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Annis

Don't Stop Me Now

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May, 75CE

Gods, Annis needed a drink. Her training had been frustrating today, and she felt like she was losing her touch. The needling remarks of the lanista didn't help either, and she half wanted to shove her wooden sword down his gullet to get him to shut up. Why should he be concerning himself with the gladiatrices, anyway? They were just a preshow for the gladiators, an ornamental, sexual fight between women. Once training was finally over, Annis bathed the sweat of the day off and dressed in a rather masculine tunica and breeches, deciding to get that drink after all. Of course, she was accompanied by a guard, but over the five years the Briton had spent at the ludus, hadn't she earned their trust? She'd never tried to run away once, instead choosing the honorable way to freedom: earning her money until she could buy it and go back home. 

The poppina was the nicest place she could think of to go, not really wanting to enter a seedier establishment. People at the poppina generally didn't bother you, unless you seemed open to a conversation or a drink. Entering the lower section of the poppina, Annis glanced around, noticing another woman in rather masculine clothes nearby. The gladiatrix sat at the bar next to her and ordered a drink, side-eyeing the woman. She was curious to know her. 

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Cynane was a slave too, but she needed no guard to escort her when she was allowed free time away from the imperial palace. She was her own guard, after all. And if anyone tried to tell her they could guard her better than she could, she would kick them in the groin. As if they could. She experienced she'd been a lot more angry lately, than she used to be. She used to just ignore whatever people said to her, but now she was easily angered. Only Claudia's company would soothe her and calm her and so would Volusa, of course. And Charis, but she had not seen Charis in more than three months... which was likely to be the reason for her mood. And it wasn't any better today, as she made her way to the Poppina Via Lata and entered the building reserved for slaves and lower classes. She walked straight to the bar and ordered something to drink and waited as patiently as she could, for the barkeep to bring her something.

Another blonde came to the bar while Cynane was waiting for her drink. First she paid her no attention, but there weren't a whole lot of blondes in Rome and the woman seemed to be looking at her too. Cynane stole a look at her; young and beautiful and... wearing breeches and a tunica with a belt, just like Cynane. Her hair wasn't exactly done up in a fancy Roman hairstyle either. She could be a younger version of Cynane! She must be a gladiatrix or something, she then thought. What a strange coincidence.

"You're waiting for a drink too? It takes forever tonight, it seems." She said to the woman, randomly striking up a conversation with her. The other blonde seemed curious about Cynane too, so why should she not talk to her? Unless of course the stranger had just heard a bunch of gossip and was facing the real deal now.

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The reason that Annis had noticed the woman in the first place was her striking blonde hair, in its interesting style, so unusual in a sea of black and brown hair. Annis often found that her own hair marked her in a crowd, too. As the woman sat at the bar, her guard (who was mainly there to keep her from opportunistically running off) found a seat at a nearby table. He was kind enough to give Annis her space when they were out, knowing her to be prickly about him tailing her. 

As she sat there, she considered the woman on her left. Clearly, she had maintained some styles of a Briton tribe; her clothes were too un-Roman to be otherwise. It was evident she was from Britannia, too, given her coloration. The other woman spoke up, asking if she was waiting for a drink, too. “Yeah, it’s busy tonight,” she remarked. “Guess they want to serve the highbrows at the upper section first.” Annis fell quiet, looking at her companion openly now. Dropping her voice suddenly, she spoke in Britonnic: “Do you speak my language?” It was a hopeful move. Perhaps it would bear fruit.

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Cynane hadn't walked around in a tunica and breeches on an everday basis, when she lived in Britannia - it was clothes she wore for battle, but in Rome, she had to be alert and ready at all times and honestly, it was just more comfortable. So she had long ago decided that's what she would keep on wearing, that it was her thing, because no way did she want to get caught in a dress in Rome... and have people assume she was a feminine and humble woman, for she was not. It was interesting that the other blonde woman wore the same thing and she thought the woman must be a gladiatrix, for wearing such odd clothes compared to all the other women. So she decided to talk to her and the other agreed that it was busy and that the wealthier people were served first.

"They always want to serve them first. That's our lot." She said, it would seem the other woman was also a slave. Gladiatrix she was, then. But then the other dropped her voice and spoke quietly, in Cynane's own tongue. Well she had an accent and she wasn't sure the woman was Brigantes, but just like Charis wasn't either, they could easily understand each other. So she smiled at the other and replied in the same tongue, "I do." She said, suddenly feeling more relaxed.

"I'm Cynane here... but I was Cinnia before. You?" She then asked, more interested in the woman now.

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Annis's tribe had been lax about women's clothing, letting them wear whatever they wanted. Annis had always preferred her tunic and breeches to a restricting skirt, particularly when she left her tribe to exact her revenge. Much of the time, she and her group had camped out in the wilderness to avoid being recognized by legionnaires in the towns they were going to liberate, and wearing skirts was not conducive to camping. The woman remarked that it was their lot to be served after the wealthy ones and she shrugged. "As long as I get my drink, eh?"

The woman introduced herself as Cynane, or Cinnia, in an accent that was different than her homeland, but understandable. She wondered what tribe she hailed from, and if she had known anybody from her tribe. "Cinnia. I am Annis, then and always," she said with a grin. She often had a flair for the dramatic, now included. "What is your tribe, Cinnia?"

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She nodded, the other woman was right... as long as they got their drinks and it wasn't like they could expect to be served first, any of them. Judging by their clothes and all, it would appear they were both slaves. It was their lot in life now and while she wasn't happy with it, she tolerated it. For Claudia's sake. Cynane introduced herself to the stranger then and was glad to speak her own language once more. She now had Charis, Florus and Annis here to talk to. Annis decided to call her Cinnia and grinned, before wondering what her tribe was.

"I was of the Brigantes tribe. My cousin was... or is... Ysulda." Everyone should know that name, since Ysulda had been queen and eventually given into the Romans and Cynane heard she was now even married here, had changed her name and given up on her own people and country. Foolish woman... but she wasn't here now and Annis here at least seemed nice enough, "Which tribe was yours?" 

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Cinnia explained that she was of the Brigantes tribe and that her cousin was Ysulda. Well, that was interesting! Annis and her tribe had not been associated with Ysulda as much as Eppitacos, but she knew that both were in Rome now, though she didn’t know more than that. This woman seemed to be friendly enough, perhaps it was the start of a friendship! 

“I am Caledonian- we backed Eppitacos in 62, but my father died in that battle,” she explained. If her father hadn’t died, her life would have turned out very different indeed. She wouldn’t be here talking to Cinnia, for sure. “I’m a gladiatrix now. What do you do?” 

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Cynane had met Eppitacos too - he had, after all, once been betrothed to her cousin Ysulda. She knew him. But she also wasn't too fond of him, because during that battle, where it was said that the Britons won... well, the Romans had not been entirely defeated, which was why Cynane was here, now. She had been knocked out and taken as a prisoner and become a slave after that battle. But she would never forget where she came from. Annis didn't seem to forget either and she now shared which tribe she was from and spoke of a battle her father had died in. Cynane arched a brow, "I wonder if it was the same battle... I was captured in 62, after a battle." She explained thoughtfully. That was interesting. Back then she hadn't cared a great deal for the other tribes. She just knew she fought for her people and their lands. 

Annis wondered what Cynane did and she smiled, "I was a gladiatrix too, at first. For ten years. Then I was chosen to become bodyguard to one of the Imperial princesses  and I have been there since." She explained. Maybe that was in the cards for Annis too. Cynane knew she wasn't the first gladiatrix to guard a princess. Some slaves at the palace spoke of someone called Achillia, who had been there many years ago. 

"Have you been here long then, Annis?" Cynane asked next, while someone finally showed up at the bar with their drinks. Cynane placed a coin on the bar as payment.

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Annis had a bit of a bright view of Eppitacos, though she had never met him. Even though his battle with the Romans was not good for her tribe, she respected what he had tried to do, and had even tried to replicate it herself with her rebel group for several years, before she was captured herself at her own small battle. "Hm, it could have been. My father fought well but the Romans were too strong." She accepted the reality of what had happened, but it still ached sometimes. "I'm sorry you were captured. I wish I could have been at that battle. Perhaps I could have done... something." She knew that was foolish, though. She had only been ten. 

Cinnia explained that she was a gladiatrix, too, and Annis's mood brightened. "Oh, yes? I enjoy being a gladiatrix enough. It's better than being a house slave, at least," she laughed. She couldn't imagine herself with pots and pans, or cleaning something for anyone else. The arena was the best she could hope for, until she could get her freedom. "That's quite a prestigious job. How did that happen?" Annis wasn't sure if she envied Cinnia, but it did sound like a good job. "I've been here about five years now. I was captured when I was eighteen."

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Annis said that her father had fought well in the battle where he died, but the Romans were too strong and she wished she could have been there. Cynane gave her a look, “You appear younger than I though… too young for a battle at that time. I think there were more battles that year though. Another Briton friend of mine also lost someone in a battle that year.” She said, thinking about Charis, hadn’t she lost her father too? 62 was a fateful year, she thought to herself.

Then they’d talked about their lives now and Cynane had to smile, Annis really did seem as a younger version of herself. She enjoyed being a gladiatrix as it was at least better than being a house slave. Cynane nodded, “It definitely is, I think. Although house slaves don’t get wounded so often.” She added with a little laugh. Annis thought Cynane had a prestigious job and wondered how it happened, and explained when she was captured.

“I was seventeen.” Gods, how much else did they have in common? “I’m not quite sure why or how… but as I understand it, most gladiators belong to Caesar. And one of his brothers, I think it is, chose me to become bodyguard to his niece. I like it. It’s better than being a gladiatrix, even. And my mistress is very kind and likable.” How could she not like the woman she guarded with her life and whom she would kill for? Cynane didn’t like most Romans. But she did feel something for Claudia.

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The Romans had taken loved ones from many people that Annis knew. It was a difficult reality to accept, one she hadn't quite accepted yet, and she certainly wasn't ready to forgive the Romans for all they had done to her and her family. Cynane spoke again about house slaves not getting injured so much and Annis chuckled. "That's true. But I think I might have more of a will to injure someone if they put me in a dress and told me to clean something." House work was not for her, and it hadn't been even in her home village. Her mother had constantly tried to make her help around the house, but she'd always wanted to go ride horses or train instead. Some people never changed. 

Cynane explained how she became a gladiatrix and then an imperial bodyguard. Annis was impressed with her story - it sounded much like her own. Being so similar to a person helped a friendship along immensely. "I'm glad you enjoy your work. Being a gladiatrix is good enough, until I get my freedom." Annis remembered what Alexius had said when they first met, how Germania was nothing like he remembered it and he felt like he didn't belong anywhere. Annis hoped that wouldn't be the case for her, but she had doubts that she had buried. Britannia had to be like it was when she left. It had to be. 

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She smiled when Annis said she might injure people if they put her in a dress and would have her clean, "Perhaps you're right. Dresses are so... inconvenient. I'm glad I was never forced into wearing one here. They made me a gladiatrix when I came." She said, still smiling. At least she got to use her skills. Sometimes she thought it might be good, in a strange way, that she had not remained in Britannia. For then she would surely have found herself a husband, she would have had kids (if she could, she wasn't sure if that was the case anymore) and she would do the cooking and other household chores, while the men would watch the fields and the animals. At least she was free from that here, although she would of course rather be free from slavery.

Cynane told Annis just how she became a bodyguard for a princess and Annis was happy to hear how Cynane enjoyed it - and she thought that her life was good enough too, at least until she was freed. If she was freed. But she was younger and she was full of life. Cynane didn't want to let her down.

"I hope you will gain your freedom someday. Meanwhile, being satisfied with your life is at least better than so many other things here in Rome. I only heard about the mines, but I wouldn't like to go there. The same with the brothels." They were better than that, she believed. As a gladiatrix, you were also sometimes sold to others to sleep with them, but it felt more free, because you had a way of getting your anger out, when you fought. As a whore, you had no life other than having sex with strangers, both the good and the bad. She wouldn't like that.

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"They really are," she replied. "And I was a gladiatrix from the start, too. I wouldn't have had it any other way. Except, of course, not getting captured in the first place." That would have been the best thing, though she supposed Rome wasn't so bad. She just missed her family was all. She had faith that the gods would see her through and let her see her family again. 

Cynane continued, saying that she hoped she would get her freedom someday and that being satisfied where she was was better than not being satisfied. "I hope you get your freedom, too, Cinnia. I hope we both get to see home again." It was what she hoped for every slave, but particularly Cinnia, because she felt a strong connection with the other woman. They could be the same person with how similar their stories were, excepting age. They even looked somewhat alike! "Oh, yes, the mines sound terrible. And the brothels, too! You know, I had a man approach me the other day and ask me if I wanted to work at the Elysium!" She lowered her voice, her tone communicating her shock and amusement at the situation Titus had offered her. "I didn't know what to think! But it's my master's decision anyway. I hope Longinus has the good sense not to sell me to that man. He gave me the creeps."

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Cynane enjoyed that she’d met Annis and enjoyed how many things they agreed upon! Annis for example agreed on dresses being inconvenient and wouldn’t want to be anything but a gladiatrix here. She smiled when Annis said not getting captured would have been better though, “Yes, we could have left out that part and have stayed at home.” She said and then she hoped for Annis’ freedom and the other hoped the same for her. Well, she waited over ten years now and it wasn’t even close. At least she didn’t think so. But it was good that Annis had not lost her hope.

 “I hope so too.” She said, but honestly wasn’t sure anymore if she believed she’d ever see Britannia again in this life. Since this was the life they had and there were worse places to be. She arched a surprised brow when Annis said a man had wanted her to work at the Elysium. Wasn’t that place known for being the worst place to be a whore in all of Rome? Those girls and boys were mistreated, not only by the clients, but by their manager too. She wouldn’t touch that place. Annis went on about it being her master’s decision and then she mentioned a name. Cynane almost choked on her ale and coughed.

 “Wait…” She said when she’d finished coughing, “Your master is fucking Longinus? He was the one who captured me. Shipped me off to Rome in shackles and had me sold here.” It was obvious it was something she was bitter and angry about. So he took sweet Annis here too, of course he did. Fucking Longinus! Oh she’d like to catch him on a dark night in a dark alley and kick his ass until he couldn’t walk anymore.

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"If only," she said with a laugh. If she had stayed in her village instead of acting on her anger, she might have never come to Rome. Her mother had tried to warn her about her campaign of revenge, but she hadn't listened. Cynane continued and said she hoped they would get to see Britannia again, though her tone wasn't very convincing. Annis wanted her to see Britannia again, as much as she wanted to see it herself. But she seemed so dejected. "It will happen. I know it will. To Britannia." She raised her cup in a toast, banged it back down on the table, and then drank a hearty sip. 

Annis had really only mentioned Longinus for her own good, but Cynane apparently knew him, as she choked on her ale, coughing in shock. Then she explained that Longinus had captured her and sent her to Rome, too. Small world. "Really? Wow..." she said, trailing off awkwardly. Annis had her own opinions about the man. She wasn't really a fan, but as far as masters went, he could be a lot worse. But maybe Cynane had some bad history. "Yeah, he was the commanding officer of the legion we fought against in the battle I was captured in." She remembered being a little too injured to argue with him much when they first met, but that didn't mean she didn't have a lot to say to him anyway. "That's quite a coincidence."

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Cynane was not at all confident that she would ever see Britannia again, but she didn’t want to take Annis’ hope. She was younger, she might still go there, if she had the chance. She raised her cup in a toast with Cynane then, saying she knew she would see her country again, “To Britannia.” At least to that, Cynane could toast. She had not forgotten her past and she never would. And she also would not forget how she left the place and who sent her on her way. Fucking Longinus, who was of course Annis’ master too!

 Annis seemed surprised to hear that Cynane also had a history with Longinus and confirmed he had been in command when she was captured. She called it a coincidence that they were captured by the same man.

 “Yeah… he was in command back then too. And I heard the Romans actually lost the battle, so he was wounded, but somehow, our party ended in an ambush and I was knocked out. Then I woke up in that tent and was brought to Longinus. He was the first Roman I ever met face to face.” Cynane explained, “He didn’t leave a good impression.” She added and sighed. She knew he had offered to kill her then and there, and had she been older, she might have chosen that. If only he had not made her think she could be free again. As if. She’d not seen the shadow of freedom since she was captured. He was part of the reason why she hated Rome more for every day she woke up here. She didn’t think she’d ever leave.

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Annis sensed that her companion was a little more solemn now that the topic of Longinus had been brought up, and she felt bad for mentioning him. Clearly, Cynane was not impressed with Longinus at all. Cynane explained how she had come to meet Longinus, to which Annis nodded slowly. It sounded like it was still a painful memory, so she decided to shift the conversation a little so Cynane wouldn't have to talk about it if she didn't want to. "The Romans certainly did not lose the battle in which I was captured," she said, her tone a little ironic. "I was more than a little injured, so when I met him I didn't have a lot of fight left in me."

She fell quiet, remembering the battle she'd had to prove her worth as a gladiatrix. She smiled, amused, briefly. "Once I had healed, he made me fight this pimply boy in his legion so I could prove my worth as a gladiatrix. I embarrassed him soundly in front of all his compatriots. At least that's one fond memory I have involving Longinus." She looked at her companion. "Do you have any veteran gladiatrix tips? I'm always looking to improve my craft."

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To Cynane, Longinus was every inch the stereotype of a Roman she’d been brought up with. He was arrogant, he thought himself better than her and thought he had more right to everything than she did. He thought she was nothing and he thought it was fine to feed her lies, back then. To give her false hope. He was wealthy and he was overconfident and frustrating. He had been that back when she first met him and when she met him last year at some party where she’d been to guard Claudia… and met him again. He hadn’t changed one bit. She didn’t like him.

 Annis said that the Romans had not lost the battle in which she was captured and she had been injured… Cynane gave her an apologetic look, “I’m sorry to hear it was like that for you.” She said and then Annis went on, about that time when she was first captured. She had been made to fight a boy in the legion and somehow she’d embarrassed Longinus in the process. Cynane had no fond memories of him. She drank some more ale instead, not feeling so great about that.

 And now Annis was looking for tips as a gladiatrix, “Make sure you own the crowd. And use your actual skills as a warrior, not just those they teach you as a gladiatrix. The Romans know a lot about fighting in armies, but one to one… that’s where we’re better, I believe.” She said, “But it’s not like a gladiatrix can earn as much fame as a gladiator, I think. You’re just there to warm up the crowd for the gladiators.” Nothing more, nothing less. Was she being too gloomy? She blamed Longinus for making her feel sour again.

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Annis shrugged at Cynane's sympathetic look. What was the use of sympathy? It just brought down the mood and made her think of things she really would rather not think of. She had moved on past the events of that battle and after it, and was able to keep going because of the belief she would someday get her freedom. But if that proved to not be the case... Well, she wouldn't think about that now. If push came to shove, she would find her own way. After all, she'd played the Romans' games for five years now, and if things got to be too much, she would make up her own rules. 

Cynane moved on to tell her about how to capture the crowd for her own and Annis listened seriously. She had gained a fair bit of renown from her work so far, but the tips of an older woman were welcome and helpful. Her last statement was a bit of a downer again and she frowned, staying silent for a moment, taking small sips of the ale. After a second, she spoke up. "Well, perhaps not. But thank you for the advice." She fell into silence once more, frowning into her cup. 

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Maybe she was being too gloomy, she thought to herself as she sipped her ale. She had tried to offer some good advice for Annis and instead, she brought the mood down. Perhaps she just wasn't so happy herself at the moment, although that should not be a reason to bring everyone down. But after her last comment, Annis simply thanked her for the advice and stared at her cup with a frown. Cynane sighed, scolding herself for being so pessimistic. Annis was nice and young and she had more of her life ahead of her than Cynane. And although they had things in common, Annis seemed far more content with her situation and far more filled with hope, than Cynane. 

"I'm sorry... if I'm not the best conversation partner at the moment." Cynane finally said to her new companion - and friend, if Annis would care to see her again. It wasn't like Cynane to be like this towards her own countrymen. She felt she owed Annis an explanation, "I'm just... my mind is elsewhere. And recent events have just made me feel less happy." She paused, it also wasn't like her to feel almost nervous, but she never spoke about her emotions with anyone. No one but Charis, at least. And Charis she had not spoken to in months.

"The issue is... that another friend of mine, another fellow Briton, has been locked up by her master. She's pregnant and he won't let her out of her room or let her leave the house or see anyone, because he thinks she has wronged him. I miss her. That's the reason for my mood, I think. The main reason anyway. It has nothing to do with you." She explained at last and then she sighed, it felt good to say it to someone, even if it was hard. 

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Annis immediately felt bad for her sullen response to her advice. Clearly, there was something on Cynane's mind that was bothering her and Annis realized she shouldn't expect her to be perfectly happy. "No, don't worry about it," she said quickly, her cheeks burning in shame. "I understand." She finished her cup and gestured to the bartender for another one as she listened to Cynane's explanation as to why she was so moody. Annis sunk even further into shame as she listened. All the things she told her would make anybody moody - Annis wasn't sure she could be as nice as Cynane was being if she were in the same circumstances! 

"Oh, my goodness..." She grimaced at her own lame statement. There was little she could think of to say to what she had told her, but she felt touched that after knowing her for only a few minutes, Cynane trusted her enough with that information. "I'm sorry that's happened. That's a tough situation." She bit her lip. "But the Romans can do what they want, can't they? Evil bastard. Let me know if there's anything I can do to help."

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She had not really been fair to her new companion – and who knew, maybe friend? Annis seemed so nice and friendly and Cynane was just bringing the mood down. Maybe she shouldn’t go out, if this was all she had to offer anyone… negative pieces of advice. She apologized for her mood, but Annis blushed and said Cynane should not worry. She did, however, and decided to tell Annis the reason for her mood. She seemed like someone who might actually understand… a fellow Briton, enslaved by the same man as Cynane and in the situation she had once been in.

So she told the story about Charis and Annis seemed almost shocked, then felt sorry about what had happened. And then she of course too was angry about how the Romans did as they wanted, no matter how evil it would be.

“I don’t think there’s anything anyone can do. I go to her house every week, the day we used to meet… but I haven’t seen her since February. And no one at the household are willing to help either, it seems. We’re at their mercy.” She added and looked at Annis, remembering how they came to talk about Longinus in the first place, “I hope your master… our captor… is smart enough to not let you waste your skills away in a brothel. I wouldn’t wish that for anyone.”

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Annis drummed her fingers against the counter, the only way she could let herself express the anger she felt at Cynane's friend's situation. She hated feeling helpless - it was the same feeling she'd had when Longinus had met her for the first time and she'd been laid out on a table, unable to move because of her injuries. She didn't know Cynane's friend but it burned her up that she couldn't help. She was only a slave, even if she had gained notoriety for her work in the arena. 

Cynane said that they were all at the mercy of the Romans and in response, Annis took a long swig of her new drink. "Their cruelty... I just don't understand it. I'm sorry about your friend, though. I hope you get to see her again soon." Cynane expressed her own hope that Longinus wouldn't sell her to Titus and she shrugged, giving a bit of an ironic grin. "Hey - maybe I can make some real money that way." She hoped it wouldn't come to her being sold, but she didn't want to think about it. 

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Cynane hated feeling helpless and useless too – but that’s exactly what Charis’ situation made her feel. She couldn’t do anything and if she tried, she might make it worse than it already was! And she couldn’t stand the thought of that either. All they could do as slaves was hope for the mercy of their masters. Annis drank a good swig of her cup and said she didn’t understand why they were so cruel and she was sorry about Cynane’s friend.

“I don’t understand it either. My tribe… we had slaves, a kind of slaves anyway. But we didn’t treat them the way the Romans treat theirs!” They didn’t beat them like this, lock them up, force them to kill each other and so on. Never anything like that! They worked harder than free people, usually, but they knew it was their lot in life and that it might not last forever. Here, it was different. Cynane downed the rest of her drink too and she’d said she hoped Longinus was smart enough to not waste Annis’ skills away at a brothel!

Annis just thought she might make real money that way, “Maybe you can. I don’t know. I wouldn’t choose it for myself.” It had been bad enough that she’d been whored out as a gladiatrix. At least that had stopped now she was with Claudia. And that was just another reason to want to stay with her current mistress… so she would never be treated like a body with holes to use again. She was worth more than that.

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