, I think.” He said, but didn’t want to dismiss her right away, “But tell me, how are you feeling with the pregnancy? It does seem to suit you well.”

@Sara

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"Of course domine." She said mildly. She had half a mind to ask him what flowers he might like in the garden, but then held her tongue. He was a man, and a Roman man at that, and the intricacies of flowers and arrangements were not for him to worry about. Instead, she offered softly; "I have some new plants I think would look pretty, I can ask Hector to show you tomorrow, if it please you and you have the time." She wouldn't dare suggest them herself; instead understanding there was now a barrier between them that would not be easily moved. 

At his question she smiled and nodded her head; "Thank you domine, and I am well. The sickness has gone." What an awful time that had been - even the smell of the most inoffensive thing could set her retching into the latrines. She resisted the urge to move her hand to her bump as she said; "And he moves around a lot now, which is wonderful." If disconcerting. She had always considered the life fluttering within her a boy, she had no notion as to why. It just felt...right. 

She added carefully, eyes still on the floor at his sandals. "I have been praying to Juno for her blessings, and for it to continue well." And for the birth. In her misguided, dazed attempts to be the perfect slave Charis had sought out the Roman Gods. It was another sort of punishment she was inflicting on herself in her attempt to cut herself off from the old, bad Charis.

 

TAG: @Atrice

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Charis spoke of new plants she thought would look pretty in the garden, but instead of showing him she suggested having Hector show him the next day. Why not herself? Maybe she was avoiding him too. But of course, the idea was fine. She was no longer his bed-slave and had no direct purpose with him in the house… other than carrying his child, of course, which made this more awkward than before. So really her suggestion was fine.

 “Having Hector show my sounds like a good idea.” Tertius just confirmed and then he had asked about the pregnancy. She smiled and said she was well and had no sickness anymore. Then she said the child moved. He could vaguely remember his wife being pregnant and feeling the child move, which had been such a strange and oddly special feeling, when he put his hand on her to feel the child. It was almost supernatural. But putting his hand on Charis’ belly would be weird, now. Gods, he’d touched her and slept with her and now… now it was weird to just feel her belly.

 “Moving around a lot must be a good sign that it is a healthy child.” Tertius said, glad that her time alone and locked up had not affected the child after all. Charis then mentioned praying to Juno and Tertius recalled that she had not been seen in the garden in the moonlight as much as before.

 “That is good.” He said and searched for more to say. Could it be more strange and awkward than this? “Have you also been visiting the baths frequently?” Maybe he should just give up and move on with the day. This conversation was going nowhere.

@Sara

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Charis noted the unease in his voice and panicked. Had she done something wrong by talking about the baby? Did he wish to know more? She so desperately, in that moment, wanted to please him and make up for all the wrongs she had seemingly done to him, that she blurted out quietly; "Do...do you wish to feel, domine?" She regretted it as soon as she asked and flushed, her cheeks turning pink and teeth working to bite her bottom lip. Of course he wouldn't want to feel the child move! He didn't even talk to her anymore, so great was her slight against him, he wouldn't wish to touch her. She chided herself, internally. 

At his question she nodded; "Once a week, with Jocasta domine." As he had permitted her to. Any previous ill-feeling Charis had held for the other woman was long lost in her dazed state, and even Jocasta had grown wary by just how changed the young British woman was now. "And I wash in the slave quarters every day." An ice cold pail of water did the trick. Why though? Did she look unclean? She cast an eye over herself concerned and moved a hand to fiddle with the end of one of her long braids before remembering herself and clasping them back at her waist again. 

 

TAG: @Atrice

 

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He did indeed feel a bit uneasy and awkward and she didn’t change that feeling when she asked if he wanted to feel the child moving. He looked at her, saw how she blushed afterwards and bit her bottom lip, as if she was nervous and uncertain. This was definitely not the way she used to act, but she seemed determined to be a better slave now. What he did to her had worked; it had broken her. Yet since he’d known the other Charis for so long and enjoyed her company, this was almost odd and definitely strange.

 “I…” He began, “Maybe.” He then said, unsure if he wanted to feel. And then he’d tried to keep the conversation going by asking about going to the baths. Charis said she went once a week, together with Jocasta of course – there was no way he was letting her out alone, she had his child and if she ran away… she would be stealing it from him. He couldn’t have that. He hadn’t known he wanted another child, but now that she was pregnant… he couldn’t let it go. But they weren’t talking about that at all.

 “That’s good you go to the baths. I’ve heard that bathing is supposed to be good for the child. And the mother.” He added with a smile, thinking about how that must be good for her and how she mentioned the sickness had gone. He wanted her to stay healthy, after all, “I hope you’ll remember to let someone know, if you’re feeling unwell.”

@Sara

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His hesitation was palpable and Charis felt a wave of shame wash over her. Silly girl! She chided herself, if he wanted to feel the child he would have just done it, not wait for you to offer! She felt silly, but tried to not let it show on her face. Fortunately her eyes were still firmly downturned so he couldn't see the embarrassment pooling in them. 

She nodded at his question, trying to affect a light and breezy smile on her face. "Yes domine, I will." She nodded again for emphasis, "The...midwife, the one that the medicus brought with him, she said that the child will be born in late September by her count but that most of the sickness should be past me." She felt the odd little flutter again in her belly and surprise registered on her face. Subconsciously she raised a hand to cup the neat bump and smiled at the sensation beneath her fingertips.

What she hadn't been told, of course, was that the midwife had expressed concern to the medicus that the birth would be a challenge given her diminutive size, and that nobody could know until the child was born what impact the poison had had - if any - on its development and health. No need to panic her, the midwife had thought. Whether Tertius had been passed such information was likewise, unknown to Charis. 

Feeling awkward, but somewhat relieved that the fire of his anger towards her had passed (you're doing well Charis, being the good slave you're supposed to be!) she enquired, tentatively; "Would...would you like me to bring some flowers into the domus for you? For your tablinium, or domina Antonia's room?" She wanted to be helpful, she desperately wanted to impress him.

The flutters in her belly increased and her other hand moved to join its mirror on her bump.

 

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A part of him did want to feel the child move inside of her, another part of him thought it was just too awkward. They had barely talked since he let her out of the room and here she was, suggesting he should touch her belly. He hadn’t even touched her since before she poisoned herself. That was months ago. They were so close and now they were kind of estranged from each other. But he moved the conversation on, wanting to make sure she’d let people know if she wasn’t feeling well. She smiled lightly and promised she would, then told him what the midwife had told her. Tertius had been told the same thing, among other things.

“Hopefully that promise will hold.” He replied to her, while she touched her belly again and smiled – the child must have moved again. Why couldn’t things just be like before? Why did she have to betray him like that… why had she tried to fool him? Why had she never been honest? Then things would not have been like this, now. She broke his thoughts by asking if he wanted flowers and then her other hand moved to her belly.

“That would be nice… some flowers for the tablinium. And the atrium.” Tertius said and then he took a small step closer to her, “If you wouldn’t mind… I would like to feel the child move.” He shouldn’t have to ask. He should just say he would do it, without asking her. Yet, it felt oddly intimate and private – and that despite her being a slave and that he had the right to command her. Gods… was he still infatuated by her? 

@Sara

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"Yes domine." In her head she was already running through what sort of arrangement would look nice in light of the colours of the walls and furniture in both rooms. When he stepped forward, her musing subsided, but she restrained herself from looking up at him. The smile that flourished on her face was genuine though - or as genuine as it could when she was only a fraction of her old self. "O-of course domine." 

She gently and very tentatively reached out to take his hand, far larger than her own and took a shy step forward. When she was close enough she moved his palm to the base of the curve on her belly. It took a few moments - moments which seemed to drag on to an eternity - before the flutters, movements, started in earnest and pressed against his palm and her own, next door. "Do you feel it?" She grinned to herself and without thinking, glanced up at him. She remembered herself almost immediately and dropped her eyes to the floor, embarrassed. The child moved and fluttered and she said, quietly; "He likes you, he moves for you." 

Had she been fully herself, she was more than positive that the 'real' Charis would have pushed him off of her the second he stepped forward. Yet this broken down, dazed Charis so desperately wanted to please him - to stop all the trauma and the hurt - that when she smiled, she meant it.

 

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Nice flowers were one thing, but Charis being pregnant with his child, which was moving inside of her and could be felt on her belly… that was another. It was mystical, almost supernatural and yet oddly irresistible too. He did want to feel. And then he decided to ask her if she wouldn’t mind and as the good slave she’d become, she would of course allow it. Then she stepped closer, taking his hand in hers and she pressed his palm against her

He had almost forgotten what it felt like – Antonia was ten years old, after all, so it had been that long since he last felt a child move inside a woman. Tertius let out a small, almost silent, gasp, when he felt it move. She grinned when the child moved, looked at him ever so briefly and seemed almost excited. But then she dropped her eyes again, while stating that the child moved for him.

“I hope so.” Tertius replied, “I do feel it. Are you certain it is a son?” He then asked and withdrew his hand, although slowly. A part of him wanted more of this intimacy. Another part of him felt something was wrong and it shouldn’t be this way.

@Sara

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Charis smiled to herself at the tone of his voice but stayed quiet until he posed her a question. "I don't know..." She responded with a little frown and then a shrug, wrapping her arms around herself as he withdrew his touch, "It just...feels right? He feels like a boy." She smiled a little and finally unwound her arms as the child ceased its little movements. 

She opened her mouth to say more; "My..." but then slammed it shut. She was going to mention how her mother, in Britannia, had successfully predicted the sex of all of her children, how Charis had felt that the first child she carried had been a girl - the little girl who she'd lost whilst in chains. Yet none of it mattered, none of it would be important to her dominus and so she shook her head, a little embarrassed; "It does not matter, I'm sorry domine." She apologised. 

She moved one hand to softly stroke across the bump, "I am so pleased I am having him, for you." She added and inside, somewhere deep, the real Charis retched and screamed. The old Charis - the one who tried to terminate the pregnancy - was anything but happy. But this Charis? If it pleased her dominus, then it pleased her. "So long as the child does...please you, that is." She added, quietly.

 

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He had taken his hand back from her and then wondered how she knew it was a son. Sometimes women just knew such things, but how? She said she didn’t know how she knew, but that it just felt right that the child was a boy. Then she was about to say something more, but trailed off and said it didn’t matter. Well that was... strange. But if she wouldn't talk, he wouldn't ask.

“I see.” Tertius said, before she then said she was pleased to have the child for him and hoped the child would please him. She was pleased to carry the child for him? The child she tried to kill and herself along with it? That did sound odd to him, but maybe she had decided to embrace the pregnancy after all and decided to be a good mother. If so, he could change his mind concerning what was to happen after the birth of the child. He had after all threatened with taking the child away from her, once it was born, but if she would be a good mother… and actually care… maybe he would let her nurse it and take care of it.

“I’m sure the child will please me.” Tertius then said, “And you please me too, right now. I hope this will continue.” He then added with a smile to her. Now it was his policy to punish slaves that misbehaved and reward those that were good. And she pleased him now. So he should figure out some kind of reward for her. Maybe just small steps though, for now?

“How do you feel about leaving the house on your own… not for the baths, but maybe the market?” He then asked. He could send her on a small errand on her own. Maybe have one of his lictors look after her, from a distance, just in case anything should happen. But it was the little things that mattered to her, he thought, so a tiny bit of freedom with a trip to the market might be something she would enjoy.

@Sara

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Charis smiled to herself, pleased that she was what he wanted, that she was behaving as he wanted her to. "Thank you domine, I want to please you." She added quietly in her accented Latin. The flutters resumed again, as if in protest at her misguided attempts to be the perfect slave. 

"I..." She blinked, surprised at the offer. It was a test - the rational, buried Charis thought, but she didn't hear that side to her - only that he was rewarding her for her good behaviour. "I would like that, that is very generous, domine, thank you." She smiled a beaming smile and moved a hand to tuck her braid behind her ear. "I can get you something, to say thank you." She added. Inside, the normal Charis laughed; God you sycophantic little idiot, get a grip! But the present Charis swallowed any sour thoughts completely away. 

A nervous little look crossed her face, however, and she dropped her hand back to her bump; "Do you...think we'll be safe?" She asked, out of nowhere. The last thing she wanted now was for anything to happen to the child...

 

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It was good to hear her say she wanted to please him. She had said such things before, but in the past, he now knew it was all an act. It was pretense. It wasn’t something she truly meant. But this time he believed it could be genuine. Of course he’d believed that before. How could he really trust her? Could he at all? Well only time would tell, he supposed. He smiled at her words though and then he had decided to maybe reward her with a trip to the market – without Jocasta.

She seemed surprised at the idea, but then smiled widely and called him generous and decided she would like to do that. And she might even get him something to thank him. Well that was new, he thought. Charis had never bought anything for him before.

“That would be interesting.” He replied and then she suddenly looked nervous and wondered if she and the child would be safe… “I’m sure you will be. It’s just to the nearest market and back again. And you will come straight home after. No peculiar errands, shortcuts or diversions.” Else it might not happen again. And if he had someone follow her without her knowledge, he would know. And they could tell him how she acted around other people and if this behavior was just pretense too… or if it was real.

@Sara

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Charis nodded at his instructions and tried to let the flutter of nerves in the pit of her stomach settle. She would be fine, the baby would be fine. She would not mess this up again. 

"T-thank you, domine, I understand, I will go tomorrow...if that pleases you?" She said in a quiet, but happy voice, still staring down at his sandalled feet and the intricate mosaic underneath them. The move from the room where she slept into the garden had done wonders for her physical health - she no longer looked exhausted or wan, although it hadn't quite worked the necessary miracles on her mental health. Surely a trip into the city would be equally beneficial for her, and the child? The prospect of freedom and fresh air, of absorbing the sights and sounds of the city she was now determined to call home? 

She said nothing else and stood there - quiet and still as a statue. He had to dismiss her if he wanted her to leave, she knew that. Her life was no longer her own to command; it had just taken fourteen months to understand that. 

 

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She said she understood, when he told her that there would be no odd errands or diversions. She was to go straight to the market and then back home, once she was done there. He wouldn’t risk anything with her and while he feared she could be attacked by someone in the streets (it had happened before, a long while ago), he more feared that this would all be a ruse and she would run away the first time she got the chance. And he would not allow for that to happen! So a lictor would follow her, just to make sure. From a distance.

“Yes, that would be fine. Ask Rhoda if she needs anything from the markets. Or you could buy new flowers for the garden or for decoration, if you’d like to.” Tertius said. That was it, wasn’t it? He had talked to her, had an actual conversation with her and he had even touched her… weird and strange as it had been. Gods this had been the strangest conversation he had in a long time.

“You can get on with your day now.” Tertius then said and gave her a little nod, before he turned and left the gardens again. Oh how he wished that she had been honest with him from the start, as he had constantly asked her to do and as she had constantly promised, but without keeping the promise. Then they would not have been like this. It could have been nice. She could have been having a good life right from the start when she first came here, if she had not chosen to be so difficult and defiant. He inhaled a deep breath as he sat down by the desk in the tablinum again, while this little incident went through his mind a few times. He hoped he’d not been wrong to send her out on her own. He would find out soon enough. For now, he had work to do… if he could focus on it.

@Sara

FINISHED

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