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A Tale of Two Cats


Beauty
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Nymphias was a little self-important now, if only because she had been promoted. No longer was she the whimpering little child that she was. She was a grown woman now. She was mature. At least, that’s what she thought. Now she even tried fashioning her hair in ways that appeared Roman-like, after much struggle and awkwardness, of course, and she prayed to their gods now, Helios had told her it was a good idea and if she continued to listen to him, she would be free in no time. Together, they would be married and have a humble number of seven children. After working many long hours, she was dismissed, giving Nymphias time to herself.

She walked with her head held high and tried to adopt older mannerisms. She had been promoted, after all. This was how promoted individuals behaved. Rome was hot now, so hot that she felt her skin bubbling and the air around her was thick. Wandering through the domus, her gaze fell onto a familiar figure. When she first met Zia, she had looked up to the woman, even wanted to be like her, she had seemed so confident despite enslavement, but as time went on, Nymphias’ wasn’t sure anymore. She did not have a single cruel bone in her body and hoped in some small way, they could one day become friends. And she was promoted now, who was she to fear anyone?

“Zia,” Nymphias said, playing with her fingers, for a moment her “mature” façade disappeared, showing her youth and evident nervousness. “What are you doing now? I want to ask you something. It is very important.” In reality, the thought just popped into her head. “Are you free?”

@Sara

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Zia didn't care for a single person in the domus, perhaps, maybe, the youngest of her captors children. She enjoyed the chaos that little Valeriana doled out and especially enjoyed encouraging it. But everybody else? Should the earth fall down on them tomorrow, Zia was unsure whether she'd be able to muster much more than a simple 'thats a shame' and move on with her day. That judgement also extended to the skittish blonde haired girl she'd been studiously ignoring since her arrival into the house. Not that Zia socialised much anyway, but she went out of her way to ignore the younger woman. She had no time or need for optimists. 

"I'm working." She retorted to the question. That might be a stretch. She was currently sat on the couch in the triclinium, ostensibly 'picking fluff from their exteriors' but mainly just reclining. "What do you want, little girl?" Important for Nymphias? Well, that could be anything from a life or death situation to concern over the colour of her dress. Not that Zia cared either way. Still, she sighed and shrugged, gesturing for the other woman to join her on the opposing sofa as if it were her house they were in. 

"What is it?" 

 

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Little girl? Nymphias was a woman now! She opened her mouth and then closed it, taken aback but immediately felt every bit of courage she built in the last few months become nothing more than an image in her mind because of another woman’s tongue. Ever since the woman’s arrival, Nymphias felt a distance between them and couldn’t understand what she had done to offend Zia. Nymphias was so used to a loving family and friends back in Britannia that when met with the fury of anyone, she was at a lost.  But Zia’s behaviour might’ve been because she was frightened, thought Nymphias, the way Nymphias had been when she first arrived and felt alone. Nymphias had been miserable herself in the beginning.

Noticing the gesture, Nymphias beamed happily, eyes shining with joy, and joined the older woman, sitting down opposite from Zia. Nymphias’ hands came together tightly to stop herself from trembling. Nymphias kept gawking at the older woman, her eyes following the way her face curved and her powerful eyes. She was so beautiful and seemed so mature. She didn’t know a single thing about Zia and didn’t think the woman knew anything about her in return but it didn’t stop Nymphias.

“It’s very important,” repeated Nymphias. “I want to get naked with you and go to the baths. The ones for slaves. Just us.” It was a thought that randomly entered her mind but reasoned it was the best way they could get to know one another and the water would be cool against their skin in this weather, wouldn’t it? They could even braid each other’s hair, she thought, giggle together, even go shopping for pretty things and stay up late together talking about men. “It would be good for us to be friends because we can make each other very happy, we are the same. Romans are… good people but not our friends. Do you know what I mean?” She wasn’t the most fond of Romans but tried to be subtle. How could she forget how they killed her brother and took her family, including Erea, from her?

@Sara

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Zia choked, and frowned. She knew men in Rome had a looser view of same-sex relations than they did in Dacia, and she supposed it might be the same for women but she was not in the least bit interested in the tiny blonde thing standing in front of her. She folded her arms across her chest defensively as if to make a point. "No." She retorted and went back to laying down. Every now and again she reached her fingers to pick a little more fluff and dust from the fabric (see? She was working.) before returning to fold her arms again. 

"Romans are not good people." She retorted with a frown. Why on earth with the blonde think they were? Half of her wanted to shoo the naive fool away and get some peace, but ever the strategist, Zia saw an opportunity here. With a sly smile that she tried to make look welcoming, she inclined her head for the other girl to sit down. "Tell me...Nymphias, how did you end up in Rome?" Lets start gentle, she thought. Manipulation was always easier when one took their time. It wasn't something to rush. 

 

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The woman’s “no” sounded like a definite answer, what with the way she choked. Nymphias frowned, she had imagined an outing with just the two women, becoming very good friends while they both spoke about things, primarily love because, at Nymphias’ age, that was mostly all she thought about. Zia was right on one thing, the Romans weren’t good people. Except one but he felt like a dream. Still, she had to be fair, the Romans seemed to have eyes and ears everywhere. For the most part. They seemed a little slow with noticing her meetings with Helios, which was for the best.

A wide smile, Nymphias sat down as instructed. Nymphias enjoyed being in the presence of an older woman after tending to her masters’ children, even if the elder was closer in age to her. Being near to Zia made Nymphias somehow feel more mature already and watched her behaviour curiously, intent on imitating.

“I was stolen by men,” she mumbled. She often avoided those memories, they were still quite raw and felt nauseous with the thought of her abduction. “I don’t remember all of it anymore. It all happened instantly like this…” She snapped her fingers. “I think my village burned down and the Romans attacked. I lost my family but my sister is in Rome as a slave too. I don’t know about my mother or brother. What about you? What was your life like before Rome?” This was a conversation she didn’t want but supposed it was one of the steps to forming a friendship.

@Sara

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Zia narrowed her eyes. A similar story to a hundred others, she was sure. Poor wretch. She herself was aggrieved at being a slave but she knew the situation would not last forever and she had enough wits to ensure she flourished. The naive young girl in front of her seemed to have no such skill - she'd probably spend the rest of her miserable life parroting 'yes domine' and 'no domine' until she dropped dead of exhaustion at forty. Ah well, it couldn't be helped. 

"If they did that to you, stole you, burnt your village, took your brother and sister and your mother, why do you," She gestured to the very romanesque hairstyle that sat on her head, "Dress like that? Why do you try and imitate them? They're barbarians, and it'll only get worse for you." She tutted and shook her head, "You're pretty, one of them will have you in their bed before long, even if you don't want them." She shrugged and then narrowed her eyes at the girl, "You have been with a man before, of course?" If she hadn't, that was even more valuable. Virgin slave girls, pretty ones especially, had fetched a pretty price in Dacia when she had been a woman of import. She suspected it was the same here.

At the second question though, Zia grinned that feline, conniving smile of hers and tossed her long hair over her shoulder. "I was married to a chief of a tribe." Well, only in the last few moments of her freedom given her husband was a younger son and only had assumed the chieftaincy after the death of his father and brother in battle. Still. "I was a very important woman, Nymphias, slaves of my own, lots and lots of gold - a son, and a husband." She smiled wistfully. Those were the days. Her face fell into a frown though and she rolled her eyes, "And then our domine came." 

 

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As Zia gestured, Nymphias lowered her head, feeling her cheeks grow warm with embarrassment. Helios had said it was a good idea for her to show interest in the Roman gods. She believed taking a farther step would allow her more freedom. She didn’t know who to listen to now, both spoke with confidence and reason, and she was still so young and inexperienced, she knew that much and her siblings weren’t there to guide her. She raised her head upon hearing “you’re pretty” and smiled, feeling at last like she had won Zia’s approval, but it soon faltered, hearing the rest. Her arms hugged her middle in revulsion.

She shook her head furiously at Zia’s question. Should she have been? Erea had been married at seventeen, Nymphias was almost there. Her domine seemed fairly disinterested, which was a good thing, and the men on the ship to Rome, they had tried to fondle and threaten her, but nothing had, thankfully, come of it. The thought still left her with sickness and upset. In Nymphias’ opinion, sharing one’s body with someone had to be a magical experience, not one of force.

“I think it almost happened but I wasn’t ready,” Nymphias explained quietly but that was all she was keen to share. “And I am sorry about your life. All we can do now is pray now, perhaps we can pray together later tonight when you are free? I will pray for you too. Before bed, I mean. I think the gods like listening to people when they are sad.” Nymphias’ hands came together. The fact that Zia had once been important had Nymphias in awe, clearly impressed. Zia was now not only beautiful to her but smart and important. Her brows furrowed in confusion not long after, however. “A son? I haven’t seen any child here… And I haven’t heard anything about a husband before this… What happened?” Her heart dropped, was she about to not like what she heard? 

@Sara

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Almost happened? Whilst here in Rome? That was useful information to store for later but she could tell by the way she wrapped her arms about herself she didn't wish to discuss it and Zia - for once - was in no mood to pry. She knew what it was like to be forced, and have that agency taken away from her and she didn't wish to relieve it. If the girl was referring to something similar, which she may well be doing, Zia respected that and wouldn't pry. Interesting, though.

She couldn't help the little snort of derision though, at the thought of praying together. "And which Gods do you pray to Nymphias? I'm not worshipping their bloody Gods." What a preposterous thing to think she'd do. She didn't doubt their power, the Roman Gods, but she was hardly going to get on her knees for them. She was about to explain her own Gods when the girl continued and she suddenly felt the chill come over her at the mention of Luto. Poor, sweet, Luto. She felt sick to her stomach. "Domine took him from me, took them both from me. He lets me see my son sometimes, but not often and won't tell me where he is but I know he's a slave." She felt revulsion rise in her again. "He's...five, just five, and already a slave. Can you imagine that? And my husband is a slave elsewhere, but he bloody loves it, the fucking idiot." She waved a hand. Diegis loved the limelight, he adored it in fact, and it was a constant source of arguments now that he seemed to be in his element. He should be a fucking chief, not a fucking slave.

She tugged her hair behind her ears, and leaned in. She placed a hand on the girls shoulder. Sometimes, one needed to employ a little kindness to reap better rewards. "Do you understand how heartbreaking that is for me? To be separated from my son? And domine did that to me, just out of spite..." She squeezed the girls shoulder, and gently enquired in a sickly sweet voice; "How old are you Nymphias? You may not have had a man but you had family you said? And they are gone? How can Romans be good when they hurt us so much?"

 

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Nymphias lowered her head like a wounded animal, ashamed and conflicted. It was obvious in how she behaved which gods she prayed to now. Helios had mentioned praying to the Roman gods and so, Nymphias had done just that. Just as she was told. It was quite simple to plant an idea in Nymphias’ head and see it grow days or weeks later.

Her stomach knotted upon hearing Zia’s story and frowned, fiddling with her thumbs uncomfortably. She couldn’t believe that their domine would do such a thing. After all, he had a younger daughter himself, somewhere around the age of five. The thought of a little boy with limited rights, possibly suffering made Nymphias upset, even if it wasn’t her child. A hand on her shoulder and then a squeeze, Nymphias kept her gaze on Zia, her expression serious.

“Sixteen,” she said quietly, utterly disturbed by what she just been told. It certainly wouldn’t leave her mind, especially when seeing the man with his own children. She didn’t know how anyone could separate family. Her eyes began to water, mostly for Zia and her child. “My sister is somewhere in Rome, she is a slave like me. I don’t know about my mother or brother, I haven’t seen or heard anything for a long time. My father fought the Romans and died when I was small.” She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. She didn’t know what to think or believe anymore. She knew the Romans weren’t friends but she didn’t want to make an enemy of them either, not when they held all the power. To her, there was nothing she could do except keep her head down. “Maybe we can tell domina? Maybe she will help you get your son back? I think she would listen…” Her voice trailed, uncertain. Zia would probably have a better idea.

@Sara

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Sixteen. How on earth could a girl still be this naive at sixteen. She had been married by then, and with child - although it didn't last, of course. She made a perfect slave though, Zia had to give the girl that; had she been Dacian, Zia would have snapped her up for one of her own slaves back home. And sheared off that lovely blonde hair as well for a wig or two. She had to give Titus and Valeria some credit; they'd certainly picked this one well. 

She tried to feign sadness for the girl at the story of her family, but she sincerely felt that losing a brother or a parent was in a whole different league to losing a child - even if they weren't dead. Nonetheless, she gave the girls shoulder a reassuring squeeze and offered a kind smile at her suggestion; "Oh I'm more than sure domina knows about it and agrees; she was in Dacia with domine when it all happened." Whether Valeria knew the intricacies was another question, but she didn't doubt the odd woman would support her thick-headed sap of a husband in whatever monstrous decision he deigned. Idiots. 

"But you shouldn't worry about me," She said with a wry smile and a little shake of her head. "You should worry about you. You must have a plan, surely, for how to get out of this? How to free yourself?" Zia had about twenty different variations about how to free both herself and her son (presently, Diegis could rot in the ludus for all she cared), although she was still figuring out which one to action.

 

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Nymphias’ lips thinned, becoming nothing more than a line on her face. She couldn’t understand how their domina could allow for a young child to be separated from his mother and still go to bed at night, let alone kiss hers goodnight. The news would be haunting Nymphias for many days and only further displayed to her as to why she had to keep her time with Helios quiet, if only not to suffer any more than she already had being away from family or to face Zia’s same fate. Helios had warned her, after all. After some time, she nodded slowly and gently.

“I do,” she said nervously playing with her fingers, her voice a little quiet. Her eyes darted left and right, frightful that anyone, even other the slaves, could be listening in. Still, she was one of the luckier ones, she came to realise, she had met Azarion who had scars and had lost his tongue, likely from misbehaving. Her voice dropped to that of a whisper. “I have been planning to do everything the Romans tell me to so then they will eventually let me go.” She then lowered her head, a little embarrassed and her face flushed. “But also I am hoping a friend helps me become free. I think he wants to be free and I think he would help me, he knows a lot of things about Rome.”

She couldn’t say anymore than that, Helios had told her to keep silent about them. “I don’t think I can become free by myself,” she said honestly, she knew she was hardly as clever as those older or more experienced than her, and she often looked to them for guidance on how to think and act. “But I think when I become smarter like him and free, I will free my sister too and then find my mother and brother. How about you, what are your plans? Do you think we can help each other? We are stronger together than divided, aren’t we?”

@Sara

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Zia stared dumbfounded at the girl before a confused frown settled on her forehead. "Why would they free a compliant, pretty little slave? If you do everything they tell you, you'll be stuck here forever." No - her plan(s) were much better. She just had to pick which one was most likely to secure her freedom and passage home again. She was momentarily distracted by her own ideas that she only caught the tail end of what Nymphias said. Something about a friend? A he?

She was going to press again but she continued blathering on. When she finally finished, enquiring about Zia's own plans, she reached out a finger and tapped the young girl on the forehead like a woman chiding a small and irritating puppy. "You do need to be smarter. You should never tell anybody your plans girl, who knows who I'd tell if I was so inclined? No, no my plans are staying with me until my last breath." She smirked and reclined again on the couch. 

"Who's this he that you were chattering about anyway? Not a lover, obviously." 

 

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