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30th of June - The Earthquake

It was an early morning… actually, it was barely morning. Everyone in the entire household were asleep, not even the kitchen slaves or those taking care of the heating system were awake yet. Silence roamed the corridors and the chambers and Tertius was also asleep in his room together with Hector, always by his side now – at least when they were in here. In the last week, there had been light tremors to the ground. It had been shaking a few times, or perhaps more rattling, it wasn’t anything big and not something he hadn’t experienced before. To most people in Rome, these things weren’t entirely uncommon.

Tertius had of course made sure to sacrifice to the right gods and to his ancestors too, asked them for help, just in case something should happen. And nothing had happened and all seemed to be fine. Until now…

He woke up with a start, as the bed was shaking much. In fact, everything was shaking! It had been a warm night and he hadn’t cared to put on any clothes after sharing some pleasure with Hector, but now…

“Hector!” He literally shook his body slave’s arm, “Earthquake!” He exclaimed while he heard vases or jars of wine fall off tables and shatter and there was dust in the air from the walls or the roof. Tertius jumped out of the bed. His tunica still lay on the floor and he quickly pulled it over his head while thinking that this was more than just a light tremor! No one in the house would sleep through this, surely!

Tertius ran out of the room, “EVERYONE out into the peristyle!” He yelled. If one of the doorways gave in or the roof, people could die! Hopefully Hector was right behind him, also waking people up, while Tertius ran to Antonia’s room to get her up. And where in the name of Hades was Charis… oh, the child! Gods! Why were they angry?

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Teutus didn't register the first tremor, but the next startled him awake and he sat up, throwing the bedclothes aside. He reached for the tunic he had worn yesterday and pulled it over his head as he left the room, braving himself against the shaking of the floor. His father was already on his way to Antonia's room to get her and Teutus turned to wake Charis and make sure she got to the garden safely - being out from under the roof would save lives if, gods forbid, anything collapsed. 

"Charis! Outside, now - it's safe there," he said, entering her room, prepared to drag or carry her out if he needed to. 

 

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Charis had never experienced an earthquake. The inclement weather of Britannia had brought rain and storms, hail and thunder, snow and fog but never a shift of the earth. She had been sleeping soundly, even through Jocasta's snoring from the cot set up next to hers, but the movement of the earth - the rattling of the tiles - jolted her awake. For a moment she thought it was her - the morning sickness come back but tenfold worse and making the room spin, but the other two women's shrieks from next to her told her that was not the case. 

Dust swirled in the cramped cubiculum and petrified, Charis didn't know what to do. Jocasta and Eirene bolted for the door, legs flailing but wordlessly and Charis gawped open mouthed after them. She pulled her blanket up tighter over herself and braced herself against the wall. It was not the most sensible of plans, however, as the plaster began to crack - sending filaments down on her, cutting her arms which were raised to protect her face. 

Not usually one for grand displays of emotion she nonetheless couldn't help the screams of sheer terror that left her lips. She didn't see Teutus until he was standing in front of her, urging her to get up and she glanced at him with wide, terrified eyes. She nonetheless allowed herself to be pushed from the room as bits of dust and plaster swirled in the air. "Wh-what's happening?" She choked to him as they made their way through the house, blood dribbling down her arms - wrapped tightly around her prominent bump. 

 

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If Tertius had not roused him, Hector would have died. He had been deep asleep, comfortably sinking into the bed, like a cat that had decided it loved the comfort and had become permanently affixed. With the shaking of his arm, his eyes peeled and blinked up open but the regular slow introduction into the morning had not quite happened. The most he understood of the situation was that one moment he was staring at Tertius’s beautiful backside and the next Tertius was clothed and out the door, all while everything seemed to be moving. Groggy, delirious, and confused, the slave haphazardly rushed to follow his master like a shadow but became tangled in bedding and everything went white as he found himself face first into the floor.

In the background, he could hear screaming in the distance and then it became clearer what was happening. But if there was anything far more terrifying than the threat of death at the hands of forces that seemed far beyond his humanity, it was that he did not even have the time for his morning preening. Oh gods, he thought. His creams. As he scrambled just a little behind Tertius like a duckling after its mother, he simply parroted whatever Tertius yelled while cupping his hands around his mouth, even if no one asked him to, and sounding annoyingly smug and self-important in the process. Now fully awake, any opportunity for pomposity would not be lost, not even for an earthquake. “Alright, everyone out! You all heard him, out! And into the peristyle with those dreadful curls of yours,” he added as one of the female slaves collided into him before continuing on.

He remained outside of Antonia’s room as Tertius entered, still barking “outside!” at people’s backs, occasionally so far as pressing his face up to them and giving a “where do you think you’re going? The peristyle is that way!”, and loudly clapping his hands in a ‘chop, chop, get with it’ manner. Despite his energy, his intent was to be at his master’s side wherever that would be.

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He was the Pater Familias of this household; it was his household. And he had the responsibility for everyone’s safety and survival here. So when the earthquake happened, he could only think about making sure everyone were safe. He got up, hoping that Hector was following him – and it would seem he was, he helped Tertius yell at people to get up and get out. Just in case. There was no knowing how bad this would be. Cities had been laid in ruins when the gods cracked open the ground and you never knew how it would go this time.

First he went to get his daughter to safety and Antonia already sat up in her bed, clearly frightened, “We need to get outside. Come on.” Tertius said and she took his hand, letting her father pull her to her feet and usher her out of her room and she ran towards the peristyle together with one of the female slaves. Tertius kept on moving, towards Charis’ room this time, but it would seem Teutus got there first. Tertius paused for just a second, but then thought his son only wanted to help keep everyone safe; including his unborn sibling. 

When Tertius finally entered the peristyle himself, he saw Charis with blood streaming down her arms. Gods, what had happened to her?

“Is everyone here?!” Tertius yellow to everyone standing on the shaking ground, “Is anyone missing anyone? Pray to the gods it won’t get worse than this!” It was too early to examine any damage, it wasn’t over yet. Injuries could hardly be cured out here either. Antonia ran into his arms and he held her close. She might be 11 years old now, but she was also still a child.

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"Earthquake," Teutus said shortly, grabbing at Chris' wrist. "We'll be safer in the garden, come on." 

He didn't even know if she knew the Latin for 'earthquake', let alone what it felt like. He pulled her into the garden and saw Tertius with his arms around Antonia, so they were safe. There were slaves milling around, some looking shaken and some resigned - you could tell who'd gone through earthquakes before, he thought, absentmindedly, as he began to count to see who was missing.

He looked down at Charis, who was nursing her bump with bloodied arms. "What happened to you?"

 

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Charis wordlessly followed Teutus as he tugged on her arm, eyes wide with terror. She'd never felt anything like this before and her breath caught in her throat as she tried to answer him, panic rising. "N...nothing," She said as the earth finally stopped rolling beneath her and she moved to sit dow on the ground, her legs feeling weak through fear. She swallowed the lump in her throat and glanced around at the dusty faces of the other slaves and household members gathered. Why were so few of them looking scared? 

It was only then that she actually took the time to glance down at her arms and frowned. "It...it's just a few cuts, the ceiling in the room," She swallowed and moved to tear the bottom of her tunica off to mop up the dribbles of blood. "I...I'm fine, domine." She said but the shake in her voice didn't abate as she sat on the floor of the garden, petrified. 

 

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Hector had remained in close proximity to Tertius, keeping his master in sight, even after his daughter had scrambled past towards one of the female servants and instead of following her, he seemed to be searching for something – or someone – Charis. Gross. It was a bitch-slap to his smugness just seconds earlier. ‘She’s fine’, he wanted to remark through gritted teeth – whether ‘fine’ meant she was under a pile of rubble or not. Still, he lingered behind him and found the chance to unleash his annoyance on a stray innocent fellow slave passer-by that was trying to go to safety. “Are you hard of hearing?” Hector said in a high-pitched voice. “Go fucking outside!

As Tertius re-emerged in view, Hector follow and as he stepped out, he was able to make out Teutus and Charis, the latter of whom gained a pair of accusatory eyes in her direction. Just to make a point of pomposity, he repeated Tertius’s question: “Is everyone here?” like two-second delayed translation. It was also to further stamp in a point on his master’s governance. Already tall, Hector began to count heads – all of whom belonged to others who probably wanted to see him made into a tagenitai with blonde coiffed hair – while combing a hand through his hair in an effort to make himself marginally presentable.

Hector sighed. No one was shrieking in inexplicable misery, so it was likely no one (important) had died. “The gods clearly favour you, domine,” Hector smiled, though he felt as if he had just walked off a rocky boat at sea – not that he even knew what that was like. In all the disorder, Tertius was well, his family were well, as was – as much as it pained him to count her – the mother of his currently unborn child, though he purposely excluded her as he spoke again. “All your offspring are untouched. That is a definite sign of good fortune.” From behind his master who had his daughter in his arms, he affectionately brushed a bit of dust from his back as if he were tasked with polishing a shrine.  

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Tertius held Antonia while the ground was still moving beneath their feet and she clung to his torso, while he tried to find out if everyone were here or what. He heard Hector repeat his question, while his eyes scanned the crowd in the peristyle. There were usually not this amount of people out here, but right now it was probably the safest place in the domus. It did seem as if everyone had made it out. Gods he hoped none of the pillars of the peristyle would fall, because then the whole domus might crumble!

“Papa, are the gods angry?” Antonia asked and he stroked her hair, “I hope not.” He simply replied, “You don’t have to worry, I’m here.” He added, but the worry came through his voice. He couldn’t hide it. His eyes found Teutus with Charis, who had sat down on the ground and her arms were still bleeding. The child better not be harmed! She had expressed recently that she now wanted to be a mother and Tertius had decided he wanted the child. If the gods had mercy on them, he would have mercy too!

He felt Hector close behind him then, speaking of how the gods favored him and that all of his offspring was untouched had to be a sign of good fortune. All of his offspring; that meant Charis’ child too. How good of Hector to consider her.

“I hope you’re right, Hector.” He said, feeling a hand on his back brushing dust off. Hector was always there and always ready to cheer him up. He worried more about someone else. Just then Antonia tugged at his tunica, seeming very persistent. Tertius looked down to her.

“Papa… papa… Charis is bleeding!” Antonia said. She still liked Charis too, even though she knew something was different between Tertius and Charis.

“She is. Let’s go and find out if she’s badly hurt.” Tertius promised her and motioned for Hector to follow, as he made his way through the crowd of slaves to where Charis sat, with Antonia in one hand and Hector behind him. It seemed the rumbling was slowing down, but it could begin again, he thought.

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Teutus helped Charis tear two strips from her tunica - it was still longer than his afterwards - and went to wrap her arms as Tertius approached, Antonia's hand in his, and Hector trailing behind clad in nothing but a bed-sheet.

He rubbed her shoulder soothingly. "Well, you're fine apart from that? No other injuries or anything?"

He was still somewhat shaky himself; he'd experienced earthquakes before but nothing on this sort of scale. "Let's have a look at your arms, then," he said, carefully taking her hand in his and pulling gently to encourage her to stretch her arm out so that he could see.

"I don't think it's too bad," he said and looked up. "It's mostly just scrapes, I think the ceiling of her room came down, Father."

 

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Charis swallowed, still trembling. "No...no other injuries." Not that she could tell, anyway. It had only been chips of plaster that had grazed her - it wasn't as if she was bleeding out across her beautiful garden, but she supposed Tertius' concern as he came striding over was little for her own body, but instead for the one she housed. Her spare hand went to her bump as Teutus extended her arm for her.

She nodded with a swallow and a cough, her mouth full of the dust from the plaster as Teutus explained. "S-some of the ceiling plaster," She added given protocol seemed very far from most people's minds right now, "Not the whole ceiling domine. I'm fine." She didn't feel fine, she felt as if the building was still spinning even if the trembling had stopped. She doubted in that moment whether her heart rate would ever return to normal as the adrenaline surged through her. "J-jocasta and Eirene saw it, are they alright?" They had fled - without a helping hand to their pregnant colleague - but even in her panic she knew it wouldn't do to be selfish. 

Tentatively, she removed the torn strips of tunica to examine the cuts and grazes on her upper arm. They were still dribbling blood but it was hardly pouring. 

 

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Hector’s eyebrows rose. The ceiling in Charis’s chamber had partly come down. Why didn’t it try harder? The fleeting thought was overwhelmed by a feeling of sympathy where he could recognise that Charis was visibly shaken. He still hated her, but his hatred had its limits. Although from the sounds of it, it might not have been the case for Jocasta and Eirene. They saw it, implying they were passive. So, had they left Charis out of natural fear or had that been on purpose? “They’re fine,” Hector answered dismissively, having caught sight of Jocasta somewhere in his headcount, but Charis’s concern for them seemed nonsensical, if it were the case they simply ‘saw’ but did nothing – unless she truly was that stupid and Hector was always happy to believe that.

He watched with a wrinkled nose in disgust as she pulled back the makeshift bandaging on her arm and felt sick from the sight. “What do you think you are doing?” Hector gasped. “Do you want the bleeding to stop or not?” Pressing a hand to his face, he shook his head. Was it a headache coming in or was it the aftermath of the earthquake? He had to bite back a hefty portion of the cattiness that he reserved for Charis when it was just the two of them. “We need to get that cleaned up before you get sick from it.” Before it started to look even grosser. “I can get something,” he said, though from the tone it sounded like he was asking for Tertius’s permission first.

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Tertius might have Hector flogged for his thoughts about Charis and the ceiling in her chamber – but he couldn’t read his favorite slave’s mind and that was probably a good thing for Hector. Charis was very pregnant now, it showed and it was Tertius’ son in there. Or so they both believed. And seeing Charis harmed… meant his child could have been hurt and he couldn’t stand the thought of that. So it was a good thing Antonia wanted to check up on how Charis was doing. Together they went over to her and Teutus was there too, asking how she was and he wanted to look at her arms… luckily it appeared to be mostly scrapes.

“That’s not good. We’ll need to improve the ceiling in the entire domus.” Tertius said. This might be expensive. Charis argued that it wasn’t the entire ceiling, but still, it could have been and it shouldn’t be so! Charis then wanted to know if her roommates were alright and Hector just said they were fine. But when Charis started to try and bandage her arms, Hector gasped and wanted to stop her from doing that. He wanted it to get cleaned up.

“You’re absolutely right Hector… go and get something to clean it up. But be careful, alright! I don’t know if it’s over yet!” Tertius said, watching his body slave disappear somewhere in the faint light of the early morning while the ground beneath them was still shaking slightly.

“Papa can I… help her?” Antonia asked, slowly wrestling herself from Tertius’ grasp and approaching Charis, kneeling in front of her… making Tertius smile, thinking about what a good girl she was, for wanting to help someone injured.

“Of course. You can watch over her, keep her safe.” Tertius said with a warm smile. He still had to tell Antonia whose child Charis had in her, but all in due time. Not right now, certainly. Then he looked to his son, who still stood nearby, “Did you see how bad the damage was? How’s your room?”

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"I think they're all right," Teutus said, wishing he could reassure her better - but he didn't know how bad the situation was, or how long the quake would last, either. At least he'd felt them before, he supposed.

"I don't know, Father; I don't think the whole thing came down." He wasn't going to hang around, just in case this was a big one - there would be plenty of time later to assess the damage. "I think my room's all right, just a bit of dust shaken loose - though I won't know until I check it out."

Antonia came over, looking pale but compose, and he held out his arm to her. "I know Charis is a slave, but I think she would like a cuddle. She's never felt an earthquake before."

Hopefully that would allow his sister to receive a bit of motherly comfort herself, as well as offering some. He really wasn't any good at the soft, sensitive things in life, but it couldn't really do any harm for his sister to get some mothering from Charis. And it might help Charis, a little.

"How's Hector?" he asked, looking behind his father to the sheet-clad body slave. He didn't particularly like Hector, but that was no reason not to ask after him - especially considering his father's relationship with him.

 

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Charis nodded mutely at Tertius, in no mood to argue the specifics of what had happened. He could see the roof for himself. Likewise, she was in no position to argue with Hector and bit back the retort that lingered on the tip of her tongue. Her petty squabbles with him could wait, but she didn't for one second believe he actually cared if she got ill from a small cluster of cuts on her upper arm. 

She pressed the haphazard bandage back down on it again only to find herself enveloped in a tentative hug from Antonia. She offered a genuine smile up at Teutus - as if he were still her friend, not her master, and wrapped her arm around the young girl. "Are you alright?" She whispered to the child who mumbled that she was, and nodded. It was an awkward position to be in, sat on the floor whilst being hugged - she'd come to like her bump, but in times like this it made things infinitely more awkward. 

She withdrew from Antonia's hug but kept a hand on hers, squeezing it tightly for her own comfort as well as the girls. Embarrassed and awkward, she glanced between Tertius and Teutus and asked; "Can...you please help me up, domine?" She could do it herself but it would be immensely ungraceful given her present condition and Antonia's steadfast grip on her hand.

 

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“Oh, I will be,” Hector promised Tertius, half-swooning because of his master’s show of concern. Tertius could drop a pin and it would give Hector the breath of life. The slave then vanished back into the domus with the kind of bravery that only a narcissist could have. Underneath his bare feet, he could feel the ground quivering still, as if Terra Mater had a change of mind after a morning quickie and decided to prolong her waves of pleasure. Inside the domus was quiet and devoid of the other slaves that were usually scuttling around like vermin. As Hector headed towards the kitchens for a cloth and water, he paused to peer into Tertius’s room, just the way it had been left. In all the earlier mayhem, Hector hadn’t noticed his tunic had been thrown aside on the other side of the floor, and seeing a wine cup that had set aside the night prior, he took a quick sip and then pressed onwards. The kitchens were dark, plates and vases had jostled from the surfaces and crashed into the floor, creating little shards that poked into his feet when he first entered.

On his return, Hector bounded up to Tertius’s side with a happy smile like a puppy looking for its pat on the head and a high-pitched ‘good boy’. “Here you are,” Hector said to Charis in one of the most insincerely friendly voices while thrusting both the cloth and the nearest water he could find in her general direction.

“Would you like to know the state of the interior, domine?” he asked, turning to Tertius in a way that seemed like he was giving the man his full attention but with the subtle body language that almost communicated a ‘you two aren’t a part of the conversation’ to the other two, especially Charis.

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When Tertius thought they’d need to improve the ceiling in the entire domus after this, Teutus wasn’t sure, as it wasn’t the whole thing that came down – and then he commented that his room was fine besides a little bit of dust. Tertius nodded, “I hope you’re right… improving it all apart from the damage already done would be quite expensive.” He said to his son, glad that Teutus had had the time to see the damage and that he made his own judgment on it. Teutus was getting more used to making decisions. That was good.

Teutus also agreed that Antonia could go to Charis then and his son then wondered how Hector was doing. Tertius glanced at him, “He’s fine and eager as always. As you see.” He said with a slight smile, while his body slave ran off into the domus to find something to clean Charis’ wounds with. He really hoped Hector would be safe though. He didn’t like the thought of losing his body slave and then starting all over with a new one. Tertius liked Hector.

Meanwhile Charis and Antonia comforted each other on the ground and then Charis suddenly wanted to stand. She asked her domine to help her up, not making it clear whose help she wanted. Teutus was her domine now too, after all. Tertius offered a hand though, to the woman carrying his child, “Of course.” He said and held onto her small and pretty hand. Antonia stood too in the same process, not letting go of Charis at any time. In more or less the same moment, Hector appeared too, with cloth and water in his hands for Charis. And now he was of course the only one who had seen the damage after the earthquake.

“Yes, please, Hector… I’d like to know that very much. And did you see anyone in there? Injured… or otherwise… or not?” Tertius hoped everyone had made it out here, but he thought they had. The sun was slowly rising and making everything more clear. The earthquake appeared to have stopped, more or less, so they would be able to enter the house again soon.

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"Well, I didn't have time for a proper look and it will need a thorough inspection, Father," Teutus said. It was his father's money and therefore his authorisation that would be needed for any such repairs in any part of the house at all, of course. He honestly couldn't have cared less about Hector, but the enquiry showed willing, and Hector ran off (Teutus honestly thought that he would never bestir himself so eagerly for any other person in the house - perhaps even in Rome! - other than Tertius, but Tertius probably wouldn't realise that, which was fine.)

His father offered a hand to Charis before he could, to help her to her feet. If the truth were known, Teutus still felt a little odd having Charis address him as 'domine', although he'd grown used to it from the other slaves in the household - perhaps because there had always been something of a stiffness between him and everyone else, and he and Charis had been friends despite his better judgement, and their row over nothing.

He stood up himself, putting a hand on Antonia's shoulder to reassure her as he looked around. "I think everyone is here, except for Hector, and he's just gone to look at the house for you." He didn't think that anyone looked hurt, but the other kitchen girl looked somewhat shaken and there was blood on her cheek that Rhoda assured him was just from a scrape when he asked her.

 

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She realised her mistake as soon as the word domine left her lips, but was relieved when Tertius took the initiative. She took his hand and pulled herself, wobbling, to her feet. Her legs felt like they were on water and she'd keel over any second. She suspected it was just anxiety dissipating, she felt much the same when she was a girl and the Roman's would march past in their great impressive column, shouting obscenities at the teenaged Charis or just staring ahead in stony silence. 

She stood there awkwardly, silently. This was not a conversation she should be a part of - it was between her owners and the most trusted slave (Hector). Although against her better judgement she let a soft arm fall around Antonia's shoulders in a cuddle to keep her close. The girl seemed to appreciate it and she laced her little hand through Charis' shaking fingers. She was such a sweet girl, so undeserving of the messy family she had inherited. 

A little noise left her lips, however, as the baby in her belly gave a resounding kick and her spare hand fluttered down to feel it against her skin. She'd never quite gotten used to the sensation and it irritated her incessantly when she was trying to sleep but now at least she was grateful the little one was moving about as before. For a heart stopping moment she realised the implications of if something had happened to the child, but that wasn't the case and she blinked away her fears. "The child is moving," She said softly to nobody in particular, not wishing to disturb their conversation but a small smile lingered on her lips as she felt the sensation. 

 

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