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Mid-June, 75CE

Aglaea adjusted her head covering, sighing contentedly. She was on her way back from the synagogue after a wonderful morning spent listening to the word. She always felt better after hearing the word and speaking with members of her faith. Not that she didn't enjoy spending time with her mistress, Livia, but it was sometimes a balm to the soul to be surrounded by people like you. Aglaea was also happy because she had the rest of the day off and was planning to shop a little in the marketplace. She could save her wages to buy her freedom, but she doubted Livia would ever let her go. 

She looked around as she walked, noticing a man who also came to synagogue. She vaguely remembered that he was some sort of celebrity, a charioteer if she wasn't mistaken. She gave him a friendly smile. "Bassus, isn't it?"

@Beauty

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Bassus usually avoided places of worship, preferring to practice in quiet by himself. Religion, to him, was something intimate, like a marriage or sex. It was between you and your god. Still, he wasn’t fond of Romans to begin with and had recently decided to make more of an effort to get to know more of his own people in Rome, particularly in their place of worship.

There was no hurry to return to the tracks to train and so Bassus decided to travel the markets. As he ventured, his eyes locked on a woman, who then gave him a smile. Hearing his name in public wasn’t out of the ordinary. At first, it had been strange but he grew to welcome it, giving his “fans” the attention they wanted, if only to make more of a name for himself and his team. The more that came to see and cheer the Whites on, the better. While he much preferred reading, the attention did boost his ego and the coin he found in his purse. He figured the woman was either a fan or someone who hoped to talk about the service, which he was open to.

“Yes, the one and only,” he said, flashing a smile of his own, but there were plenty of Bassus’s in Rome but how many of them were the Bassus? He felt bad for not knowing her name and was interested in getting to know her as a person, beyond appearances. “And what is the name that belongs to the beauty standing right before me?”

@Echo

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Aglaea smiled as he answered "The one and only." She had never spoken to him before, so she didn't know much about him, but he seemed to have a bit of an ego. She didn't mind though; it was slightly charming. And the way that he asked for her name was charming as well; he seemed to be quite the charmer. "Well, it is certainly a pleasure to meet you, Bassus. My name is Aglaea," she replied. Sometimes, when she visited the synagogue, she thought of herself with her original name, that her parents had given her: Zivah. But it had been so long since she had gone by Zivah that she would have bet that it would sound foreign to her ears. 

"You are a charioteer aren't you?"

@Beauty

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The Romans had a talent for choosing Greek names for slaves, it seemed. Unless she was a Jew from Greece who happened to be in Rome, which wasn’t far-fetched but something told him otherwise. But who was he to judge? He had been there once.

“Aglaea,” said Bassus, repeating her name and giving her his undivided attention. “Ah! The name of the goddess of beauty, is it not? One of the Charites?” But she had asked him a question about him and his work. Bassus was the sort who could sit and listen to someone talk about themselves for hours and feel completely fulfilled. He did feed off the energy of fans shouting from the stands and his fellow charioteers, he revelled in the attention but when it came down to it, he much preferred learning about others and having one-on-one conversations.

“Yes, I am. I race for the Whites,” he said proudly with a nod. In his opinion, there was no better team, even if they were a band of the oddest personalities mixed together. Something he never voiced out loud. “You ought to come see me race some time if your line of work allows for it. Perhaps bring those you serve, if it would please them.” He extended a gentle invitation to those she worked for and allowing her to see him again, if she found his person agreeable. “You won’t be disappointed, I promise you. And are you in the markets for work or for your own leisure?”

@Echo

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Aglaea laughed lightly as he guessed correctly the origin of her name. She had learned a lot of Greek mythology while in the employ of her first mistress, and it was interesting that she had been given that name; she had never been a particularly vain person - who had the time to, taking care of another woman all day? - but when she caught her own reflection in the mirror, she was never displeased with what she saw. "Yes," she answered, blushing a little. "One of the Three Graces." Even though he was a celebrity, it seemed he was giving her all his attention, which was pleasant. A body slave was meant to be quiet and almost unseen, unless she was needed, but as a person, it was nice to be seen sometimes. 

Bassus then explained that he raced for the Whites, a note of pride in his voice. He also invited her and her mistress to come and see the races. "I've been a few times before... I find them much more entertaining than the arena." She paused. "I'm sure my mistress and I would be able to attend! It takes a lot of skill, does it not?" Aglaea had not had much reason to interact with horses, but she understood them to be restless, finicky creatures, and sensitive. 

Bassus then asked whether she was in the market for work or her own pleasure. "I was thinking of getting something to eat - I have the rest of the morning off. Would you like to join me?"

@Beauty

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The way her blush complimented her cheeks under the glows of the sun was endearing. Bassus did not mention it in case out loud in case she became embarrassed by it. There were the more obsessive fans and then the fans who knew of him only in passing, she did not seem to be either and simply a woman living her life, but wanted to be cautious nonetheless, he never wanted to take advantage of his popularity. He was not a fan of power imbalances. To him, a man and woman had to be a team.

“It does require a lot of preparation,” he said honestly with a nod. Training was rigorous and he made sure it was daily. Much like Aglaea, he found the races a lot more enjoyable than the area but he was also biased. He was a charioteer, after all, and quite enjoyed being in the midst of it. From the pressure of being watched to the cries and gasps of the crowds, it did very well to make one feel energised.

“I would love to,” he said. It was strange, it was something he would have suggested had she not suggested it first. Right off, he could tell she was a thoughtful woman and that was something he admired. “Are you in the mood for honey cakes? A friend of mine mentioned it once. It’s on me.” If she was a slave, there was no use in her using what little money she was granted. Once he heard her answer, only then would he walk in whatever direction they were to find food. “And tell me a little about yourself, Agalaea. Do you like written works? How do you like Rome?”

@Echo

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As they talked, Aglaea took the chance to really look at Bassus for the first time. His coloration was much like her own, with dark hair and dark skin. He had a certain kindness in his eyes, she noted, a hint of the personality she already like in him. He was very handsome. Bassus explained that racing chariots took a lot of preparation and she nodded. "I'm sure it does," she remarked. "I don't think I've ridden a horse in years, much less conducted a chariot. I'm always impressed, watching the races." And now that he had piqued her interest, she would have even more of a reason to watch! 

Bassus accepted her invitation and she offered a friendly smile. He also suggested honey cakes, and told her that he would pay. "A honey cake sounds wonderful. And I can get one for my mistress, she loves them." The suggestion to pay was an interesting one, but one she appreciated it. "That's very kind of you, Bassus. Are you sure? I don't mind paying for my own." The conversation could continue as they walked, and Aglaea led the way, heading toward a familiar spot where she had purchased some particularly good cakes before. 

Bassus proceeded to ask her about herself, whether she liked written works and Rome. Such interesting questions! He was certainly a character to keep her eye on. "I was blessed to have a very good education in the home of my first mistress," she explained, "so I have read several famous works. I am particular to Ovid's Metamorphoses." The work was well known and well-loved. "Rome is... well, I'll say that I prefer the countryside," she laughed. "The city can be a bit crowded for my taste, so when I have the chance to leave it for my master's villa, I take the opportunity. But of course, Rome offers opportunities unlike the countryside, like synagogue and meeting interesting people." She hoped it was clear she meant him - she was thoroughly enjoying herself. 

@Beauty

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He nodded his hand. “I’m very sure,” he said and he didn’t mind paying for her mistress either. He then set a hand on his chest and flashed her a warm smile. “Please, I really don’t mind. For you and your mistress. Consider it a courtesy of blossoming companionship and for seeing me in the races, should you both wish to.” It was entirely their choice but he would be happy to see Aglaea again. He followed after her, smelling the sweet and sour aromas of street foods around him. There were sights and sounds around him but he kept his eyes and ears on Aglaea. That was quite simple to him.

He listened as she talked about herself and nodded, interested and clearly in his element. She was very easy to converse with, that much he noted quickly. He was glad that she hadn’t mentioned Landicus, he wasn’t sure how he would have survived if she had. “Interesting people” certainly flattered him, if anything, he believed her to be the interesting one.

“That one came out quite a while ago, didn’t it? Quite a number of good stories that he wrote. I especially love the beginning because that’s when you know you have an entire tale to bite through,” he said, impressed by her response. He made a note to re-read Ovid’s work. “And if the opportunity ever arises and we are both in the country, perhaps we could ride together? Horses, that is.” Having one’s mind in the gutter was Landicus’ territory… or Marcellus’s. “If you have the time and your mistress doesn’t mind it, I would be happy to make the time. I also find the city too crowded. I grew up with nature around me, you see, my family were scribes but owned an orchard as well.” It meant a having considerable wealth in two very different paths so he was comfortable enough growing up, living wit the best of both worlds. “I like enjoying what our god gave us, it reminds you why life is worth living.”

@Echo

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What a gesture of kindness! Aglaea was sure the man wasn't hurting from money, being a prominent member of the Whites, but it was still a sweet gesture. And particularly because he offered to buy a cake for her mistress as well! She gave him a sweet smile and shrugged. "I suppose I can't convince you otherwise, so I'll just settle for saying thank you." Bassus also said that it was offered so that they would come see him in the races. "Oh, my mistress is fond of the races. I'm sure she'll be glad to get out of the house!" Anyone would be, being forced to live with Secundus. 

Bassus asked about when the Metamorphoses came out and Aglaea nodded in confirmation. "Yes, that's right! Almost seventy years ago, actually! The things that man came up with are so interesting." Aglaea particularly liked them because it gave her a good idea of the Roman psyche, especially regarding their gods. "Have you read the Aeneid? I like that one, too." Bassus said that he enjoyed the beginning of a story because of the implications of more stories to read. "Eloquently put, Bassus! But the end of any story is so bittersweet, is it not?" Not that the body slave had much time on her hands, anyway; any free time she had, she usually spent it at the synagogue or running her own personal errands. But spending time with an interesting - and attractive - man was as enjoyable as anything else!

Bassus suggested a horse ride in the countryside and Aglaea laughed a little nervously. It was a sweet offer, but horses made her nervous! She wondered if she would be able to get over her nerves for his sake. "Well, I must confess - horses frighten me! But I would love to see you again. The countryside is much preferable to the city, I agree." He explained how he grew up in the countryside, with scribes for parents, which explained his love for both books and nature. "God created such beautiful things - I enjoy them as well." It was rare she came across someone who had a similar worldview to hers. At the story he gave of his childhood, Aglaea supposed she should explain a little about herself as well. "I was born in Judaea. My parents couldn't take care of me, so they sold me into slavery." Her voice grew slightly somber, remembering her difficulties in adjusting to a life of slavery. "But God has blessed me in so many ways because of that. I know He has a plan for me." 

@Beauty

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Bassus had to admire not only the imagination of poets but their ability to craft a story with words, entertaining people all the while. It was certainly not something he thought he could do, though he quite enjoyed reading tales for their themes and what they had to offer. Bassus turned to her excitedly. “I actually quite like the Aeneid,” he said cheerfully, excitement in his voice. In his opinion, it was one of the most compelling tales, difficult to turn away from. “And I suppose that’s what makes it so memorable. You can spend all night going in circles, talking about the ending alone.”

Hearing her speak more gave him a good insight as to the sort of person that Aglaea was. Admittedly, he had hoped to make a friend, as he always did, but had not expected to meet someone that he felt fascinated in, eager to see and learn more about. “I assure you, horses are a lot more afraid of you than you are of them,” said Bassus playfully with a laugh. He found her nervousness with horses charming. “Perhaps I can show you just how harmless they can be?” That was, if she had the time and chance.

Hearing her story, he noticed how her voice became solemn. It was hard not to take another’s hurt as one’s own. “You are very admirable, Aglaea, very little people see blessings in their darkest moments,” said Bassus with a smile, one he kept in hope of comforting her in a small way, but he was speaking of himself. He had been a slave once too and had lost all hope because of it, simply moving through life like a ghost. She was stronger than he was. “You remind me of Joseph and the coat of many colours, able to find miracles after despair, and I respect your faithfulness to religion. I am also sorry to hear about your parents, that must have been very difficult for you. I suppose your mistress is someone important to you?” He only guessed because she was willing to buy her a honey cake.

@Echo

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How curious to find a man who enjoyed reading like he did, and even more so curious that he wanted to discuss it with her! It was refreshing. "You know, the stories that the Romans tell about their heritage certainly lend insight to how they think of themselves." It helped one understand a culture when one read that culture's literature. Aglaea supposed, though, that all cultures told tales of themselves in order to encourage pride in their culture, not just the Romans. And there was always a hint of the truth in tales. "We should discuss these tales together sometime! I'd love to hear your thoughts on the Odyssey and the Iliad, too. I'm glad to have found someone so interested in the stories I enjoy."

Bassus suggested that horses were more afraid of humans than humans were of them and she grinned doubtfully. It was charming that he wanted to see her again, though, and demonstrate such truths to her, so she acquiesced. "If you feel so strongly that you can convince me that an enormous beast like that is scared of me, be my guest! I would love to be proved wrong." She laughed. 

As she told her story, he grew a little solemn as well, though offering her a smile which did offer a measure of calm to her. His words went straight to her heart, too. Her recognition of the blessings in her life had taken a long time; had Bassus been speaking to the shy, scared seven-year-old she had been when she entered slavery, he would not be so convinced of her strength. But she had tried hard for a long time to rationalize her slavery, so she found herself at a level of acceptance for now. "You are very kind Bassus. I haven't always felt that way. But my mistress has been helpful in that regard, yes. She is almost like a sister to me, since we've been together for so long. Her kindness is one of the reasons I'm so blessed - another mistress might prevent me from practicing my religion entirely." She looked at him for a moment, wondering what his citizenry status was, though she knew that was a rude question to ask. 

After a moment or two of walking, they reached her desired destination, and she led the way into the bakery, ordering three honey cakes. Once they were received, the pair stepped outside and sat on a curb to enjoy their after-synagogue treat. 

@Beauty

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From the amount of abduction and forced sexual intimacy present in Roman tales, Bassus could definitely tell how the Romans thought. But perhaps he was just bitter. Despite his thoughts, he smiled widely and nodded, it sounded like a deal, to discuss written works. And when she laughed at his comment about horses, he laughed too. Her laugh was a little infectious.

“You are quite fortunate to find a friend in your mistress,” said Bassus. It put him at ease to hear that she had found some joy in spite of all she had endured. He had a complicated relationship with his faith, if only because it felt like his god had ripped everything away from him but her outlook inspired him to find happiness, even when things seemed hopeless. For a time, he left their conversation at that as they headed into the shop where he purchased honey cakes. When they emerged into the hot sun and sat down, he decided to re-direct the conversation back a few steps.

“I was a slave once,” he said, he often didn’t openly admit to such a thing, purely because he wished to move on. He was both neutral and hurt by his history, a peculiar paradox. “My last master was a gentle old man, interested in horses, and he showed me that not all Romans are bad.” He suspected the same was with Aglaea’s mistress. The man’s daughter had hated Bassus’s guts. She had always told him that his smile was fake and, of course, it was, he had lost everything and despised slavery. He bit into the honey cake, chewed and swallowed.

“This is the best I’ve ever tasted,” he said but perhaps Aglaea’s presence had something to do with that. “A land flowing with milk and honey… Do you ever miss Judea or wish you could go back, if you could go back?”

@Echo

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Bassus commented that she was lucky to have found the kind of relationship with Livia that she had. Aglaea agreed, though the relationship was often in flux, shifting from one dynamic to another. Recently, with Aglaea's discussion of wanting to find someone to love, Livia had seemed supportive, even offering her help to find a suitable slave to settle down with somewhere. But after years of training to understand Livia's thoughts without her having to say much, Aglaea suspected that she wasn't all that supportive of Aglaea having anything else but her mistress to occupy her mind. But Bassus needn't know all that. "I've been blessed with both of my mistresses, actually. When I was very young, my first mistress took me in almost like a daughter and taught me to read and write. It makes it much easier to operate in Rome." The conversation trailed off for a few moments, though, while they entered the bakery. 

Soon, they were on the curb and Bassus explained that he was a slave once as well. Aglaea supposed that made sense; many of her people in Rome had gotten there because of slavery, but Bassus evidently was free now. She felt a pang of jealousy but ignored it, trying not to be envious. She had to be patient and God would do with her what He planned. "I'm glad your master was good to you. Was he what got you interested in the races?" Aglaea had the sense that Bassus wasn't always open with that information and she felt honored that he had chosen to share it with her. 

Aglaea watched eagerly as Bassus tried the cake for the first time, smiling as he talked about it. "See? I may not know much about horses, but I can find the best food in Rome." It was a bit of a boast, but meant only in jest. Bassus then went on to discuss Judaea and Aglaea gave an ironic chuckle. "More like flowing with sand and heat. I think our ancestors may have taken a wrong turn in the desert during the forty-year trek." She knew it was a bit sacrilegious, but Judaea wasn't really something she liked to think about, even though it was supposed to be home. "That's a hard question. On one hand, it would be interesting to see if it's how I remember it; I was so young when I left. But at the same time, I think it would be a bit difficult to face my family. If I could even find them, that is." How do you find someone you haven't seen or heard from in twenty years? "Do you ever want to go back to Judaea?"

@Beauty

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