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20th of August, 75AD

It had started an hour ago. A dull ache in her back that woke her up from her sleep and wouldn't settle. It wasn't excruciating, but it ached. By the time the hour was up, the ache had morphed into an odd sort of...pressure that couldn't quite be explained or articulated, every ten or perhaps twenty minutes that gripped her belly - deep inside. She knew enough to know that this might be the beginning. She was not due for two, or three more weeks but the midwives had warned her that with her size an early labour was not to be unexpected. She felt the waves of fear crash over her as she sat cross legged on her bed, trying to breathe through the gripping sensation as the other two girls in the room snored in their slumber, oblivious. She felt breathless, and not just from the discomfort, but from the panic that consumed her. She felt flushed, hot and trapped. It couldn't be now could it? She wasn't ready, she hadn't sent word to Cynane or her sister, she hadn't put plans in place if...if things did not go well. She choked and Jocasta stopped her snoring, but mercifully didn't wake. She couldn't stay here. 

As the waves of the pressure settled again, she carefully and quietly pushed herself up from her cot and padded gently from the room into the chill of the early morning. It must have been still well before dawn - the sky was an inky black, but there was a bright moon and she found herself following the familiar route into the garden. One arm cupped her bump and the other reached out to the columns to settle herself, not out of pain - that had stopped for now - but from the fear overtaking her. 

She finally made it outside on unsteady feet with flushed cheeks and moved to sit on the bench. She glanced about the place, deserted in the dead of night and tried to ignore the memories of all that had happened out here; praying to her Gods (where were they now?), that first taste of a relationship with Tertius, playing with Antonia, arguing with Teutus...everything that had happened to her here had started from the garden. Maybe that was why she was drawn here now? She must have been sat there for a little while as the pressure, the gripping pain started again and she winced, reaching out one hand so her fingers clasped the stone of the bench and she let out breathless little mewls of discomfort. As she breathed through it (dreading that this was only the beginning, and the pain would get so much worse), she didn't realise somebody else was approaching. 

 

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Hector was fast asleep beside him and Tertius lay a little while, just looking at him. The domus was dark and quiet now, everyone had gone to sleep. Tertius too, and he had actually slept, but then he had woken, thirsty. Hector just looked so… peaceful, sleeping, so he wouldn’t wake him up. Tertius tried falling asleep again, but it didn’t really work, so after a while, he got up to find himself something to drink. He made it to the kitchen, where he found himself some watered wine. He took the cup with him towards the peristyle and garden, thinking he might sit there until he felt sleepy again.

Only when he came closer to the garden, he heard sounds. He wasn’t alone and someone… it sounded like they were in pain. And it wasn’t just someone, it was Charis. In pain! The child wasn’t supposed to come yet and that had him worried, she wasn’t supposed to be in pain and especially not now. Tertius hurried into the garden, seeing Charis sitting on the marble bench there, gripping the bench and breathing heavily.

He headed straight over to her, this time it didn’t matter that he came towards her quietly, he didn’t want to surprise her. No, instead he was suddenly very worried!

“Charis… are you alright?” Should they send word for a midwife? Why weren’t the other slaves that slept in her room with her? Did they really care so little? Charis was pregnant! She could die if someone didn’t take good care of her – and then the child might die too! He wasn’t having this. He wasn’t losing any of them – it just wasn’t going to happen.

@Sara

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Charis didn't look at him or react to his question as her domine drew near, even though she heard it. She focused on breathing through the discomfort. It was only a few more seconds until the gripping pressure eased and she exhaled deeply through her mouth. Finally she glanced up at him with a wince of apology. "I...I'm fine domine, it," She swallowed and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, "It started a little while ago I...it's not so bad." 

That was a funny way to announce that her labour had started and his child was due to arrive, but she felt out of sorts, awkward and exhausted already and wasn't thinking clearly. She glanced up at him and tried to allay her own fears with his own, "I didn't wish to worry anybody and it only hurts every now and again, not all the time, and not close together like the midwife warned me about." She tried to calm herself down. She undoubtedly had hours still to go, no need to panic just yet, and in any case - it wasn't her decision. She shuddered a little - wishing she'd thrown over her long, day tunic. There was a chill in the air tonight. "What...what would you have me do, domine?" She couldn't very well labour in the garden, and she desperately wished to ask about Cynane and the baby but didn't dare, not after she'd given him the fright of his life.

She still felt unsettled and the thoughts only made it worse. She sniffed and wiped the back of her hand under her eyes were tears were forming in panic and anxiety. She was a twenty year old woman, but right now all she felt like was a girl who was out of her depth.

 

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He did not like seeing her in pain like this. Of course he knew it was inevitable, with her being pregnant which meant she had to give birth – and he was aware that was painful – but still… it wasn’t something he enjoyed. He had cared about Charis, so deeply. He had done so much for her and a part of him still cared more about her than he ought to. Tertius hated that, he hated that he cared about his slave, but he did. And right now, she had him worried. She didn’t answer him right away, as she was clearly unwell and Tertius was about to call for some help, when she finally relaxed and said she was fine and it wasn’t bad.

“It doesn’t look like it’s… not bad.” Tertius said and then she said she had not wished to worry anyone. She should not have to think like that, she was going to have a child and she was going to need help with that, so people had to worry about her. Why had Jocasta not come to her aid? She was so cruel to Charis. Maybe he should teach her a lesson about that. But for now, Charis mattered and she wondered what to do. She wiped tears away, she was crying.

Tertius sat down next to her, “We haven’t prepared a room yet so…” She couldn’t very well have the child in her own bed in her own room. She’d need space. He recalled they had made Antonia walk a lot, when she was giving birth to their daughter. She needed a proper room. It was decided then, what he would do. She would get his room to give birth in.

“I’ll make sure a room is prepared for you, tonight.” Tertius said, “Is there anything you need right now? Are you thirsty, hungry… tell me?” He didn’t deal with pregnant women about to give birth very often and Charis was just… special. Despite how she betrayed him and hurt him, he was concerned now and wanted her to be well. And he wanted the birth to go well, for both mother and child.

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Charis looked up at him with rosy flushed cheeks and a wince on her face, eyes still watery from tears although they weren't tears of pain. "Thank you, domine." She shook her head at his question. The thought of food turned her stomach and she shook her head, she wasn't thirsty either. "No...no I'm fine, thank you, I just needed some air, my room was so hot and the midwife told me air and walking were good if I go into labour." She glanced up at him. He looked about as worried as her, which didn't fill her with huge amounts of confidence. 

"I..." She stopped herself. She felt flustered and bothered, but there was a cloud hanging over this. She had always thought the birth of her first child would be a joyous occasion, but look at where she was, what had happened. She knew she wouldn't love the child any less for its father or its provenance but there was something else bothering her. She could tell she looked concerned, especially with the watery tears she continually had to swat away. "I'm...scared." She swallowed the lump in her throat, finally admitting it. "So, so scared. I...know many women don't come out of chilled and I've made no plans I..." 

 

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In the blue moonlight he could just barely make out her flushed cheeks – yet he could also feel the heat from her body, so close and so warm because of the contractions and the pain. He really was concerned and she looked up at him, with watery eyes and thanked him, but then said she was fine and didn’t want food or anything to drink. She’d been told that air and walking were good things if she was to go into labour.

He was just about to suggest they walked, he could walk with her, but then she began talking. As if she was uncertain. She said she was scared and wiped more tears away.

“I’m sure you will do fine. You’re young and… you have siblings. It means your mother did well. You will too.” He said, trying to reassure her. It was known that it was always good to look at the family if you wanted to know how you’d do. Just like if you wanted a wife who could give you many sons, consider if she has brothers. If the mother does well, so will the daughter. That’s what he had learned, at least. And she had to do well. That was just a fact.

“Should we walk a bit?” He wanted to go and tell someone to get the room ready, but he didn’t like leaving her here alone. Why did this have to be in the middle of the night?

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Charis wiped back a few more errant tears and sniffed, glancing up at him. At this time of night, and in her situation, she felt no need for formality and felt that she wouldn't be punished for looking at his eyes. How could he punish a woman who was being punished in labour already?

"I just...I didn't get to say goodbye...to my sister, if I..." She swallowed and wiped away a few more tears, "And," She started herself and looked up at his face imploringly, "I-in my culture we don't burn the bodies, we bury them, whole, I-I know it's different here but I don't want to be burned if I..." If I die, delivering your child into the world. Look what had happened to his wife? She'd gotten the story from Rhoda; a difficult birth and then wasting away for a year before her death. Charis didn't know if that was better or worse than bleeding out immediately once the child had been born. 

His question calmed her a little. She had never seen him like this; so...worried, but also considerate. It felt odd but it was a little soothing, she had to give him some credit. She nodded slowly, trying to calm herself down. The midwife had told her to be positive and she had made all the offerings she could, she could do no more than that. "Yes...yes please." She shifted on the bench and glanced up again, "Can you help me stand?" She swallowed and added "Domine." 

 

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He watched her wipe more tears away while she looked at him and he recalled the first time they might out here, in the middle of the night. She was so new, back then. A new slave to the household and to being a slave in general. With so much to learn. Back then, when they met in the garden, he had made her understand she had to do anything to please him. Now here she sat, about to have his child and they spoke almost like equals. Like they’d done before, when she would share his bed, which had led to this moment here. Gods, so much had happened.

And now she was scared and all he could do was try and comfort her. She said she had not said goodbye to her sister and she wanted to be buried if she died. His eyes widened for a moment, but not because of the difference in burial practices… “You don’t have to think about that. You shouldn’t have to. You won’t die, Charis.” At least he hoped so! Gods, he hadn’t thought that far. What if she died? Who would look after the child… the slaves, again? He had no wife. Oh she had to live. He had to do everything that was in his power to make sure of that. He couldn’t lose her and the child couldn’t either.

He suggested they walked and she liked that idea. Then asked him to help her and he nodded, standing, holding a hand to take hers and the other to hold her by the arm to help her up properly. Think that she still remembered her manners, even now.

“I will have word sent to your sister… and your friend, the bodyguard at the palace?” Tertius then said. How to have word sent and get that room ready, when he couldn’t leave her side? What if something happened to her and their son and he wasn’t here? His room of course wasn’t so far from the peristyle… he began walking in that direction, making sure Charis had an arm to hold onto if she wanted it.

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How certain he seemed. She tried to offer him a smile but she was sure it appeared more a grimace than anything. Maybe it was a male-thing, to have such certainty in the face of bad odds. Her youth counted in her favour, but her petite size and previous loss did not. She really had no notion of which way it would go. She placed a small hand in his and was helped to her feet. She winced at the dull ache in her back as she stood, but it was pleasant to stretch her legs nonetheless. 

"Thank you domine," She nodded and finally released his hand. She felt steady for now, but if the tightening started again she'd have to reach out and grab him, rules or formality be damned. She padded slowly, barefoot, and half a pace behind him. "I...I do not wish for my sister to be here, when the child is born in case..." She didn't think  her sweet, naive sister needed to see the realities of childbirth and in case anything happened to her she wasn't convinced Ardra would be able to cope. No, she needed Cynane - with her fortitude and her strength and her friendship. "But Cynane, my friend from the Palace." She nodded. 

She glanced up at him, wishing to keep talking so as to distract herself, "W-was domina Antonia born quickly? The midwife said as it is my first child," At least the first that she had born, she thought sadly, "I-it may take some time..." 

 

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They were not as close as they had once been, but she was carrying his child and he could not imagine the household without Charis in it. Maybe it was selfish, but that’s how he felt. On top of that, if she died, who would take care of his son, their child? No, she had to be here. There was just no way he was losing her the same way he lost his wife. She didn’t comment on it and Tertius helped her up. Her hand held his, for the first time in almost half a year. But only shortly. She let go, once she was standing.

She thanked him and said she didn’t wish for her sister to come, but her friend from the palace. Tertius nodded, “I’ll send word that way then. We can inform your sister afterwards?” Tertius suggested kindly. She was not supposed to give birth yet, but these things happened, he knew that. And she had to make it through. She had to live, along with the child. Teutus’ mother had been sold years ago, but at least she was there when he was a child. Antonia never knew her mother. It wouldn’t be good if Charis’ child didn’t have its mother either.

And while he was thinking on that, Charis asked into Antonia’s birth and said it might take some time for her to give birth, when it was a first, “I remember waiting. But I don’t remember how long for.” Tertius said, “But it didn’t go so well. I’m sure you will do much better.” They had reached a pillar by the peristyle, “Will you wait here a moment? I’ll be right back.” Tertius promised her and then he went off to wake up Hector and give him instructions.

Instructions like… leave the bed and take all sheets off it, wake the other slaves and have Rhoda and some of the other women prepare the room for the birth. And someone would run to fetch a midwife, while another would carry a message to the palace and Cynane. Once Tertius was sure everything was set into motion, as quickly as he could, he returned to Charis, “Everything is going to be alright.” He said with a smile as he reached her again, “How are you feeling now?”

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Charis swallowed. It didn't go so well. No shit - she died, didn't she? She bit back the comment - her temper inflamed from the persistent ache in her back, and instead only nodded mutely. She was afraid, and it was making her easily irritated. She nodded mutely again as he asked her to wait, and reached out a hand to lean against a column in case her legs shook and the contractions started again. She was doing the right thing, wasn't she? By not having her sister here? She couldn't face Ardra in pain. She'd only ever been strong for her youngest sibling, and she wouldn't wish to put her through something that may change her forever, if things went wrong. 

She didn't know how long Tertius was gone for, but she set about pacing to try and alleviate some of the tension across her back. She paced around the little strip of peristyle outside of his room and heard him speak to Hector, seeing the man leave the room to scurry off and do Gods knew what. 

When Tertius returned she glanced up and saw him smile and returned it with a tentative one of her own. "I'm feeling fine, just...uncomfortable." The pressure in her back was like a gripping vice applied ever so slightly, not hugely painful but just...there. But as she smiled at him she felt that familiar tugging pressure, twisting in her belly and she winced, immediately reaching out for his arm for support. She gasped a little. It had been about fifteen, maybe ten minutes since the last one so that was about right. She tried to breathe through it but her face crumpled and she couldn't help the way her fingers gripped his arm, harder than she'd intend if she wasn't in pain. It must have only lasted sixty or so second and when it was over she let out a shaky breath, but didn't drop his arm. 

"I'm sorry domine," She winced, "I...can't believe it gets so much more painful than this...Maybe it is a punishment from the Gods?" 

 

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When Tertius mentioned that Antonia’s birth didn’t go so well, he meant the actual birth. It wasn’t until about a year later, that his wife lost the last strength to live and he lost her. But she did lose a lot of blood, his wife. It was a long birth and it didn’t go well and she never fully recovered. What they were talking about now, he and Charis, was her passing away during the actual childbirth. And he just couldn’t face that idea, so it just wasn’t happening. If the midwife failed doing her job, keeping both the child and the mother safe and alive… she’d be in trouble. But he wouldn’t think about that. It would go well. It just would.

He had to set things in motion though, so he left her to do that. There were a lot of things to see to, actually, and it didn’t matter that it was still dark and night. If Charis was in labor now, that couldn’t really be changed. After a little while, he could finally return to Charis, who was pacing and he gave her a smile and asked how she was. She said she was uncomfortable and gave him a smile, but then she suddenly gasped and held onto his arm, tightly. Tertius didn’t move, instead put a hand on top of hers. She might bruise him, but right now it didn’t matter.

“Charis…” He said, hearing people move about behind him in the corridors of the house. Good thing they were working now! At last it was over, she dropped the tight grip, but still held onto him. Then she apologized and spoke of the pain. Tertius knew nothing about how that was like, he mostly knew about women with their periods and how they were even sometimes banned from the military camps because of their sour moods. But this was different.         

“Some say it is. I don’t know. You’re in pain? Hopefully the midwife has something for that.” Tertius replied, “The bed is getting ready for you as we speak. Soon you can…” He stopped himself, she was not going to relax anytime soon, was she? Childbirth was the woman’s lot and men rarely had much to do with it all. He knew almost as little as she did, “Shall we walk more, while we wait? I don’t know much about all this either… tell me what you need.

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"Not now," She exhaled and winced, "But every ten or so minutes it's like somebody's gripping me and twisting and..." She managed a hoarse little laugh, "I'm sorry, you don't wish to hear about it I'm sure." Even back in Britannia childbed and birth were women's things and not the concern of men. Her husband, she sighed a little when she thought of him but blinked her upset away, had been much the same as Tertius when they had been discussing their future family when she had been pregnant the last time. But it hadn't lasted, but this one had, and it was so nearly over. 

His offer was sweet, oddly so for Tertius. She had never in her time here seen him like this, besides perhaps with Antonia when they were alone in the garden, ignoring Charis and the other slaves presences. She nodded, "I just need company," She smiled and didn't let go of his arm, "And walking, walking is good." She set off her pacing again and walked in silence. It felt as if she had been pregnant for an age, but now it was nearly over she wished she could start it all over again. It was all happening far too quickly, far too soon. She saw a few slaves scurry around and saw Rhoda carrying a stack of folded linen towels clear past Charis' own room and into Tertius'. She frowned and glanced up at him, having to arch her neck to see him from her petite height. "Am I...to have the child in your room, domine?" They hadn't talked of practicalities. She had almost three weeks left, there was supposed to be plenty of time. The realisation that they hadn't even discussed basic things like where she was going to give birth made another nervous roll of her stomach crash down. They also hadn't finalised what was to happen to the child. 

 

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Being in pain was never a good thing – but on the other hand, he knew it was natural when you were about to give birth. And despite the pain, women had a certain power, this way. Men could not have children. But they could provide for them… and the women would go through the pain to bring the children into the world. But they would do it. That was their lot. That was Charis’ lot, even though this had definitely not been planned. Still, he paid her attention now, as she ought to have, when she was in this state. She said she wasn’t in pain right now, but that it happened and she tried to explain how it felt… but then laughed and apologized.

“I can barely imagine what that’s like.” Tertius replied, keeping an eye on the peristyle to see the busy household. Briefly he wondered if anyone woke up Teutus, but why should they? He was a free man now and didn’t need to get up whenever his father needed it. Right now though, it was Charis needing help. And he let her hold onto his arm and he asked what she needed. Charis wanted company and walking.

“Those things I can provide.” Tertius said with a smile and they began pacing the garden again. He saw how she too looked at the busy slaves and then Charis suddenly asked where she’d have the child. It would seem she had guessed.

“It’s the best room in the house, I believe. The largest cubiculum. It’s what is best suited.” Tertius explained, because to him, it was as simple as that. The bed would be made ready to rest in before and someone would find his late wife’s old birthing chair somewhere in one of the storage rooms… “Antonia was born in there too, you know. I’ll find somewhere else to rest until it’s over.”

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Charis nodded mutely, "That's very kind domine." She offered a wan smile, her thoughts now elsewhere, on problems much larger than just getting through the birth itself. But he seemed in a genial mood, rare for a man that so often was as difficult to read as a blank tablet, and that surely had to be a good sign? He'd not go to such lengths, such effort to just keep the child his slave, surely? Was he so concerned when Teutus was born? She was being introspective and thinking as they paced, making no effort to converse. She must have looked deep in thought, frown on her forehead and worry in her eyes; although she supposed to an outside observer it could seem like she was solely worried about surviving the birth itself. 

When she did finally speak, it was tentatively and she didn't look up at him - lost in her thoughts as she was. "I'm sorry this is happening so soon," She winced as the pressure in her back tightened and she used her spare hand to gently rub it, trying to ease what felt like a knot, "I...know the midwife said it would be a few weeks yet and we haven't...you haven't finalised or organised anything." It was not supposed to happen like this; she was supposed to have more time; to write to Ardra if allowed, to send word to Cynane would be prepared and ready, to slowly convince him of the path she wanted him to take - freedom for her child. But it had happened without warning, and everything seemed utterly up to the Gods now.

 

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He could provide her with a walk and some company and for once, she did not seem to mind his company – just like he didn’t mind hers, but how could he? She was going to give him a son, maybe even tomorrow! There had been issues between them, it had been cold the last many months, but he felt it had lifted a little during their last conversation and right now, it almost felt as if there’d never been a problem. Of course he could not allow himself to forget what had happened, but still… time moved on and this household was about to undergo a big change, because soon, there would be a child in it.

She called him kind for giving her his room and he just smiled, “I just wish for everything to go well.” Tertius replied to her and silence fell a little bit while they walked. After a while, she said she was sorry it happened so soon and the midwife said it would be a few weeks still.

“You can’t always plan these things, I think. There’s nothing to be sorry about.” Tertius said. She’d said he had not finalized or organized anything… finalized? As in… oh… the citizenship of the child, that’s what she was talking about. Tertius had not thought about it for a while, but he almost knew what he’d do. Charis had been very agreeable since he let her out of her room and lately, it had almost been smooth between them. And look at them now. Look at her. But he would make it a surprise for her, what he’d do.

“Don’t worry about all that now. What’s happening, is happening… and we will see what happens after.” He just hoped she’d live and the child would live too and they’d both be fine. If that was the case, then he knew the rest. If not… he didn’t want to think about that now.

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She merely looked at him as he spoke, studying the contours of his face. He seemed calm, not angry or irritated at her line of questioning as he bandied about platitudes. She wanted to scream that this wasn't fair; she was risking her life because he couldn't keep his cock in his cloth, he owed her certainty, definitiveness over the future of their child at least. But she didn't. She felt wrung out already and there was no point arguing with him, she'd learned that much in the year and a bit she'd been resident in his home. "We will see." She parroted blandly and looked back down at her feet.

They were back in the main portion of the garden now and she stopped her walking to glance at the fountain. How many hours had she dedicated in her life thus far to raking leaves out of it? Her eyes caught sight of the rosebushes she'd diligently dead-headed and pruned. Even yesterday, in her present condition, she had been on her knees clearing out sprouting weeds from the borders. She felt more relaxed here, and she gently fluttered  her eyes shut - taking in the breeze and the quiet sounds of the slaves going about their work here and there. She wasn't really speaking to him, she was speaking to herself as she murmured; "Who would have thought this would happen..." She hoped she'd be forgiven for speaking out of turn without his permission, they were in unchartered territory here after all. 

The sound of scurrying feet towards them caught her attention and she paid them no heed. Probably just a slave, wanting Tertius for something. She kept her eyes shut and focused on the soothing sound of the water. Everything was going to be alright. It had to be.

 

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He didn’t want her to worry about the future or what should be organized right now, he just wanted her to be well. And he wanted her to give birth to the child, for the birth to go smoothly and for the child to be well. And her. That’s all she should worry about. Besides, he wasn’t going to say now that he might free her son, if something would go wrong. For some reason, it seemed like bad luck to say too many things out loud before the child was safe and healthy in her arms. And then in his, of course. Think that he’d be a father again! Antonia was thrilled about the baby, Tertius had explained it to her carefully… that he had been very fond of Charis and that Charis was now going to give her a little brother. He was certain she’d be a great big sister to the boy.

They continued in silence again, until Charis muttered something about what was happening. Tertius looked at her, she seemed almost distant as she spoke. Before he could answer, Rhoda was approaching him, “It is all ready, domine. Let me take her now.” Rhoda said, looking at him and he could guess why. She’d been here for such a long time, she knew him well – but she clearly also had her opinion on this matter and she did not think men should have anything to do with it. It was indeed something women did; they gave birth and women would help the one giving birth. That’s just how things were. The men best keep out of one of the few things the women controlled.

Tertius took Charis hand though and brought it to his lips, “You’ll be in my thoughts.” Tertius said to her, and then he let go. Rhoda gave him a look and then took Charis’ hand, “Come… we’ll take good care of you.” The older woman promised and then Tertius was left to himself in the garden. He really hoped it would go well.

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Charis glanced nervously at Rhoda. She didn't want to be cloistered away in a bed, shut out from the fresh air and the life - risking an unknown future for this man, but it was her lot, and she could tell the older woman would not take no for an answer. As her dominus raised her hand to gently kiss it, she glanced at him - honesty in her big blue eyes and nodded. She managed a weak smile, but said nothing. As Rhoda tugged her away she stopped in her tracks and took one last, deep inhale of the fresh air before she was escorted inside to the dark of Tertius' chamber, where it all began. 

---

It was a little while later, and dawn was nearly breaking. From her position in the bed she could hear the clatter of slaves about the domus but the thick curtain separating Tertius' room from the rest of the house was firmly drawn shut. There were two women with her; Rhoda and the midwife who had been summoned by Tertius. The latter was evidently irritated. It had been some hours since the pains had started and she had barely progressed. They still came with regular enough frequency, but twenty or so minutes apart at the best of times. It was exhausting, and Charis wished for sleep but every time she tried to drift off the pressure in her back increased or that twisting feeling in her belly squeezed a little tighter. Realising sleep was not possible, she merely led in the luxury of Tertius' bed whilst Rhoda fussed and cleaned the birthing chair of the dust it had gathered from nearly a decade in storage. She tried not to look at it, but was oddly fascinated. All the women in Britannia she had known to give birth had done so on the knees or their backs. The contraption looked mildly terrifying. 

She was distracted from her reverie by the sound of the curtain being drawn back and Parnes, one of her few friends in the house beamed as he introduced her guest; "A visitor for you Charis." She blinked as the man stepped back and her blonde-haired friend stepped into view. A wide, genuine smile broke on her face and she pushed herself up to try and stand and hug Cynane but the tutting of both Rhoda and the midwife stopped her before she had a chance. Instead, she reached out a hand to take Cynane's. "You're here!" 

 

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It was late. In fact it was so late in the night that it was almost morning – but Cynane was fast asleep on her mattress by a wall near Claudia’s bed. Sometimes Claudia wanted one of her slaves in the bed, just to hold and comfort, but tonight, that wasn’t Cynane. The palace was quiet with how late it was. Cynane was a light sleeper though, years at the ludus and now as a guard had made her so. So when there was a light knock on the door, she got up to see what it was about. A slave said there’d been a messenger from one Tertius Quinctilius Varus, that his slavegirl Charis was about to give birth and Cynane’s presence was requested there.

Cynane arched a brow, wasn’t it too soon? But if it was happening, she better hurry. Not that she knew much about childbirth, she’d never been through it herself after all. But she could be there for her friend. She woke Volusa quietly to tell her she had to go and would Volusa tell Claudia where she was, when she woke? Then she gathered her gear and found one of the praetorians guarding the princess, to also inform them she had to go and that it was fine, because Tertius had already sent word to Claudia about it and it was fine.

Then she snuck out in the dark Roman night, through the familiar streets and to that familiar house she’d only so far stared at from the outside. By the slave entrance she was allowed inside. It might be late, but there were busy slaves here and there and while she was being led to where Charis was, she was suddenly face to face with a man she’d prefer to see dead. She had seen him enter and leave the house, of course – so she knew what he looked like. But she never met him before, in person. He stopped, looking her over with judging eyes. Cynane didn’t wear her armor today, just her light blue tunica, the breeches, the boots and her belt. Her hair had been done up quickly, a long braid down her back. Tonight, her looks did not matter much, after all.

“You must be Cynane.” Tertius then said. She was tall, for a woman. He could imagine her looking dangerous if she were in battle. But she wasn’t now. Now, she was just a woman and Charis’ friend. Cynane inhaled a deep breath, telling herself to calm down and not just push him out of the way and move on. She had to reach Charis!

“I am… domine. And I need to see Charis.” She said, but he tilted his head, clearly not ready to let her go just yet.

“I know. She has told me about you… it is an honor to gain a visit from someone at the palace, even if you are a slave.” Tertius said. Oh she heard in his voice how he thought she was beneath him. Just a slave. Fucking… “You’re from Britannia too, I believe. I only have one demand for you, while you’re here. I don’t want you two talking in your own tongue in my house, is that understood?” He looked at her, but she refused to keep her eyes down for him. He could rot in Hel for all she cared. Actually, that was better than what he deserved. Fucking Roman, violating Charis and making her with child. She heard someone whimper further inside the house. Charis!

“Yes, domine. Now will you let me go to her?” She said. Tertius wanted to correct her, but she wasn’t his slave and he feared she might spill it to her mistress if she thought he treated her wrong. He saw the look in her eyes though. She had been told about Tertius too. And he had a good feeling that it wasn’t all good. He might have to confront her about that, while she was here. But not now. She was right, Charis needed her.

“Go on then.” Tertius finally said, stepping aside and Cynane hurried the rest of the way to her friend’s side. She entered a large bedroom, lit as well as possible, with three women in. There was the female kitchen slave she’d talked to once, a woman who must be the midwife… and Charis, who looked incredibly tired and worn already. Charis tried to stand, but was prevented and Cynane came to her side instead.

“I came as soon as I could.” Cynane said with a worried smile to her friend, taking Charis’ hand in hers and squeezing it, “How… how is it going so far?”

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Charis was not so out of it that she didn't notice the worry on Cynane's face. Was it really that bad to look at? She dreaded to think of how much worse was yet to come. "It's fine." She breathed and tried to ignore the tightening in her back, "It's not as bad as they said, not yet anyway." She managed an awkward little laugh and glanced at Rhoda and then the midwife. "Domine says we have to speak Latin." She saw Rhoda merely roll her eyes. The woman probably didn't care if Charis and Cynane spoke in whatever they chose to, but the midwife was an unknown quantity and she wouldn't risk Tertius' wrath - even in childbed - in front of a stranger. 

She squeezed Cynane's hand tightly and shifted a little so her friend could sit on the bed. Tertius had plumped for the extravagance of a double bed it seemed, so there was plenty of room. Although even with the four women in the room, they still couldn't quite shake the smell of Hector's perfume, how irritating. 

"Thank you for coming." She whispered to her friend and smiled up at her, a weary smile but a genuine one. "I'm sorry if it takes a while..." The midwife snorted and chuckled, "A long while no doubt, she's barely started..." Charis winced and glanced up at the blonde Briton, "Your domina was happy to let you come?" 

 

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She tried her best to forget her short meeting with Tertius, instead she would prefer to focus on her friend and what she needed. Charis said it was all fine and it wasn’t so bad yet. Cynane nodded, guessing it would be worse then and judging by the glances the midwife and Rhoda shared, she was right. She recalled a few births taking place in Britannia, but she’d never witnessed one in Rome. Everything was so different here. Charis then said they had to speak Latin and Cynane nodded, her smile fading by the thought, “He told me as much too.” And she wouldn’t say more, Rhoda and the midwife did not need to know her thoughts and she was certain Charis could tell by the tone of her voice what she thought of that demand.

Charis then squeezed her hand and shifted – Cynane sat down beside her, not letting go of the hand. It was a mighty fine bed Charis was in, she thought to herself. Whose room was this? She looked around in it, there were shelves and chests with things and the cushions were decorated beautifully too. But Tertius was not married, was he? Else he’d not be sleeping with Charis. Or maybe he would have anyway, the monster that he was! But she kept her thoughts to herself and Charis thanked her for coming, apologizing for the time it might take.

“Don’t think about it, I’m staying for as long as it takes.” Cynane said with a soft smile to her friend, it was unsaid that she would not leave unless forced. Charis winced and asked about Cynane’s domina.

“She was asleep when the messenger came… but your dominus wrote to her and I was told right after, that of course I could go. So I assume it’s fine. It has to be. This is not the sort of the thing you can control, after all.” She added and looked around again, “Whose room is this?”

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Charis exhaled, relieved at Cynane's insistence that she was going to stay as look as it took. "Thank you." She whispered and squeezed her friends hand, tears filling her eyes before she blinked them away. Her emotions were all over the place today - naturally, and it was taking its toll. She nodded mutely at Cynane's words. It was surprising Tertius had bothered to write, she presumed as with many things he did - he'd leave it until the last moment and decide on a whim what to do. That he had put forethought into this was promising, but she tried not to get her hopes up. He'd been so vague, so evasive. 

At the question, she glanced around and then bit her lip, speaking quietly. God she wanted to speak freely, but even now, in pain, in birth, she couldn't. "It's domine's room," She glanced at Rhoda for a moment and the woman seemed to get the message. She was quick when she wanted to be and grabbed the midwife's arm. "I don't think the girls are boiling the towels right, come show us, come on, come on," the midwife dithered, "Oh for Juno's sake she's not going to split asunder and have the child now is she!" The midwife scoffed and flustered from the room and Rhoda chuckled and followed her through the door, leaving Cynane and Charis alone. 

As she did, Charis leaned up to wrap the other woman in a hug so tightly she didn't ever want to let go. She spoke in Brittonic, but in a whisper, "We don't have long and he may be listening, but thank you, thank you so much Cinnia." She squeezed the other woman's hand and led back against the pillow, feeling another pain brewing. "I...I can't believe I have to give birth in the bed where h-he...violated me..." She swallowed and shook her head, grimacing and drawing her legs up to her chest, moaning softly as the pain took hold and she let go of Cynane's hand.

 

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Cynane naturally didn’t like to see her friend in pain or seeing her crying, but she would see both today. All thanks to her fucking monster of an owner. Charis just thanked her for her willingness to stay though and Cynane gave her another smile, “Of course I’m staying.” She repeated and then she had also wondered whose room this was. Charis glanced around, seeming almost nervous and then she said it was her master’s. He had given her his room to give birth in? Cynane was surprised, that he would allow that to happen in here, but Charis had already made it clear several times that he could be quite difficult and hard to figure out.

Charis sent a look to the kitchen slave Rhoda, who easily convinced the midwife to get out then. They were left alone and Charis reached up to Cynane for a hug. Cynane returned it of course, careful to not squeeze too hard near the belly and Charis spoke in their own tongue. So Cynane had just come and Charis was already disobeying her master. Well he had it coming. She just hoped no one were eavesdropping. 

Her friend thanked her once more, saying they did not have long to talk like this and then she mentioned that this was the bed where her master violated her. Cynane inhaled a breath, staring at the door for a brief moment. But Charis moaned in pain and let go of her hand.

“Romans are strange sometimes. And cruel. If I didn’t know they’d punish us both for it, I would…” She trailed off, it was probably better left unsaid, what was on her mind. And she was forgetting the rules too now and also speaking in their own tongue. She looked around the room, seeing the chair, “I think they’re going to use that though… should I fetch the midwife again? I don’t know much about these things…”

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Charis gripped the sheet between her fingers as she moaned n pain, noting Cynane's words but being unable to concentrate on anything put the tension on her insides, didn't respond besides a wan smile and a choked nod. She tried to breathe, exhaling deeply through her mouth and inhaling through her nose for a few more long moments until the pain settled down to a low simmer and she swallowed. She reached out her hand to take Cynane's again. Gods above how was she ever going to get through this if it got worse, and this was just the beginning? 

She glanced at the chair as Cynane pointed at it and winced. "I...don't even know how it works," She repeated in a hoarse whisper in her native tongue before she heard the curtain open and the midwife slip back in with Rhoda in tow, an apologetic look on her face. She continued to speak quietly to Cynane, but in Latin now; "Why can't I have my baby on a  bed or the floor like every other woman in the world..." She shook her head and grimaced as she looked at the birthing chair again before dragging her eyes away and back to Cynane again with concern in her eyes, "Did Domine...speak to you when you arrived?" 

 

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