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Aglaea

The Crush of the Crowd

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Mid-May, 75CE

What a perfect place for people-watching! After her afternoon spent in the temple, Aglaea had walked through the city to the Forum with a small meal she had picked up on the way and settled on a curb to watch the people go by. There were plenty of senators, obviously, but all kinds of other people, too. Slaves, merchants, equites, plebeians. Aglaea enjoyed her time observing the people of the empire. It reminded her of her home in Judea, especially the crush of the crowd and the variety of people. 

After her meal, Aglaea turned to head home when she noticed her bag of coins was missing! She looked all around where she had been sitting, but it appeared it was well and truly lost. "Oh, no..." Livia would be furious. 

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Rufus was sure that if you picked your spot carefully - the steps of the Temple of Vesta, say - and stayed there long enough, you would eventually see everyone in the entire Empire pass by. You'd see a lot of them more than once, of course, but give it enough time...

He had followed his master down to the Forum for the Senate meeting and, because slaves weren't allowed in the Curia, he'd found a place out of the way to eat lunch while people watching. There had been a girl eating her own lunch, doing much the same as he was. Except when she got up to go, she put her hand down and looked back up, then all around as if she'd lost something.

He couldn't just watch, and got up.

"Is everything alright?" he asked, once he was close enough that he didn't need to raise his voice over the tumult of the crowds around them.

 

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Aglaea had noticed the young man sitting across the way and looked up as he approached, asking if she was alright. She gave a tense smile. "Well, it would seem I have lost possession of my coin purse. I think it might have been stolen." She looked around again, futilely it would seem. Then she sighed, trying to smile once more. "I think I probably won't find it again."

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"Oh, no," Rufus said sympathetically. The girl - young woman, she looked about his age - seemed to be a slave, too, judging by her clothes. They were good quality, for a slave, but weren't as good as he would expect a free woman to be wearing. Although the slave of a wealthy owner was probably dressed better than a poor free person anyway. 

"How much was in it? And had you done your shopping?"

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Aglaea shrugged slightly. "Not much, thankfully. Only a few coins." She looked in her satchel at her purchases to make sure it was all still there. "Yes, I had finished shopping." She looked back up at him and smiled. "Thank you for your concern, though. My name is Aglaea." 

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"That's a small mercy, then. Next time, put your purse inside your tunica. Or in the bag with your shopping." He grinned, his usual slow smile. "I'm Rufus." She could see why; his previous master had not been blessed with an active imagination when it came to naming his slaves.

"Will you be in trouble for...?" he asked - she looked like a slave, but she might not be. And if she was a slave, then it probably hadn't been her money in the first place.

 

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Aglaea nodded. "Yes, I will, thank you. I usually do... I guess I wasn't thinking straight." She chuckled at her own foolishness. He introduced himself as Rufus and she smiled at him. "It's nice to meet you, Rufus." He went on to ask whether she would be in trouble for losing the money and she shrugged. "I hope not... it really wasn't much, and my domina is kind..." But would she forgive the foolishness of losing even a little bit of money? Aglaea hoped so. It was just something that happened in Rome sometimes. And Aglaea would happily pay it back somehow.

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"You can always tell your domina that things cost more than you expected and there wasn't any change," Rufus said, with a shrug. It might not be the truth, but a small lie never hurt anyone, and if it was only a bit of money and not a whole lot, then it wouldn't matter either way. "Would she be less angry with you for being careless and telling the truth, or telling her a harmless little lie?"

He generally didn't encourage others to lie - but the occasional mistruth would be easier to get away with if the master or mistress knew you for a truthful sort of person, overall.

 

@Echo

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Aglaea chuckled. "That's true. She probably wouldn't notice if I did." She didn't like the idea of lying, but she also feared her punishment if she revealed that she had been careless; and it probably wouldn't be coming from Livia, either. Secundus was in a sour mood at the best of times, and if his money was squandered, Aglaea trembled to think what would happen. "That's a good question. I hope she would be less angry for me covering up a lie." And she might be, seeing as it might protect her and her slave from her husband's wrath. "Thank you for your concern, by the way. It's not everyday that someone shows such kindness in Rome."

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"Isn't that more reason to?" Rufus asked. "Be kind, I mean. Life's hard enough - especially for folks like you and me." He indicated the slave tablet he wore, proclaiming his lack of status to anyone who spared him even a brief glance.

"You haven't been here long, have you? In Rome, I mean." Her Latin was accented but it wasn't an accent that Rufus recognised, not really, and he wondered where she was from. The darker tone of her skin made him think it was somewhere to the East - probably somewhere where Greek, rather than Latin, was the language spoken by most people to communicate.

"Xereis na milas Hellinika?" Do you speak Greek?

His accent would be rough, his dialect that of the former colonies of Magna Graecia - it was perhaps surprising that it was still spoken down there in Campania at all, but  it was.

 

____

The actual Greek would be Ξερεις να μιλας 'ελληνικα?

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Aglaea smiled at that. "That's a very good point. I do my best to be kind, but I fear the city has made it hard to be kind. Though, that's no reason to stop trying." She shifted her bag on her shoulder. "Actually, I've been with my current mistress for fourteen years, but we don't always stay in the city. I'm just out of sorts today - I don't know what I was thinking, not securing my coin purse better." This young man was an unusual character, to be sure, but his attitude about kindness was refreshing in a city full of the selfish. She half-wondered if he was a convert, too - but then reasoned that she would have seen him around the temple. 

The young man then asked if she spoke Greek in the selfsame language. "I do, as well as Aramaic and Hebrew." She spoke these words in Greek, but then switched to Latin again: "I'm from Judea, but my first mistress ensured I had a well-rounded education. It made me more valuable, you see." She gave a wry smile. "Would you like to sit a while? I wouldn't mind the company, since I have nowhere else to be."

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"Fourteen years!" Rufus exclaimed, finding a seat on the step. "I haven't been with my master even one, yet." He indicated the Curia. "He's a Senator, I'm waiting for him to come out."

He rested his forearms on his knees. "I'm from Paestum, in Campania - several days' walk to the south, and haven't seen anything of the Empire yet, though I may do, with my master."

He wasn't sure what to think about that possibility, but slaves did what they were told and that was that.

"What is it like - Judea? If you don't mind me asking."

 

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Aglaea chuckled at his surprise. "Yes, I was about fourteen when I came to her household. What is your job? Or, are you his body slave?" Aglaea hadn't considered the differences between what a female's body slave was responsible for and what a male's body slave would be, though it couldn't be very different. The young man explained where he was from and she nodded thoughtfully. "I don't think I've been there... is it the countryside?" She had been in Livia's husband's countryside villa several times, for extended stays, and she enjoyed the quiet aspect and the fresh air. 

Then, Rufus asked what Judea was like and she hummed thoughtfully. "Well, to tell you the truth, I was quite young when I left Judea. My first mistress was married to a man who worked in Antioch, and I was seven when I went to live with them." She brushed her hair back. "But I remember it being very hot and crowded, not unlike Roma. And sandy. It's a desert region, after all." She smiled at him. "What's Campania like?"

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"Yes, I'm his body slave." Rufus ran a hand through his hair. "Which might explain why I'm hanging around the Forum waiting for him - slaves aren't allowed in the Curia you see. Well, unless they're public slaves - I should think even the Curia has to have some slaves to keep it nice and tidy, after all."

He nodded. "Yes - my old master had a farm down there and his house was on the cliff - you could see the sea from some of the windows. It's dry but there's grass, and olives and vines - and the umbrella pines! They grow to such a height. I don't know if I miss them or the sea the most. And Paestum itself... it's an old Greek town , most of the people there still speak Greek in some form. And the temples - they're in the Greek style with columns all the way round them, and lower, not like the big ones they have here, that just have the columns at the front and pretend they have them down the sides."

They were to the Greek gods too, Hera and Athene (there were two temples for Hera, which Rufus had always thought odd, though Zeus was worshipped alongside Hera in one of them). Some people called them by the Greek names, and some by the Roman - it depended very much on who was officiating, as far as he'd ever made out. Not that he'd spent much time there when there was the forum and other places to go and see.

He sighed. "I miss it - Rome's so busy. I was just thinking, you know, that if you picked a good spot around here and waited long enough, you'd probably see everyone in the Empire pass at some point. Lots of them more than once, of course."

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"Oh - of course," she said, blushing a little at her own cluelessness. She had little reason to know what went on in the Curia, though - Livia never went there and she had barely anything to do with Secundus. Her experience of Rome had been through the eyes of a female. She couldn't honestly say that the Curia held any charm for her either. It was just where senatorial men went to do senate things. It didn't concern her. 

Rufus went on to explain what Campania was like. The way he told it was captivating - it was clear as could be how much he loved his former home. And it sounded beautiful. "I hope to see it one day myself," she said genuinely. He had mentioned the sea, too. "When I was traveling from Antioch, we took a sea route for part of the way. I think I liked seeing the sea from the land rather than a boat." Her voice was full of mirth - it was hard to forget the roiling water and the terrible nausea she had experienced. Aglaea was not meant to be on the sea. 

Then, Rufus continued by saying that Rome was busy. She laughed at his comment. "I believe you're right! So many different people come through here all the time. I like it here sometimes... but the city can get to be too much, sometimes." She thought of the villa. "My mistress's husband has a lovely villa outside of the city, in the countryside. It's so quiet and peaceful there. I wish we could stay there all the time."

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"I've never been to sea at all," Rufus said, and laughed a little. "I've heard all sorts about it, though, from people who have - that the boat doesn't stay still and the motion affects a lot of people badly." It sounded as though Aglaea was one of those.

"So many people, and from all over the Empire. I didn't know people could have such different colours of skin," he said, and held out his own freckled arm. "My mother was from Britannia and I'm as pale as anything, except if it's really hot and I'm out in the sun for too long, and then I go red. And freckle." Aglaea's skin was a beautiful light brown sort of colour, and then there were people from Nubia, away off across the sea to the south, whose skin was the darkest brown Rufus had ever seen - it was very nearly black. Not quite, but nearly.

"I like the countryside,  too. Very peaceful, and green. Rome's full of stone buildings and people and - it's nice enough to look at, but I don't think I like living here very much. I don't know if my master has a house in the countryside - he's a Senator, though, so I'd be surprised if he didn't."

 

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Posted (edited)

Rufus said he had never been to sea. "I don't recommend it," she said, laughing. "Even when you get off the boat, the ground seems to pitch and heave under you for hours afterward." She shuddered dramatically. "I much prefer the solid ground, myself." The conversation turned toward the different varieties of people one could see at the forum, as well as skin types. Rufus talked about how he got sunburnt and freckled in the sun and Aglaea examined her own skin. She was lucky - her skin could get darker, due to her desert heritage, but she never really spent too much time in the sun. 

Rufus mentioned that he liked the countryside, too, and that he also felt that the city got to be too much. "Sometimes, it's like the buildings are pressing in on you, and there are just too many people. I hope you get to go to the countryside soon. It's especially better in the summertime, I think." 

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"Well, I don't suppose I'll be going to sea any time soon. My master seems quite happy to spend his time in Rome doing... whatever it is he spends his time doing." He couldn't help a laugh. "Solid ground does have a lot going for it, though, I'll say that. The journey by sea must have made quite an impression, if you were seven when you came here from Judea."

He looked up at the temple of Capitoline Jove above them. "You know, I feel very much the same way - I'm not used to such a big city as Rome is - so many people! I think it doesn't help that there are buildings above us as well as all around us, too - that just makes the feeling worse. Paestum is... Well, it's mostly flat. All the buildings are on the same level and when you've got things like the Temple of Jupiter, all the way up there - and it's a big temple, too..." he shrugged. "I guess the other reason for it is that so many of the buildings are so big, too. Back home, the biggest buildings were the temples and the basilica. Here, there are so many temples, and the basilicas, and the Curia, and the Imperial Palace and... Even the Atrium Vestae over there isn't small." It wasn't, either, it was a three-storey building that was higher than almost anything Rufus had ever seen before. "And all the insulae that are just built going upwards..."

"I hope I get to see the countryside again. What about you, though? Would you go back to Judea if you could?"

 

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Aglaea laughed. "I imagine it would have, except that I was actually fourteen when I came to Rome! My mistake, I didn't make that clear." She could remember the sharp scent of the sea all those years ago, even despite her queasiness at the roiling sea under her feet. But it was an experience not everyone could claim, like Rufus here. The woman followed his gaze up to the temple, considering its visage as he spoke. "I couldn't have put it better myself," she said. "And you hear of fires in the insulae all the time... I suppose you and I are lucky not to have to live in one of them, as it were. I think I probably couldn't breathe with all those people around me, pressing in..."

Rufus mused about going back to the countryside and then asked if Aglaea would go back to Judea if she had the chance. That was a question she had considered many times before. "I'm not sure, honestly. I haven't been there in so long, I don't think it would feel like home. Even though Rome is a little stuffy and close-together, it is the closest thing I have to a home." She smiled after a moment, though. "I think I wouldn't mind traveling, if I got my freedom, though. Maybe I could go see Paestum." 

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"It's near the coast, and I miss the sea - it changes from season to season, and sometimes day to day," Rufus said. He wondered if his new master had a villa near Baiae - wasn't that where all the really rich had their summer homes?

"Would you like to go back, even just to visit?" he asked. He could understand it not really being home any more, but surely she might like to visit? And it could become home again.

But talking in hypotheticals was not really a good idea. "Rome is... So big, compared to what I've known before. I suppose it must be the same for you?"

 

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Aglaea shrugged when he asked if she wanted to visit Judea. "I don't know... Perhaps. It might be good to travel a little and see how the city has changed, at least." She doubted she would want to do anything else. She didn't even really want to see her parents or the siblings that had not been sold, even if she could find them again. Rufus then continued to say that Rome was much bigger than what he was used to. "It is the same for me. Judaea is not so crowded, even if it is hot and sandy. Rome seems to stretch on forever."

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"Would you like to see anything else of the Empire?" Rufus asked, although he wasn't quite sure why the question came out. It wasn't good for slaves to wish for too much, after all; they were supposed to focus on their master's wishes and not their own. "I think I'd like to see Britannia, maybe. Although the Empire is so big that there must be a lot of places in it worth seeing."

He'd heard about the Jews, and that they only had one God - one God, to deal with the sea, and the weather, and love, and war, and everything else. He must be incredibly overworked, having to do all of that!

"There's an awful lot in Rome, too, of course - the Forum here, and the Circus Maximus, and the new Flavian Amphitheatre... it's a huge place. I sometimes wonder if I'll ever find my way around it." Though when he went out, it was generally with his master. He still had to make a note of where he was in relation to places he knew, just in case he got sent on some sort of errand.

 

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Aglaea considered his question. It was surprising, that he would wonder such a thing. Aglaea tried not to think of what she wanted so much; it just made serving her mistress's needs first that much more difficult. But when she had a moment to daydream, she would often think about traveling around the empire. "Hm. I think I would like to see Greece. It sounds beautiful." She smiled. "Britannia doesn't hold much appeal for me, if I'm honest. I've heard it's quite cold and rainy all the time!" She glanced at him, wondering if he had some Briton heritage. His coloring suggested it. 

Then Rufus spoke about all there was to see in Rome and she grinned. "That is one good thing about the city. There's always something new being built, something new to see. Have you ever gone to see the gladiatorial games or the races?"

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"I've been to the races. The arena... isn't really my thing." The races were fast and furious and took a huge amount of skill, and if a shipwreck happened, it wasn't likely to be deliberate, whereas the gladiators were seeking to draw blood on purpose, even when the fight wasn't to the death (as most of them were not). And then there were the times that there were poorly-disguised executions mixed in with the usual gladiatorial fights. No, Rufus was not a fan of the arena - even though his current owner was the mastermind behind the big new amphitheatre, which Rufus could admire simply from the perspective of being amazed by the sheer wonder of the architecture, and the size of the structure.

"I've not been to Greece, but I've heard that it is beautiful. And home to three of the wonders of the world - or is it four of them?" He only had a hazy idea where Helicarnassus might be, after all. For all he knew, it could be somewhere in Alexander the Great's old empire, way out east.

"What about you? Do you get out much to see things like the Games, or the races?"

 

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Aglaea wasn't really a fan of the gladiatorial games, either. She occasionally accompanied Livia there, but would often slip away the moment she wasn't needed so she didn't have to see the blood and gore that the Romans seemed so fond of. It also made her imagine herself in the arena, facing some wild animal for the crime of breaking away from the religious canon in Rome. The races were far more exciting. 

Rufus remarked that he had not been to Greece, speaking about the wonders of the world. "I would certainly like to see those things. I think Aegyptus would be beautiful as well, with their pyramids and tombs and things." She laughed. "Do you like architecture?" 

Rufus asked whether she had been to the games or the races and she nodded. "Yes, occasionally. I understand what you mean about the arena. It's a bit much for me; my stomach turns, thinking about all that violence for entertainment. But the races can be enjoyable."

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