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Mid May 75 AD - in the street, near the Domus Venus

It was just another evening in the Domus Venus and Helios was waiting for his next patron to show up. He had been up all night last night, busy with patrons and clients and for some reason, he couldn’t sleep very well today. Which meant that tonight he was more tired than usual and now he sat in the main room of the brothel, dressed in a simple sleeveless tunica that he’d tossed over his head and with shining cuffs around each arm. His hair was put up in a high ponytail tonight, mostly pulled away from his face save for a few tresses for the sake of looks.

He hoped the next patron wouldn’t demand too much and at the same time, he hoped they’d stay all night. And give him both their body and a lot of stories about their lives. He had already had one tonight and he wasn’t feeling up to that much. Maybe he was getting too old for this shit. He really needed to do more with his life. Dareios made him realize this, a few years back and he had not stopped thinking about it since. Freedom was a thing in his near future, he hoped.

He watched with a cup of wine in his hand, as another client walked through the door and spoke with the matron. He wanted a girl. And girls were lined up and the man selected one and off they were. Helios hadn’t been lined up with others like that in years; he wasn’t that young anymore and he could offer more than just a body. He was more a courtier than an actual prostitute these days, but most people didn’t know the difference. On top of that, he collected secrets and sold them either to his mistress or to other people willing to pay for them. Secrets could be very valuable. Knowledge was valuable... and Helios was lucky enough to have a good memory.

Helios emptied his wine and let the matron know that he would be on the streets for a bit, hoping to find work and a useful and interesting client or something like it, out there instead. Near the Domus Venus he leaned against a wall, watching everyone who walked by and hoped to catch someone’s eye or see someone interesting to follow.

((the thread is open, but please let me know first before you join))
((the date is not set in stone, can be changed to June or April))

Edited by Atrice
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At forty years old, Antonia's life had reached a point where she was less busy on a personal level while still making more money than ever.  Her business (well, Minor's business, really) was flourishing yet again.  Her children were old enough to start curating their own social circles.  Minor, in particular, was starting to look at a military career to bolster a potential political one.  Her daughter was more interested in meeting with her friends and spending the night at their homes, gossiping and trying new cosmetic trends, than clinging to her mother's skirts.  With Clemens dead, Antonia had also noticed a slowing of contracts she received through her liaisons requesting assassinations that she needed to read and approve of.  

Delegation, it turned out, was the key to have a life of riches and being able to enjoy them. 

But there was one thing Antonia could not always bring herself to delegate to the Lovers or to Vanessa and that was the duty of patrolling the streets of Rome, looking for abandoned infants (and sometimes toddlers) in the alleys.  

This night, Antonia was sleepless and a sleepless Antonia found it easier to be productive than lay around and wait for sleep to reluctantly come for her.  Putting on her less expensive clothing, the widowed Equite covered her head with a dark red hood and went on her way.  Soon enough she found herself, sandals clapping against the stone street, near the Domus Venus, eying its patrons as they drunkenly bull-rushed in or left with clear satisfaction. 

Technically, the Domus Venus was not a competitor for Antonia's group.  Her women were trained in more than just sex.  They prided themselves on providing a deep sense of comfort and affection to their clientele, who paid steep prices for the services.  Some clients just wanted to hear music played peacefully while they talked about their concerns.  Others wanted sex, of course, but also to feel loved and listened to.  For men with darker cases, such as one client who liked to physically spar with his partner before making rough love to her, Antonia had women who enjoyed that sort of thing immensely.  

Those same women, however, also knew several ways to kill a man if necessary and some preferred that far more than sleeping with them.

Antonia paused a moment longer, staring at the building, noting where she would expand or renovate.  Then, seeing a man leaning against a nearby wall, she adjusted her hood to ensure it shielded the top half of her face from view.  "Any abandoned children left nearby tonight?  Any babies' cries been heard or toddler's wails?" she asked, her voice smooth and soft as it emerged from the dark recess of her hood.  The only part visible, her mouth and chin, has traces of cosmetics still applied.  Her lips were a crimson red.  Her chin smooth and even in complexion.   From where her neck peeked out from the wrappings of the cloak and hood, a flash of silver could be seen.  

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Helios was almost getting bored, when a red hooded woman walked near him. He had been standing here for a while, watching who came and left and made a mental note every time he saw someone of importance enter. He had seen quite a few interesting Senators and one even gave him a smile, but also proceeded into the building rather than lingering near Helios outside. Perhaps the man would prefer it to be more private and didn’t want the world to know he was interested in a blonde male prostitute like Helios.

So instead he still stood here and was now approached by this woman in the crimson hood. She stopped in front of him, apparently careful to not be recognized, judging by how she’d allowed her hood to provide shade for half her face. Her red lips were visible though and lush they were. Helios looked at her with an interested smile, before she suddenly began talking about abandoned children. What?

“No, I haven’t heard any…” Helios replied, a bit surprised by her question to be honest, but he had her near and he best try and keep her. She seemed interesting, “Are you looking for someone in particular? One of your own?” Children were sometimes kidnapped, although it wasn’t something you heard about very often. But you never knew. Why else would she be asking?

@Riv

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Antonia regarded the man coolly, her bright blue eyes taking in his features and marking the attractiveness.  Then, with a glance over her shoulder to the Domus Venus, marked his proximity to the building.  Was he an employee?  Certainly too attractive to be a simple water fetcher for the men and women working.  But too young to just be tossed off to any client with an itch to scratch.  If he was an employee, he was too experienced to be considered unpolished by this point.  Hopefully, she thought, his cut of the proceeds had gone up with his age.  Regardless, he clearly still had some time left in him.

Or was he a patron?  Antonia took in his hair, his pose against the wall, his expression and hastily discarded that idea.  This man seemed too sexual in energy to be a patron.  Or, at least, his sexual energy wasn't the type sported by those who needed to chuck a coin to relieve their urges.  No, he seemed the type to have them approach him and request his services.  He wasn't a hunter.  He was a lion, the type that stayed put and waited for his interest to come to him.

Interesting.

Her corners of her mouth almost twitched into a smile beneath her hood.  "No one in particular and definitely not one of my own," she explained, her voice still calm and even as she answered the question.  "Fortunately, mine are too old to forget their way in Rome and they're likely too big for someone to think of kidnapping them easily."  She thought of someone trying to steal her daughter, Livia Caelia, and almost laughed at the idea.  Livia Caelia would likely think it romantic and imagine a life in which she married her kidnapper and turned him in a good, hard-working Roman citizen who only desired to build a home and family with her.  No doubt the captors would either find it as irritating as Antonia did and give her back or they'd seal her mouth shut during the kidnapping so they didn't have to listen to her whimsical fancies.

Minor, on the other hand...Well, he could very much take care of himself.  His education in combat and physical traits would ensure that.  Her children, in other words, were quite safe.

"I own a...business," Antonia admitted, "And we like to take in abandoned children, educate them, and then, once they're older, offer them employment in exchange.  Ah, but not as prostitutes.  Usually as eyes and ears.  Once they're much older, they can make a choice of whether they desire to stay with us or go and make their own way.  If they stay, we offer them options as to which positions they can take.  If they don't, we give them a little starter to begin their lives as good, productive citizens of the Empire."  She spoke frankly, comfortable that her hood concealed her face well enough.  In any case, if he did see her and recognize her, it wasn't as if the gossip hadn't already made the rounds: Antonia Vitellia knows more than any well-bred Roman woman should.  Antonia Vitellia acquires information the way other women acquire baubles or dresses.  Antonia Vitellia is a dangerous mind with equally dangerous ears.

"The gender does not matter," she continued, "Just that the babe still draws breath, no matter how shaky.  We have our ways of making them hale and healthy again."  She looked at him again for a second of silence. 

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Underneath her crimson cloak and hood, he could make out a fancy looking chiton of some sort. This woman was definitely not poor and she was such a contrast to Helios, who wore just his sleeveless undyed tunica and the shining cuffs on his arms. The hood itself showed her status, such a bright red color was difficult to produce and even harder to keep that beautiful. And her skin, what he could make out of it, looked smooth and not worn. He had no idea about her age, but he wondered why she asked about children and hoped he could get her to think of other things. His mistress would prefer that he made some money, after all.

He felt that she examined him, although he could not quite make out her eyes. There was a long silence, before she said she didn’t look for anyone in particular and then she spoke about her own kids, who were apparently a great deal older than toddlers.

“I see.” Helios said, while he wondered why she’d tell all this to a stranger? But he paid attention and was thinking about an idea to make her useful. He should like to talk more to her. She seemed smart. Now she continued talking, about a business she owned, that took in abandoned children to raise them to become… some sort of spies. Interesting, he thought. If only he’d been taken in by a business like that, when he came to Rome as a child. But instead, he ended up with first a private household and then here at the brothel.

“You sound like a remarkable woman, doing such things for the poor children.” Helios said. He knew little about children and didn’t have much experience with them at all, but it was impressive that she would do such things.

“Perhaps you’d like to tell me more elsewhere… instead out here in the street. I’m a very good listener. You can come with me inside… or, if you’d rather prefer we go elsewhere, we can do that too.” Helios added with a small smile, he could be a very good listener and so much more. He mostly had male patrons that visited him, but there were a few women and he often found he enjoyed those more.

@Riv

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Antonia waved her hand in the air, dismissing his praise.  As she did, the bracelets on her wrist chimed together softly, muffled as they were by her delicately woven sleeves.  "Is it not the point of leaving the foundlings somewhere where people can come and take them in?  I just do it on a much larger scale.  I'm not one woman looking for just one more mouth to feed.  I'm a woman whose literal business is to create a better Rome than the one I was born into," she said, the passion in her voice causing the calm in it to seem disturbed.  She paused and then continued, softly, "Isn't it what anyone would have wanted, if discarded in the streets?  At least you'd have some sort of a chance.  I do the same with my slaves as well.  Once they have served me honorably and faithfully for a certain amount of time, I free them and give them a purse and some connections to start with.  No one should ever start with nothing when everyone around you has something."

It was, perhaps, radical thinking for a Roman, much less a female one, but Antonia felt it all the same.  Besides, how could Rome rise to it's highest zenith if its citizens were marred down by the ironies of fate?  She didn't understand those of her same social status or even monetary status.  The ones who saw the poor or the disenfranchised and merely walked past them while thinking poor things of them.  What had started when she freed her first slave over twenty years ago had become a personal philosophy for her.  Ironically, it was one she benefited from monetarily considering the children grew up to tell her information that she could then, in turn, sell to make a vast profit.  

"You're working," she said, glancing back at the Domus Venus, considering his offer though not in the way he likely expected.  "But I respect that four arms are better than two.  I'll pay you for your time if you join me on my lookout for any children left abandoned.  If any one asks, you can say that you were servicing a wealthy woman with extremely sensitive and demanding tastes."  Her mouth quirked again at the jest, honest though it was.  "I'll even pay an additional half of your pay if you keep it secret as to what exactly we were doing after."

She gave him a full smile now, revealing teeth that were white and even against the crimson fullness of her lips.  "So, what say you?  Want to have a bit of an adventure for a night with a woman you might never meet again?"

@Atrice

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She dismissed the praise with a wave of her hand, but then she spoke more of her business with the children and said she wanted to create a better Rome. How ambitious, Helios thought to himself. And at the same time, he somehow doubted she’d get very far with her plan. He’d lived in this area of Rome long enough to know that Rome had apparently been bad for a long time and probably would continue to be so. But she was still optimistic, he supposed that could be a good thing. She went on, saying she wanted to give people a chance and that included her slaves. This made Helios arch a brow, now more curious.

“You are certainly a kind mistress, to reward those that are loyal. The same I think can not be said about most other Romans, even the women.” The same could not be said about his own mistress. He had been here since he was 14, half his life had in fact now been spent in this house! And while Titania, his mistress, often dangled the idea and hope of freedom right in front of his nose, saying that soon it would happen, soon she’d do it… he had not seen the shadow of freedom yet. He could even purchase his freedom, but every time he brought it up, she was busy. It was getting tiresome. Helios knew he could do more with his life… if only he had the chance.

Then he had suggested to her they went elsewhere to talk, because he’d be happy to listen. He ought to work, after all, he was certain she understood. And she did – and offered payment for his time. Helios had serviced nobles as a courtier before, a companion and partner… like a fancy jewel you’d show off at a party. He could service this one too. She even mentioned further payment if he kept what they did after, a secret. For a price, any secret was safe with him. Until a higher bidder came along, of course, but they didn’t always.

“Your secret is safe with me, if…” He paused, leaning closer and speaking in a lower voice, “… if you can promise me the additional half will not see the hands of my mistress.” This was a good chance to add something to his own savings. If he was ever free, he might even be somewhat wealthy, with what he’d stashed away so far.

“I’d be a fool to say no to an adventure with an interesting domina.” Helios then said with a smile to her, bowing his head as an acknowledgment for a moment before he pushed away from the wall to come with her. She was tall, for a woman. Not that he minded, of course. Her lips were enough to make her lovely, so he wondered about the rest of her… “My name is Helios, by the way. And what may I call you?”

@Riv

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Well, she'd had his curiosity, but now she had his attention, Antonia noted with a twitch of the corners of her lips.  "Most other Romans forget that Rome was founded upon justice and what justice properly entails," she riposted to him, "Upon the rape of a woman, our people rose up and overthrew the Etruscans, created new laws, and created a new government.  It took an innocent woman's blood to give the men the rage they needed to get what was a long time coming and demand their due."  She paused and then said, "I always thought it was a pity that it took the spoiling of a young wife to goad the Romans into action against their masters, when they should have demanded it long before.  It's why I try to treat those in service with me fairly and justly.  'Tis what Rome was founded upon.  But I guess that story isn't the best to tell a slave or someone in service, is it?"  She smiled wryly at him, noting the irony that where she spoke of justice in the tale and how Rome should remember it's roots, it could always be used instead to inspire slaves to rise up against the Romans now.

A double-edged sword, indeed.

She paused in her movements, turned and looked at him straight on though he couldn't recognize it with her hood in the way.  "I promise to you that I'll give you that additional half to your hands and no one else's," she said solemnly, wondering at how it had needed to be said aloud.  Who was his master or mistress that such a bargain needed to be guarded against with a proper contract?  The story of Lucretia weighed heavily on the back of her tongue again and suddenly she found herself fighting the urge to walk into the Domus Venus and purchase the man's contract from the master or mistress of the damnable place.  Even her Lovers knew that to leave the Lovers was to leave with a fresh start where ever desired.

"You can call me Antonina," she said, using her childhood nickname and failing to give a proper family name.  It was perhaps too glib of her to give a name so dear to her, but, in truth, at forty years old, Antonia had accomplished much and felt safe in what she regarded as "her" city.  The amount of wealth her family owned in addition to the very real protection the Lovers gave her sometimes made her feel invincible.  Perhaps it was she, not those who received Triumphs, who needed someone to constantly whisper in her ear that she was mortal. 

"Now, onward to dark alleys and whimpering babies, shall we?" She chirped and adjusted her cloak, the wine red color parting slightly to reveal a slip of her modestly garbed waist.  "While we walk, tell me about your life.  Leave no detail out.  Are you Roman born or from far afield?  How did you end up at the Domus Venus of all places?" She glanced over her shoulder at him, gesturing with her hand for him to stand equal to her rather than behind.  While she spoke, her bright blue eyes continually scanned the darkness, intent on finding a still bundle or a flailing small limb.  Her ears strained for the lightest of wails that would clue her in to her goal.  

Beneath her feet, she felt the grime of the city, almost slipping her at times and, at least once, causing her to reach out to the wall nearest for purchase.  Someone would come through a clean them at some point, but for now, it was as treacherous for footing as a Pompeiian wine tasting after the twentieth round.

 

@Atrice

Edited by Riv
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Helios paid attention to her story about Rome’s foundation – honestly he did not know this story before. Helios was a slave and he was not even born in Rome. He never went to any kind of school and he did not have the same knowledge a freeborn Roman had – even this woman here knew more than he did, it would seem, but he was always willing to learn. And while she teased that it might not be the best story to share with a slave, he more took it to tell something about her than anything else. He offered her a smile in return, “What you choose to tell me, is up to you, Domina. And as long as the promised payment comes, I will keep anything you tell me, to myself.” He promised her. He was not one to rise up against the Romans anyway, he never had any desire or need to. All Helios wanted at this point in his life, was freedom and the chance to not be forced to offer his body to anyone willing to pay. That would be a step forwards.

She promised him the payment and even the payment straight to his own hands, while they were walking together and then he’d introduced himself. She did the same, saying her name was Antonina, which had him arch a brow. It was most likely her first name and Antonius was an old and well-known name in Rome. Helios did not know everything about Rome’s history, but who had not heard about Marc Antony, among others? It was not an uncommon name, Antonina, but he still thought it added to her rank. She was far from poor and clearly also intelligent.

“It is a pleasure to meet you and know your name… Antonina.” He said and then she went on, adjusting her cloak and asked him to tell about his life so far. She was actually interested in him? This was new. Who knew this night would turn out so… different, from his usual life?

“I am not Roman born, Domina. Or would you prefer I call you Antonina?” She did, after all, not appear to look down upon him and she’d already voiced how she treated slaves and such. He went on though, “I know I was born in Britannia and I have… distant memories of that.” Very distant and they mostly appeared when he slept and dreamt of the woman he assumed was his mother, before he had been torn away and brought to Rome, “I came to Rome at a young age and was bought by a noble household. I don’t remember the name anymore. I was a house slave, befriending the children of the house that were around my age. One of them was a girl and when we grew older… her father did no longer approve of our close friendship. So to punish me for my blonde hair, my blue eyes and my smile, he sold me to this life instead. And this is where I have been ever since.” He looked at her, wondering if she had not heard a similar story a thousand times before. A child, ripped from the arms of their mother and brought to Rome to live a life in servitude, where they could not make any choices themselves. And they could be sold if their master felt like it. They didn’t matter. It wasn’t exactly an unknown story, in Rome.

@Riv

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