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July 75CE

Rome was freaking hot in the summers. Gods above, how did people handle it?... It was a question on theory, obviously, because anyone who could left the city for the summer months, and anyone who stayed probably had no other option. Even Flavia Juliana and her household visited less often these days, preferring the villa to the city, which was sad, honestly, because Aia had a lover in the city, and she was very displeased by how infrequently she got to bang him. Hopefully, this would only be temporary, until they got permission to marry. Then she could bang him all the time.

But right now, he was on duty, and she had some errands to run, errands that took her to the Forum Holitorium for some spiced olive oil and other delicacies. Aia covered her head with her light palla against the sun, and walked slowly along the market stalls, examining produce as she went. This place was stinking much less in the summer than the Forum Boarium close by; in fact the spices and herbs and oils had kind of a nice, if strong, aroma that tickled one's nose. Aia stopped to smell the scents around a spice stall, when she caught sight of a familiar face out of the corner of her eyes...

@Sara

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Charis felt sick to her stomach. The nausea of the first few weeks of pregnancy had long since passed (replaced by other maladies of; exhaustion, back ache and irritability) but every now and again something would set off that sinking feeling in her stomach and make her want to run to the nearest latrine. The visit to the markets at the Campus Martius had been harmless enough so far; she'd sourced what she needed for Rhoda but her real reason for venturing to the cities edge was to pick up a little baby's rattle with her saved up peculium which she'd squirrel away. She didn't wish to be seen to be buying it by somebody at the Emporium Magnum, and Tertius had given her leave to come here (under the guise of better ingredients for Rhoda). She had no doubt, if her hopes came true, that Tertius would buy his son every toy known to man - but she wanted to get the baby something from her. She possessed no skills at all in carving or whittling, and so had bought the baby a gift instead. The sentiment was there though. 

Yet as she passed by the Forum Holitorium, the nausea came in a wave. Perhaps it was the smell of some spice, or the heat, but she felt that familiar sinking feeling and her face lost all colour. She couldn't very well vomit in the middle of here, and she could make it to the edge if she walked quickly enough. She pushed through the crowds, feeling vaguely repulsed by the sensation of sweaty skin touching her own, and brushed passed a spice stall - making a beeline for a fountain. She made it just as Aia turned round, not  that she noticed. She cupped her palms in the water and splashed her face with it - ignoring judgemental looks as she did so. When thoroughly cooled, she turned round to lean against it and moved one hand to her bump, now significantly showing at almost seven months gone - as if chiding the child well thank you very much. So entranced by her inner thoughts, she didn't see Aia walk up to her. 

 

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Aia was about to greet Charis, but the woman brushed past her without stopping and hurried to the fountain. She looked pale... and also heavier than she had before. Aia followed her with her gaze, staring in surprise, watching as she splashed water on her face. Was she feeling sick?... The reality only dawned on her when Charis turned around and leaned against the fountain, her belly suddenly obvious.

Oh.

Aia walked over, ignoring the looks some people were giving to the pregnant woman. Get a life, idiots.

"Erea" she smiled in greeting "Fancy seeing you again!"

@Sara

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Charis blinked as she heard her name and peered up, her face wan but the nausea mercifully subsiding. "Aia?" She asked, frowning for a moment as if confused. Past faces were reappearing in her life at an alarming rate, just as she needed them not to. Still - she couldn't deny that she was pleased to see the woman and offered a wide smile - albeit one that didn't meet her eyes. 

"It is a small world," She inclined her head but made no move to stand up. Her legs felt wobbly and she wasn't convinced that if she moved her stomach wouldn't roll again and she'd be retching on the poor woman's sandals. Best to sit still, ride it out. "What...what are you doing here?" She blinked - trying to feign a natural conversation whilst the elephant in the room lurked at her midsection. 

 

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Erea - Charis? - recognized her, and Aia smiled. Last time they had met at the baths, and talked about their past, but then they lost touch for a long while and... well, things had apparently changed. Erea was not standing up, so Aia took a seat next to her on the edge of the fountain.

"It is a small world. What...what are you doing here?" 

"Shopping" Aia answered, it was kind of a non-answer, but the obvious one, given where they were sitting. "Are you... feeling alright? You are looking a little pale... wait, are you about to have a baby?" The thought just occurred to Aia, and she was not entirely sure what she would do if the answer was yes.

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"I-I'm fine I," She blinked as Aia continued and glanced quickly between Aia and her bump and back again. She couldn't help it. It had been so long since she'd found something genuinely funny that she laughed. Joyously. Her cheeks flushed and a couple a little way off glanced in their direction with a quizzical frown on their faces. When she finally composed herself, she had to dab the back of her her eyes with her hand. 

"No...no not for a while, not for another couple of months at least." Her hands moved awkwardly to her midsection. It wasn't so much as an elephant in the room anymore, as a very obvious talking point. "I just felt sick, that's all. It happens less now but spices set me off." She wrinkled her nose and glanced back at Aia with a half-smile, feeling far more awkward than ever. "So...you have my news...how have you been?" It sounded so...awkward and false, but she wasn't really sure how to have normal conversations anymore with faces from her past.

 

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"I-I'm fine I..."

Erea burst out laughing. Aia blinked in surprise; she'd genuinely asked if she was about to drop a baby by the fountain, because fuck if she knew how these things worked (she should probably find out, though, a small voice said in the back of her mind). At least she was laughing now, and looked a lot less pale and dizzy. Aia smiled too. 

"No...no not for a while, not for another couple of months at least. I just felt sick, that's all. It happens less now but spices set me off... So...you have my news...how have you been?"

Oh, good. No dropping babies just yet. Aia chuckled and leaned back, placing her basket on the ground.

"I have been... well. Pretty good, actually." she tried to remember all that had happened since their last meeting. It was a lot. And mostly called Decimus. "Getting used to living as a Roman woman, I guess." she tilted her head at Erea "Did you ever... get news of your brother?"

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Relieved that the conversation had detoured, Charis breathed a sigh of relief (that looked to be shared by Aia now she was aware the child wasn't about to be born here in the marketplace). "Pretty good?" She queried with an impish smile and an arched brow. Something in the woman's manner was intriguing, but she'd figure it out eventually. 

"No...not yet. But my sister," She smiled broadly and truthfully, "She's a slave in another Senators house in Rome and my dominus is going to allow me to see her tomorrow." She couldn't wait, and yet every time she thought of it she had that same uncomfortable sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. What if Nymphias was different? Hurt? Maimed? She swallowed and shook her head, trying not to dwell on it. 

"A-and what have you been doing? To get used to living as a Roman woman?" She gently pried, a twinkle of amusement in her eyes.

 

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"Pretty good?" 

Aia chuckled. She could tell that Erea did not miss the cheer in her voice, but she was not going to jump straight into bragging about how well she'd been doing. It was probably not nice, compared to anyone who was not free. Like Erea and her family.

"No...not yet. But my sister. She's a slave in another Senators house in Rome and my dominus is going to allow me to see her tomorrow." 

"That's amazing!" Aia noted with an honest smile "Well... not the slave part. But you found her!"

Silver linings. At least the girl was alive. She hoped the brother was, too. He had been overly protective, but not a bad person.

"A-and what have you been doing? To get used to living as a Roman woman?" 

"I'm... starting to like it." Aia grinned "Still not as cool as being a Roman man, but oh well. It has its perks."

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Charis grinned and nodded; "I know, I know, I couldn't believe it. Her dominus came to visit mine and I had a suspicion it was him, my friend Rufus wrote to tell me she was a slave in somebody's household and their names sounded similar so I-I asked my dominus and he's finally agreed." It was a miracle of sorts, really, given how much Tertius could have held it against her for everything she'd done. 

She smiled a little at Aia, her caginess was amusing but they would get there eventually. 

"I don't think I'd like to be a Roman man, all the marching in the army and all the slaves to mistreat - must be horrible." She wrinkled her nose in distaste, although she was obviously joking. "And what perks might they be? The Roman men have all the marching but the roman women get all the lecherous old fools groping them." Or she did, at any rate. Then again she wasn't a citizen like Aia. But Aia must have had some of that to deal with, she was a pretty woman - especially now her hair had grown out some (not that she was going to say that). 

 

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Erea had found her sister. They were slaves in different households, but they had the dominus' permission to meet. Who knew, maybe they would find their way back together? Aia hoped so. It was hard to imagine being enslaved after living free, and losing one's family to the Romans. She hoped the sisters would be able to stay in touch. It would be a small thing, but a very important one.

"I don't think I'd like to be a Roman man, all the marching in the army and all the slaves to mistreat - must be horrible. And what perks might they be? The Roman men have all the marching but the roman women get all the lecherous old fools groping them." 

Erea had her opinions on Roman men. Aia did not disagree with her on most of it. Sure, there were exceptions to the rule, but it felt like bad form to mention that right now. Instead, the look on Aia's face turned more serious for a moment as she glanced over the other woman.

"Is that what happened?" she asked more quietly. Most slaves did not have marriages, and masters took advantages of pretty young women like Erea. It was very different to see a friend pregnant when she was a slave.

@Sara

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Charis sighed and tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. She felt a bubble of irritation in the pit of her belly - what else could it be? But she swallowed it down, she knew Aia meant no offence although had it been anybody else (or at least, any other slave, Charis would have had a firm word or two). 

"In a roundabout way." She admitted and then moved a hand to cup her bump. "I...didn't wish to fall with child, not his child but..." She shrugged. She wasn't keen on airing all her dirty laundry in public but she was only being truthful. "The Gods had other plans for me and this one so...I'll make the best of it, I always do." She offered a wavering smile to her friend and tried to brush off the discomfort she felt. 

"And you? Any Roman men to hate at the moment?" 

 

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There was a much smaller chance that Erea was pregnant from some kind of a happy loving relationship than her being pregnant because her dominus, or someone of his household, decided that she was free game. If she didn't want to talk Aia would leave it alone, but at least she wanted to ask.

"In a roundabout way. I...didn't wish to fall with child, not his child but... The Gods had other plans for me and this one so...I'll make the best of it, I always do."

Aia nodded. As she'd suspected, this was not a wanted child. But the girl was holding her head up and trying to deal with that anyway.

"Well, if you need someone beaten up in an alley, let me know." She would, too. Or find a way, anyway.

"And you? Any Roman men to hate at the moment?" 

Aia sighed a little. Her life had gone a lot better, and it felt a little awkward talking about it right now. But maybe at least it would be a distraction? She looked at Erea a little sheepishly. "No... but I'm kind of in love with one." she admitted with a small smile. "Someone I can't marry."

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Charis smiled ruefully and glanced across at Aia. "You're the second person I know to have offered that, I'll most definitely keep it in mind." Between Cynane and Aia, and she was sure she could rope Alexius and Thessala in as well - should her dominus ever cross another line...well, she was sure there would be hell to pay. At least in her imagination. 

She was relieved, however, when the conversation took a lighter turn. Purely because every time she looked down she was reminded of what happened to her by virtue of the bump, it was a small miracle that she could be distracted into thinking about happier topics. As Aia looked sheepishly and muttered, Charis grinned and gripped her friends hand with excitement. "Love!" She exclaimed. Gods. She'd not felt love in years. How depressing. No Erea, get over yourself. A frown creased her brow though and she glanced at her friend, "Why can you not marry? Is...is he a slave?" 

 

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Apparently Aia was not the first one to offer to beat someone up for hurting Erea. She wondered who else did. She already liked them by default. It meant this girl had other people to rely on, others who cared enough about her to risk doing illegal things, like beating up a Roman nobleman in an alley. It was good to have trust in people like that.

Erea seemed excited at the idea of Aia being in love. She blushed a little. At least the distraction worked.

"Love!... Why can you not marry? Is...is he a slave?" 

"No." Aia shook her head with a smirk "Praetorian. I know him from the legion, back in Britannia... They can't marry until their service is up." she shrugged, and gave Erea a sheepish grin "Doesn't mean we can't do other things in the meantime."

@Sara

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Charis frowned. "Praetorian?" She bit her lip, embarrassed that she couldn't remember what it was. She also bit harder to snap back that Aia could do better than a solider. If she'd known the man in the legion, then that man would have been one of the many faceless bastards who decimated her country, killed her people, enslaved her family. "I..." She swallowed, feeling a little awkward, "Is he...nice at least?" 

She did manage a smile though at Aia's words and arched an amused brow, "Ahh yes, the joy of the newlyweds...or...soon-to-be...weds." She chuckled and reached down to scoop a palmful of water up, before splashing it over her face. "I remember it well." She cast Aia a knowing look, "But i thought Roman women had to be all good and meek and wait until marriage? Use their slavegirls until then, of course, for some fun but..." She rolled her eyes, "Your mistress must be in the dark?" 

 

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Aia knew that Erea had a very different view of Roman soldiers, and with good reason. If she had been on the other side of the conquest, she would have thought of them that way too. But with all the things they had been through... she could not think of Decimus that way. She could see Erea did, from the look on her face.

"Praetorian? I... Is he...nice at least?" 

"He's a good man." she nodded. She was not going to say more, but it was clear from her voice that she meant it. In many ways.

"Ahh yes, the joy of the newlyweds...or...soon-to-be...weds. I remember it well. But i thought Roman women had to be all good and meek and wait until marriage? Use their slavegirls until then, of course, for some fun but... Your mistress must be in the dark?" 

"Gods, she is." Aia smirked. Good and meek, indeed. "And let's face it, Roman women are not supposed to serve in the legions either, or get drunk with men, or... half the things I have done so far. Sleeping with a praetorian is not going to make things worse. As long as my domina doesn't find out she's harboring a loose woman..." she grinned. She looked at Erea again, and sighed a little. "I should not be bragging to you about this. You must be all preoccupied with... that." she nodded at the baby bump.

@Sara

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Charis smiled gently, although it didn't quite reach her eyes. Good man and solider were opposites to her, but she was glad that Aia was happy. She deserved it, after all she'd been through - and despite their differences, Charis had always liked the woman - even back in Britannia. 

She let out a proper chuckle at the description of her domina and arched a brow. "Ahhh I see, but I'm sure you can be...creative, if the situation calls for it?" She chuckled again and as Aia apologised Charis shook her head, "I am...which is why it's nice to talk of other things, but," She placed a hand on her bump, "This one reminds me to warn you to be careful...an affair is easy to hide, falling with child? Not so much." She would hate for Aia to be cast out of her dominas. What if she was? Before her man could marry her? Then she'd be an even less enviable position than Charis was, and that was saying something indeed...

"I...don't recommend Yarrow root...I was taking it religiously and this one still appeared..." 

 

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It felt wrong, talking to Erea about her loving a praetorian. Also wrong to talk about loving anyone, especially since she woman was carrying a child she did not want from someone who owned her. Aia felt guilty for bringing up the whole thing, when her friend was struggling with a problem of that scale. 

"I am...which is why it's nice to talk of other things, but, This one reminds me to warn you to be careful...an affair is easy to hide, falling with child? Not so much." 

Aia blinked. Erea was right.

"Shit."

"I...don't recommend Yarrow root...I was taking it religiously and this one still appeared..." 

Aia shook her head, the true meaning of Erea's words dawning on her. How had she not thought of that before?... "I... I don't think I've thought of it like that..." Shit. Shit. Would she?... Could she?... Aia was a Roman woman now, but somehow deep down she still thought of herself as something less feminine than the other women. Certainly never pictured herself pregnant. Hell, she could barely picture herself married, even though she could picture herself doing a lot of other marriage-related things to Decimus just fine. Her cheeks flushed. What would Decimus say?... Had he considered this at all, the times they met in secret? "Wow, I'm dumb."

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Charis' eyes widened and her lips parted in surprise. For being a worldly sort - having travelled all over the Empire, lived with men, intent to marry one of them in fact, how on earth could Aia be so...naive?! 

"You haven't thought of it?!" She asked in a high pitched voice, filled with shock, "Aia you must...all it takes is one time and that's it, you're with child! I...has...have you both been trying to be careful?" Knowing Roman men as she did now (read - intimately) she doubted Aia's lover would be much impressed with the idea of pulling out before his seed was spread. But if he wasn't willing to be cautious, then Aia should have been!

"You..." She sighed, realising that perhaps her advice wouldn't be welcomed, "If you want my advice I would go and visit a midwife...to check you're not already..." She winced, "A-and then get some herbs to make sure it doesn't happen. As I said...yarrow root didn't work but I've heard there is an expensive one...silpha...something, that is supposed to be very good." 

 

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What a shit show. Aia blushed as she saw the shock on Erea's face. Here she was, happily sexing away, while the other woman was carrying a child she did not even choose to have. From an outsider's point of view, she must have sounded dumb as dirt. Gods, Aia. Pull yourself together.

"You haven't thought of it?! Aia you must...all it takes is one time and that's it, you're with child! I...has...have you both been trying to be careful?" 

"Um... no?" It slipped her mind somehow. Obviously. She was so preoccupied with having her way with Decimus, the thought somehow got lost, and apparently it did so for him too. Like dumb kids, the two of us. Aia rubbed the bridge of her nose.

"You... If you want my advice I would go and visit a midwife...to check you're not already... A-and then get some herbs to make sure it doesn't happen. As I said...yarrow root didn't work but I've heard there is an expensive one...silpha...something, that is supposed to be very good." 

Aia sighed, nodding. "Thank you. I need to get my head on straight don't I..." She'd have to go. And make sure. And then talk to Decimus about it. Gods, that was going to be one hell of a conversation. If she was... Was she going to be the mother of Decimus' child? Could she even handle that?... The thought of giving birth was bad enough to begin with. Aia shuddered.

"So... what's gonna happen... once you have the child?" she ventured. "Do you... have people helping you?"

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Charis offered a sly grin and nudged her friend. "You do...so you can thank your Fortuna for letting us cross paths today." Since she had felt better, more herself, her Gods had been kind to her; putting Cynane in her path and now Aia. She only needed Alexius so she could apologise and she'd have her trio of close friends to confide in, even if it was rarely, at least until the child was born. 

"Oh..." She blinked, "I...I...don't know." She swallowed the lump in her throat. She needed to be careful, who knew who was listening? "It depends on my dominus. The child may be freed," She tried to keep the hope out of her voice, "And remain in the h-house, or may not be freed but remain a slave there with me or..." She felt her heart judder and ache against her ribcage, "Or...or it may not be with me for long." Was all she could manage to say. Tertius hadn't mentioned taking the child from her the last time they spoke, but there was no predicting what he'd do. "But Dominus has agreed, at least tentatively, to allow my friend Cinnia with me for the birth which is generous so...I won't be alone, you don't have to worry." 

 

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"You do...so you can thank your Fortuna for letting us cross paths today." 

She did. She would have to go and make sure she had not done something she was not ready for. Even in her current predicament, Erea was definitely more rational than Aia. It was good to have friends in strange places. But what would happen after the baby was born? Aia was a free woman at least, but her friend was a slave. Would she get to be a mother like others?...

"Oh... I...I...don't know. It depends on my dominus. The child may be freed, And remain in the h-house, or may not be freed but remain a slave there with me or... Or...or it may not be with me for long."

Shit. Aia felt a flash of anger at the words. Who would take a baby from its mother...? Roman noblemen, that's who. They owned the baby and the mother and many of them would not think twice. Aia looked at her friend, trying to guess if she knew which choice her dominus was getting ready to make. "That's rough."

"But Dominus has agreed, at least tentatively, to allow my friend Cinnia with me for the birth which is generous so...I won't be alone, you don't have to worry." 

"Well, I still might" Aia noted mildly "But it's good you won't be alone. I am told giving birth is a bitch..."

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Charis chuckled, despite the serious tenor of their conversation. What was that old adage? If you don't laugh you'll cry? "Rough...yeah. Let's go with rough." She chuckled again and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. 

"Mhmm," She winced. Her face contorted in obvious displeasure. She felt the familiar fear start in her blood, felt the thrum of her heartbeat against her ribs - just at the thought of it. "I've seen other people go through it...my mama when I was a girl and a friend or two, back in Britannia..." She tried to keep her voice steady, "And I'm sure I'll be fine...the pregnancy has been fine and..." She shook her head resolutely, ending that turn of the conversation, "No, everything will be fine." She swallowed. "I'll be fine. I promise. And then when I'm better, after, and if Dominus allows you can meet the baby and teach him every single language you know so he's the most impressive boy in the whole of Rome, hmm?" 

 

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Erea made a face at Aia's less than tactful observation about giving birth. Who was she to know anyway? She had just always assumed it was a messy and painful affair many women died from. No thank you.

"I've seen other people go through it...my mama when I was a girl and a friend or two, back in Britannia... And I'm sure I'll be fine...the pregnancy has been fine and... No, everything will be fine. I'll be fine. I promise. And then when I'm better, after, and if Dominus allows you can meet the baby and teach him every single language you know so he's the most impressive boy in the whole of Rome, hmm?" 

Aia gave Erea a sympathetic look as she talked her way around her worries and fears. It was something she couldn't really relate to, no matter how much she wanted to help her friend, or at least make her feel better. She smiled a little at the last part.

"I'd be happy to. The earlier they start the better, I hear." she chuckled. She was not even sure the child would be a boy, not that it would have made any difference. "You know, the Romans have goddesses that help women and all that. I know you're a Briton, but... I get the feeling those kinds of goddesses wouldn't mind."

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