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Attis

Painting the roses red

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Late April 75AD

 

Attis had been busy with various things - not all of them had been chores summarily handed to him, either. Despite what Titus Sulpicius Rufus might have thought of him as a person (if he thought of him as a person at all, which was debatable!), Attis was no shirker. It was a nice day and he found himself in the garden of the house, with two honey-cakes that had scorched at the edges enough that Betua was not about to allow them to be offered to the master. Attis had been there and had been able to rescue them, so with a chipped plate in one hand and a beaker of water in the other, he found himself looking for somewhere to take a few minutes in the shade.

He found a corner where he could keep an eye on the garden entrance of the tablinum, enjoy the shade, and not get sneaked up on by the Dacian woman (who had, strangely enough, at least warned him that she was going to be tattling on him to the master!)

The gardener was out here today, doing - something that Attis couldn't see,  and he waited until the other was a bit closer before getting his attention.

"Hey! It's Florus, isn't it?"

 

@Ejder

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Florus had been up early, waiting for the delivery to arrive. They had said something about first light, but apparently the sun didn't rise at the nursery at the same time as it did in the rest of Rome, because it was nearer to noon when they did arrive with the new hydrangeas he was going to be planting. The holes had been dug up as soon as he'd gotten to work, and he'd been eager to start his day.

Of course, after an hour of just standing around and waiting, he'd gotten tired of being idle, and had set out for his daily round of pruning, and harvesting whatever had ripened since the previous day. It was only a few endives and radishes, nothing really to make a meal out of, especially considering they lacked any esthetic appeal, but enough for him to snack on while he continued to wait.

And wait he did. The sun was high in the sky when he received his trees. They were grafted, and looked to be in good shape, but it was probably going to be a disaster that they had arrived when the sun was so hot. Florus wondered if he'd receive the brunt of the punishment if the trees ended up dying and Rufus lost his money. It wasn't his fault, but he didn't put anything past the Romans.

He'd planted the trees without waiting a second longer, and it wasn't until he was finished that he realized he hadn't eaten all day, and walked towards the kitchens, intent on grabbing himself a bowl of whatever slop they were serving today. Florus' journey was interrupted when he heard his slave name spoken, and he spun on his feet.

'It is,' he replied, an eyebrow raised before he recognized the other man. 'I know you,' he stated. 'You're from Longinus' household. Attis.' He didn't know what the other man was doing here, especially sitting down eating cakes, but he couldn't deny cake sounded better than slop.

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"Yeah," Attis said with a wry grin and a shrug. "Got time for a cake?" He lifted the chipped plate in invitation.

Life sucked sometimes, but it was much better with friends, and if Attis couldn't see his own, then he could make new ones (had that not even occurred to Longinus? Attis had never found it too hard to make friends, after all).

"It's just a quick break, for lunch. Not that we're supposed to get lunch, probably. But they got burned and it's been a long morning, so there we are. Fresh honey-cake."

His grin was more genuine as he shifted aside to make room for the other man to join him, if he wanted. "You're the gardener, aren't you? It looks good, the garden."

 

@Ejder

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Florus looked around, scanning the area for Romans or other slaves, before he decided to sit down next to Attis. He still didn't know what the other man was doing in his new domus, as he hadn't offered an explanation. Surely there was a reason. Slaves didn't just pop up at random in different villas just for the fun of it. Had Longinus pulled the same trick on Attis as he had with Florus? He was a gardener, though, he had his use. What was Attis' talent? He couldn't seem to recall. Then again, he'd never really tried to get close to anyone when he was in Longinus' household. Plants were more interesting than people.

Florus wanted to accept the cake, but he was vaguely suspicious of the other man. How did a slave earn himself a honey cake? And not only the one, two of them? Them being burned was a sensible explanation, and easily verifiable.

'I won't say no,' he replied. 'If you were allowed to take them.' Florus kept his head low at all times. He wasn't keen on getting in trouble, least of all for stealing. He was still guarded around Attis, but the compliment about his gardens, his gardens, made an insuppressible smile appear on his face. A large, genuine one.

'Gratitude,' he said.

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"You can ask Betua if you want, but they won't keep warm for long and if you won't have one, I'm perfectly happy to have both. Anyway, once they're gone, there's no evidence of anything." He shrugged, and grinned. The other slave was obviously still trying to place him from when he'd been at Longinus'. "I'm Cassius Longinus' body slave - or at least, I was until I let my mouth run away with me once too often. He figured it'd be easier to punish me for it by sending me here for a while."

He tipped his head to the side as something occurred to him. "Do you miss it there?" he asked, nonchalantly, offering the plate again.

It was nice to sit, for a short while, and the gardens did look good. Attis' smile gre wry as he thought what destruction he would have wreaked if Titus Sulpicius had put him to work here rather than the kitchen (at least it didn't matter what the parsley looked like when chopped up so long as it was small enough for Betua to stir into whatever sauce she was making with it).

 

@Ejder

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Florus silently weighed his options. Even as Attis introduced himself better, the gardener didn't know how much stock he stored by the body slave. And if anyone saw them, could he be in trouble for fraternizing with a mouthy slave? Navigating the world of slavery wasn't easy, and it was a lot more trouble than Florus cared for. If he could be in his garden and never have to interact with another person for a thousand years, it would be too early.

'I'll have a cake,' he decided, reaching out for one of the two. He broke off a piece and ate it. Yes, burnt. Still tasty, though, and definetely better than slop. The Romans probably ate honey cake everyday.

'What did you do to get sold off?' Maybe it was a risky question, but Florus' curiosity was now piqued.

 

@Sharpie

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"Didn't get sold - thank Jupiter! I got lent, though I don't know when I'll go back so it may as well have been sold." Attis broke a bit off the other honey-cake. "I told Cassius Longinus something I shouldn't have said - or rather, in a way I shouldn't have said it." He shrugged. "You'll get used to me, maybe. I'm the snarky one." Did Britons even understand sarcasm? Attis had no clue, even after all the time he'd spent in Britannia with Longinus.

"I'm supposed to be here to learn to mend my manners - at least, around free people." Titus Sulpicius Rufus could learn not to be so uptight, though - he probably hadn't had his leg over anything good in years, if ever. And horses didn't count.

The gardener had been part of Longinus' spoils from Britannia, Attis was almost sure of that, but he hadn't had much to do with the slaves Longinus had claimed as his own personal spoils of war.

"How have you been finding it?" he asked, trying to keep his Latin simple, just in case Florus' language skills weren't as good as he thought.

 

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Florus raised an eyebrow at Attis' story. Did slaves usually simply get lended out like this? He hadn't been a slave for a very long time, but it seemed to him before he'd met any of his domine, that masters found other ways to punish misbehaving slaves. Generally they involved violence. The Romans were generous in that aspect, at least.

He ate another piece of cake, and looked at the bush beside him. There were bees buzzing about the small yellow flowers. They seemed satisfied.

'Lent,' he repeated, unconvinced still. It just sounded odd to him. At any rate, Attis was lucky not to have been punished further. 'What exactly did you say?'

His thoughts were brought back to his garden when a bee landed on the piece of cake he was holding. Was it too much to wish for that there was a burnt honey cake everyday? Probably.

'Rufus, you mean?' Attis probably wasn't asking for his general opinion on slavery, although Florus did have a lot of feelings about that particular topic.'I have free reign of the gardens,' he said proudly. He was the reason they were beautiful. Well, him, and Rufus' seemingly endless pool of resources.

 

@Sharpie

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Attis sighed. "I gave him the finger. I never have before, and I don't know what made me think it might be a good idea then. Slaves shouldn't swear at their masters, it's not a good look. Because it means that the master will end up punishing the slave who does. I'm here because I messed up, like I said."

He had another bite of cake. "It looks really good - the garden, I mean. You're more skilled than I am, I end up killing plants."

 

@Ejder

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Florus briefly looked at the other man with surprise. Did Attis not value his life? There had been a point, when he had been captured, where he himself had expressed exactly what he thought about the Romans, and about being enslaved. They had not liked it. The beatings had been so severe that he'd suffered two broken ribs. He'd been lucky that the healing process hadn't been too arduous. Extremely lucky. Had Attis never shared such a fate that he thought he could just do whatever he pleased and not suffer any consequences? It was akin to madness, in a way. Florus wasn't sure Attis was lucky. One day, he would meet a Roman who would crucify him.

'Messing up is one way to put it,' he said lightly. He had some more cake. 'It does.' He was proud of what he'd done. The gardens were lush and beautiful. 'I do come from a family of farmers,' he said. That helped a lot. He knew how plants worked, what they needed, and how to keep them happy.

 

@Sharpie

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Attis couldn't hold back a laugh. "I've been with him for ten years, and with his family for... eight or nine years before that. Something like that, anyway. I was born a slave, and - Well, you get to know where the line is when you've been a slave that long. I just crossed it, that's all." Once, in a lifetime.

"It's got to be different, from farming, though. And in Britannia, too."

He'd been with Longinus in Britannia for most of those ten years, and it was strange trying to get used to Italia again, with the bright sunshine, vivid colours and the heat. He wondered idly if he somehow had more in common with the barbarian-born gardener that he was talking to than he did a native-born slave like some of Titus' house slaves.

"I think... Well, I'm his body slave, or I was, at least. That means I was close to him, the line was in a bit of a different place. I wouldn't say the same sort of things to Sulpicius Rufus, anyway, and not just because he's not the same sort of person my master is."

 

@Ejder

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Florus managed to hide his shock at the other man's words with some skill. Attis couldn't be that much older than he was —ten years, maybe? He couldn't imagine serving a master for that long, couldn't imagine being born into slavery, having known nothing else. He couldn't imagine himself serving Rufus, or any master for that long. Couldn't imagine himself being a slave for the rest of his life. He found that the cake tasted sour in his mouth, when it had previously been so sweet.

He didn't comment on it. What could he say, really? That he was sorry Attis' life had been terrible?

'It is different,' he agreed. 'And the weather makes it so I have to adapt everything to Roman conditions, whereas in Britannia, we had actual winters.' The weather in Britannia made sense. Four seasons, each one very different in what it brought. Here, it was always hot, even when all the Romans and all the other slaves were moaning about the cold. Here there wasn't really any snow, and there wasn't really a winter that was synonymous with the death of all things. That last part was the only advantage he could see about being in Rome.

'I prefer not being close to any of them,' he said. The Romans, the other slaves... Florus could just be left in his own world. 'My gardens allow me that.'

 

@Sharpie

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Attis shivered at the memory of those British winters. Cold and wet or cold and snowy... There were days he was surprised that he hadn't had anything snap off in the cold, though by the end of it his master had been living in a stone-built fort with proper heating in every building (or at least, in the major ones, which had included the master's quarters). 

"It's not all bad here," he said sympathetically, having noticed the other's momentary look of shock. He didn't know Sulpicius Rufus well enough to guess at what Florus' chances of freedom would be in the future,but he didn't seem the sort who'd not give his slaves the chance to earn it, or peculium to save up to buy it. 

"I just thought you might like a friendly face you could talk to on occasion," he said. "Everyone needs a friend, after all."

 

@Ejder

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Florus nodded in response, though he very much doubted the truth of Attis' words. What could possibly be worse than a lifetime of servitude? A life of slavery, where he wasn't free to do as he pleased, where he'd been swept away to a land that wasn't his own, without having been asked for his opinion? A life where he was considered someone else's property? He had to admit, though, that as far as slaves went, he was still rather blessed. That much, he knew. He could have ended up in the mines. There were probably other slave occupations that were a death sentence. His was a life sentence. The cage was golden, and it was beautiful, but it was still a cage. And he still had a brand on his arm.

'It's appreciated,' he said. 'Gratitude.' He seldom really stopped to talk to any of the other slaves. They all knew one another, and they had their own thing going on. Florus was in his own world, one where the only thing that mattered was plants. And it suited him, really, as he didn't really know what to say to other people, but all the same, if Attis was offering to be a friend, he didn't think he should refuse. It wasn't like he had any of those.

 

@Sharpie

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"It's not bad," Attis said. "Or, rather, it doesn't have to be. And just because you're a slave now doesn't mean that you always will be. Sulpicius Rufus isn't the sort to not give peculium to his slaves, and you can save that up until you can buy yourself. And you're in the house here, where he can see you and your work."

Which meant that his chances of eventually being freed were much higher than they would have been otherwise. 

"And in the meantime, you don't have to worry about where you're going to sleep, or what you're going to wear, or to eat."

@Ejder

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Florus nodded, though he didn't believe a word Attis said. There was nothing that was not that bad about being enslaved. Anyone who thought otherwise was deluding themselves. Maybe someone born into slavery, like Attis, could accept this state of things, but someone like Florus, who had lived most of his life in freedom, refused to resign himself.

'Indeed,' he replied, forcing himself to eat more of the cake. He hadn't eaten anything yet today; he needed to sustain himself somehow until the evening meal. 'What's it like?' He asked, suddenly curious. 'Being a body slave.'

 

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"Things aren't always as bad as they look," Attis said. "What matters is what you choose to do about something - how you react, I mean, mostly, but actions help, too. And cake never hurts, either."

He leaned back, finding a pillar behind him to lean against. "It's... all right. You spend a lot of time with the master, wherever he goes, and for those not used to that, I suppose that can get...wearing. You don't get much time to yourself because you're always at the master's beck and call, more than most slaves, so it can get tiring." He shrugged. "I've got used to all that, though. Why are you asking?"

The question was a genuine one, asked out of curiosity. Titus Sulpicius Rufus already had a body slave, one who (from everything Attis had seen) was good at his job... and yet who watched Florus with a lost look on his face every time the two of them crossed paths.

Which was... interesting.

 

@Ejder

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Florus nodded in agreement, though he still didn't agree. On a day like today, though, when the sun was shining almost cruelly in a sky so blue it made one queasy, cake was indeed good. Not enough to make him feel better about being a slave —no cake would ever do that— it was still a nice moment in what was still a nice day. 'It's good cake,' he said. And for the part about having a good attitude, he thought he wasn't doing too badly. He made the most of the gardens, and they kept him content. In light of his situation, it was the best he could do.

'I was curious. I suppose I don't understand how a person enslaved could want to be so close to their captor.' He sure didn't want to spend more time with the Roman than was strictly necessary. He didn't understand the loyalty people like Attis and Tranquillus could feel towards their masters. 'I suppose another of your duties is to be your dominus' eyes and to report to him on everything,' he added, thinking about Tranquillus. 'You watch over what other slaves are doing.'

 

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"Tell Betua - get on the right side of the cook if you can, always, and life is so much easier," Attis said, happy to share one bit of wisdom. He would lay good money that Longinus had never seen this side of him - Longinus liked his snarky side, but there was more to him than that, and he generally only snarked with those who'd give it back. He didn't think the young gardener would understand or appreciate his sarcastic side, but that wasn't all there was to him.

"They're men, like anyone else," Attis replied. "And neither Sulpicius Rufus nor Cassius Longinus is my captor - strictly speaking, I don't have one; I was born into slavery, and not into Longinus' household, though I've been there most of my life. And no - I've never tattled on anyone. What sort of life would that be, if everyone tattled on everyone?"

He had another mouthful of cake, thinking. "Your Latin's good," he said eventually. "What do you understand by the word familia?"

 

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Attis' pointer was something Florus made a note of. He hadn't really spoken to Betua much, outside of bringing her whatever he had harvested from the hortus and the gardens, and he hadn't really planned on getting close to her —she was, after all, an old cooking woman, and he was a young gardening man, what could they possibly have in common?— but maybe it was a good idea indeed to stay in her good books.

'I don't know,' he replied. 'But that's what Tranquillus does. He comes here to observe while I'm working. I suppose Rufus wants a progress report of what I'm doing, though of course on a daily basis it can't be very interesting.' Plants didn't grow that quickly. And it was odd, really, how much interest the Roman seemed to be taking, if indirectly, in his gardens.

Florus was taken aback by Attis' next question. It was out of the blue, and his neutral expression briefly contorted into one of confusion. 'Parents,' he replied. 'A brother, a sister.' Balorix and Netelia. Balorix, who was dead, along with his father, and Netelia and his mother, who were probably also dead. 'Why do you ask?'

 

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"Does he?" Attis said, absorbing this knowledge and making a mental note to try to catch the older man at it. He didn't think much of Florus' chances at figuring out what the older man was doing - it might simply be that Sulpicius Rufus wanted a progress report, or it might be something else. The young gardener was very... young.

"Familia in Latin is more, though. It's all the people who live in the house. The master, the mistress, the daughter, the slaves. So, the master has a duty as well as rights - he's supposed to make sure we're fed, clothed, all that. You needn't be so terrified of him all the time, either."

Because, quite apart from anything else, Attis didn't think that Sulpicius Rufus was the sort of man who appreciated having his slaves shaking in fear whenever he was around.

"Be polite, don't talk unless he's talking to you - there's no need to be scared of him."

 

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Florus nodded, relieved Attis understood, yet the gardener was entirely misunderstanding the point. The etymological lesson was something else, though. He didn't think he agreed with the body slave on that one. Did he really believe Florus would ever be on board with thinking of the Romans as family? Never! That would never happen. The other slaves weren't his family either, but to think Attis believed the Romas would be that was an impossible pill to swallow, and highly offensive. He hid it well, though, preferring to let the other man talk and lead the conversation. That way, he wasn't furnishing any ammunition against himself to anyone.

'I've seen Romans beating one of my kinsmen to death,' he said flatly. 'There is a need, and good reason to be afraid of them.' If Attis wasn't afraid, he was a fool. The Romans were dangerous. It was much like cuddling up to a leopard and then afterwards wondering why the leopard was eating your face. It was still a leopard.

'Maybe your experience has been different,' he added more lightly, vaguely preoccupied that his spoken anxieties might be a reason for him to get in trouble.

 

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"Maybe," Attis allowed. "But the people living here aren't soldiers - most of them haven't seen any soldiers, after all. Well, unless they've seen the Praetorians - but nobody's allowed to wear armour or carry weapons inside the city." Trying to explain about the pomerium would tax even Attis.

"I'm not saying it's fun, or easy, or... anything like that. Just, that it's easier than you might think."

Of course Attis' experience had been different. He had been born into slavery, it was a state of being that he'd known all his life. He wondered sometimes what he would have done with himself if he'd been free - probably ended up toiling away in one of the booths down near the forum, making sandals or baskets or something equally vapid and necessary. And boring.

The slaves of a rich Roman like Sulpicius Rufus, or Cassius Longinus, had it far easier in so many ways than poor free people who had to struggle to feed and clothe themselves.

"Have you always been afraid of getting into trouble?" he asked, finishing up his honey-cake and licking his fingers.

 

@Ejder

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Attis' response was fair enough. He didn't understand how things worked here, and the body slave seemed to have a better understanding of how things were here. A lifetime of it would do this to someone. Hopefully it wouldn't happen to him. Florus would die before trying to defend the Romans and their way of life to anyone. Were you really as great a civilization as you claimed if everything you had ever achieved had been built on the backs of slaves?

'I was a farmer,' he replied, deliberately evading the question. 'There was no trouble to get into.' He had been free of his movements and actions, free to make his own choices, and mistakes, sometimes. He didn't answer to a master. He wasn't going to give Attis much more in the way of a response. This was his trauma, and he didn't want to talk about it.

 

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Hmm.

"You can tell me to fuck off, if you want, I won't be offended," Attis said, carefully pushing the cake-crumbs together into a pile in the middle of the dish. "Have you ever been in love?"

He had noticed the way that Tranquillus had been hanging around the garden but hadn't come to any real conclusions about it - yet. But he wasn't as oblivious about things as some people thought, and Tranquillus wasn't as impartial as he made himself out to be. It was a puzzle, but not much of one. Or at least, Attis didn't think it needed much putting together.

He'd been wrong about things before and wasn't going to come out and say anything because, well, he could be wrong, and if he wasn't it should be down to the two of them to sort out between them.

 

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