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Late September, 75CE 

Aglaea groaned softly as she leaned over the bucket, seated on the floor of her room adjacent to Livia's bedroom. Ever an early riser, for a few days now, the woman had been woken up in the mornings with horrible nausea, yet unable to get anything up. It was a most perplexing ailment, as it seemed to disappear after a while of its own volition. Surely, the cook was doing something wrong, and Aglaea resolved to go and give her a piece of her mind. Just as soon as she was able to rise from the floor. 

Life recently had been nothing but chaotic - actually, it had been chaotic ever since Secundus had come into their lives. The man sowed chaos wherever he went, frightening Livia and bullying the house staff, mumbling to himself and forcing Aglaea into the position of protecting her mistress from laying with him. Aglaea had soon decided that she would lay with Secundus and yet protect herself at the same time. Like many Roman women, Livia took silphium in order to prevent pregnancy, and like any good body slave, Aglaea was responsible for retrieving the tincture from the apothecary whenever they ran out. But unlike a good body slave, Aglaea took a small amount every time she saw Secundus, hoping with her limited knowledge of the substance that it would be enough to stop pregnancy and all the symptoms that came with it. 

Her head shot up from the bucket with wide eyes. It couldn't be... but what else? No sickness from food showed itself with nausea without vomiting. And now that she thought of it, she was a few days late for her monthly cycle. Oh, God. With the sudden realization hitting her like an enormous weight, she stayed stock still for several seconds, before burying her head in her hands, weeping quietly in despair and misery. How could she ever explain this to her mistress? And what would happen to the child once it was born? How would Secundus react? Would Livia send her away and refuse to ever see her again? And how could Aglaea blame her for that if she did? It seemed a horrible betrayal without context. 

She had done everything she knew to do to prevent herself from bearing Secundus's child. She couldn't bring a child into this household with a clear conscience, knowing what sort of father he or she would have. And the consequences this would have for her relationship with Livia, her nearest and dearest friend... her heart broke. 

In time, the tears subsided and she began to think logically. She just wouldn't tell Livia. She could wear a tunic that flowed more to hide her bump, maybe bind the bump with cloth to limit the appearance. And then, when her time came, she could slip out of the house, have her baby somewhere safe, and then return to act like nothing would happen. Perhaps she could even leave the child on the doorstep and pretend as though it was a foundling - those were common enough in Rome. Wiping her eyes clear, and feeling the despair and nausea subside, she dressed for the day. She could act as though nothing had happened. She had lied before. 

Once dressed, she slipped into Livia's room to help her dress. The day had to go on. 

Title inspiration

@Liv @Járnviðr

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Another utterly ordinary day, or so Livia thought when she woke up. The small mercy of being in Rome instead of their villa in Tibur was swiftly counteracted by the thousand eyes she felt Secundus had set upon her to control her every move. There were no shackles round her hands or feet, but Livia felt as trapped inside the domus as fresh slaves at the market, uneasy and jittery. Still, it was hardly any different from any other day, and with the same resignation as the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that, she pulled back the covers, swung her legs over to the side of the bed and stood up, stretching her arms over her head in a rather unfeminine way - but nobody was watching, so nobody could reproach her.

Just as she brought her hands into a small basin to wash her face a figure came into the room, and a quick glance from behind waterlogged eyelashes told her it was Aglaea. Just in time to start getting ready for the day, Livia thought with a small smile. Having been together for so long, she felt Aglaea knew her routines better than soldiers knew their formations. "Good morning," she greeted airily, wiping her face on a towel and throwing it on the floor after a few rubs.

Getting dressed, having her hair styled, putting make-up and jewellery on... The ordinary regimen of a well-to-do matron. That morning, however, there was something Livia wanted to take care of before doing anything else, lest yet another person - in whom she did not have nearly as much trust - enter the room. With decisive gestures she opened one of the vanity's many small compartments and took out a small round silver pot, about as high as the length of a finger. Inside were a few dried bits of a fragrant herb, its smell reminiscent of fennel. The scent would vanish soon enough, when Livia applied some perfume... but that was not what concerned her.

She removed the lid and beckoned Aglaea to come closer. Inspecting the contents of the box with a frown, Livia handed it to Aglaea, practically shoving it under the other woman's nose, and spoke in a low whisper. "It's the second time it runs out before it should. Did you check before leaving the apothecary that they did not short you?"

@Járnviðr @Echo

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Aglaea allowed a small smile at Livia's bright greeting. Even if neither of them was particularly happy with their situation at the moment, they each managed to lift the spirits of the other, at least a little. Aglaea certainly tried, that was certain - after all, it was her duty to make Livia's life easier. "Good morning," she responded, going to pick the towel up and place it in the basket for used linens. Another slave would be by sometime today to collect them for washing. "How did you sleep?" The Judean's nerves were still a little ragged, but she managed to get through the niceties of the morning without anything suspicious happening.

Somehow, the routines of dressing her mistress, styling her hair and helping her select jewelry helped steady the woman and she found herself falling easily into the rituals her hands knew so well. She stepped back as Livia took over, taking out the tiny jar of silphium that she had so guiltily stolen from just recently. To her dismay, she found Livia beckoning her to look into the jar and speaking about it running out sooner. "Yes, domina, of course. I did not think it was short, but perhaps my eyes deceived me..." 

@Járnviðr @Liv

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Secundus had spent the past days avoiding being in the house with just Livia. After the events of the party, their relationship had soured. Livia spat bitterly at him, as though anything had changed. He had only revealed her for what she truly was. She hated him? No, he hated her, and increasingly his marriage felt like a trap he had eagerly taken the bait from. It was his own doing that brought him to his undoing. Misery loved company, after all.

Eventually, though, one had to come home, or else one’s colleagues began to spread rumors. Secundus arrived home in a bit of a foul mood (when was he in a pleasant one?), only to hear the women whispering in Livia’s room. He brushed off the simpering staff as one of them tried to help him- do what? The only thing he came here to do now was argue with his wife, yell at his slaves, or curse his fate.

Secundus found a spot to recline in as he tried to forget the day’s tribulations. Perhaps he could relax until he forgot who he was and what his life had become.

@Liv @Echo

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Livia game a noncommittal hum in response to the body slave's polite question, being far more interested in unveiling the mystery behind the missing silphium. If Aglaea claimed she had checked that the amount was right, she had no reason to doubt her - but that still didn't explain why there was barely anything left. She shook her head in confusion, entirely at a loss. "I don't understand. It's the second one, too." The first could have been a mistake, but it happening twice in a row spoke of intent.

A new possibility formed in her mind and Livia blanched, her heartbeat suddenly much louder in her eardrums. "Do you think somebody could be stealing it?" she asked in a quivering murmur, wondering who would have the gall to go through her things. It was almost always Aglaea who attended to her, and when she was unavailable, it was usually a curly-haired girl who tended to do a poor job at it. Minerva help her, if the silly young thing had been fooling around and skimming off her mistress's drug, Livia would have her whipped until the skin fell in flakes off her back!

Before she could voice her suspicions, however, the familiar tones of her husband telling off a slave sounded nearby, and with shaky hands she quickly covered the pot again and shoved it back into the depths of a small chest, closing it in such a hurry that she didn't notice the lid on the pot shook and slid off. Great, just what she needed - quite possibly the slave Secundus had just barked at offered no challenge, so any minute he would come in to berate Livia instead for the gods knew what. A rehash of that dreadful party, perhaps.

Eyes flitting between the doorway and Aglaea, Livia attempted to calm herself, breathing in and out through her nose a few times. "I need you to go buy more as soon as possible," she whispered again, "and make sure it's the right quantity!" She really didn't want any more surprises of the kind.

@Echo @Járnviðr

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Aglaea was distracted from the conversation by the audible entrance of Secundus into the domus. Chaos, as always, she thought. She felt bad for the poor slaves being harassed by him just because of his bad mood and resolved to do something nice for them when she got some free time. Then, Livia said words she had been dreading - what if someone had been stealing the silphium? Her composure was tested immediately, and she felt her hands tightening into fists as she panicked, unsure of how to deal with this situation. Her instinct was to protect herself, deflect, lie. But her faith told her that lying was a sin and that she should always tell the truth, even if it was difficult. 

"I, uhm..." she stuttered quietly, choosing for now not to answer Livia's suspicions. An absurd thought floated into her mind - she wouldn't need to steal the silphium any longer. It hadn't worked anyway, and perhaps Livia's suspicion would subside with time, seeing that the proper amounts were there. 

But why should she lie about the silphium? She wouldn't want another slave to get blamed for her indiscretions. It would be the height of dishonesty. "Actually, domina..." She stared at Livia, frightened of what she was about to say and what Livia's reaction would be. "It... it was me. I took the silphium." She would explain if Livia asked, but for now she would stop with that statement. 

@Liv @Járnviðr

Edited by Echo
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When her body slave did not react the way Livia had come to expect, a seed of doubt planted itself inside her head. It was unlike Aglaea to hesitate at such a simple request - one she had fulfilled many times before, even. Perhaps... could she be shielding the culprit? But before she had a chance to pose the question, Aglaea spoke.

Surely she had misheard. She had to have. Livia could only stare back at Aglaea, jaw slack in shock as she processed the words. Two thoughts collided within her: 'so you have a lover after all!' and 'but why?' battling to be the first one out of her mouth, and before she spoke either she had the presence of mind to keep her voice low, although her heart seemed intent on beating its way out of her ribcage.

"...Why?" Granted, Aglaea's allowance wasn't a lot, but if she couldn't afford the drug on her own, why not ask Livia about it? Because then she would have to admit her liaison and confess that she had not been telling Livia everything, like she was supposed to. Her lips disappeared into a thin line, and she gave Aglaea a look full of betrayal and disappointment as she folded her arms over her chest. "Why didn't you tell me?!" she hissed, eyes suddenly alight with emotion.

@Járnviðr @Echo

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Secundus initially tried to ignore the conversation happening in his wife's chambers. Livia needed time to cool off after her tantrum at the party, and the harsh things they had both said to one another. He would give her some space. He needed to, in order to stay calm. Then, his wife raised her voice. She sounded angry- with Aglaea, an uncommon nonoccurence. She often snapped at their other slaves, but not her precious body slave. This, he had to hear. Secundus got up, walking over to the room. He strode in confidently, ignoring any protest on Livia's face or on her tongue. Secundus smiled at Aglaea. He nodded to her politely, offering a wordless bow.

"Aglaea, a pleasure as always to see you."

Only then did he turn to his wife, who deserved to be ignored in favor of her slave. Secundus schooled his expression into a respectful, neutral one, although he doubted he could maintain it for long. He wanted her to admit that she had wronged him- a minor insult, bringing Vibia to the party. His wife's conduct? Unacceptable. He took in the sight of her, angry at some perceived slight. As always, Livia looked for something to complain about.

"Is there something I can do to help, Livia? You seem disturbed."

@Liv @Echo

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Aglaea wasn't normally a crier, but seeing her mistress's shock and betrayal painted all over her face, she felt her eyes well up with tears immediately. She didn't have an answer at that moment, fighting for control over herself, but she found herself sinking to her knees before Livia, bowing her head in shame and misery. "I- I don't know what to say, domina, I--" She didn't even know what she wanted to say. Should she let the truth come out? Would it ruin everything? Livia had seemed close to murder at the thought of someone stealing the silphium - surely she would at least throw her out of the house, free but abandoned, in punishment for her slight. And what a slight it was. 

But before she could form a coherent sentence, she heard footsteps approaching and her head whipped around to see Secundus entering the room. She quickly rose from the floor, smoothing her skirts and making her customary bow at the appearance of her master. She saw him smile but couldn't bring herself to mirror the expression. There was far too much else in her mind for her to bother. But the way he greeted her, like she was someone worth noticing -- it was highly unusual. Slaves were meant to not be seen or noticed. It was evident he wanted to slight Livia by greeting her first and she almost hated him for it.

She folded her hands in front of her and bowed her head, half to seem respectful, half to conceal the tears that were still threatening to spill over. 

@Liv @Járnviðr

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Livia could do nothing else than watch in dismay as Aglaea's eyes became wet with tears and she sunk to the floor, too distressed to react in any other way. What was the meaning of this?! Was the look on her face so fearsome that even Aglaea, who knew every single one of her moods, fell to her knees in fright? Anger evaporated into doubt and insecurity and Livia let her arms fall to her sides, eyes trained on Aglaea's dark hair.

As she opened her mouth to order her body slave to stand and explain things properly, Secundus entered the room with no ceremony or even a word of excuse. Already he seemed intent on infuriating her even further, with the offensive way he acknowledged Aglaea first and only then her. Livia gave him a frosty stare, communicating in no uncertain terms that his presence was a nuisance. 

"Nothing you need to concern yourself with. I discovered that something of mine has gone missing, and Aglaea seems to know why," she stated drily, still upset but unwilling to bring the subject out in the open in Secundus' presence. If he should discover she had been using silphium all this time, the consequences would be unimaginable. Directing her attention to Aglaea again, she continued in the same hard tone. "I am very disappointed. I didn't expect this from you, of all people."

@Echo @Járnviðr

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Secundus only smiled wider at Livia's comments. Hurled invective: that was exactly what he had come to expect from her. Well, he would simply have to remind her that he was the man of this house. He could allow her to speak to her slave, first, as he was interested in learning more about the situation. What had her so disappointed? But he found that he did not much want to leave the running of his household to his bitter, spiteful wife when he could simply ask the girl himself.

Secundus stepped forward, placing a hand on Livia's shoulder, as if to stay her fury- unlikely to work, he realized, after recent events, so he withdraw it immediately. He looked at Aglaea with a darker look, his eyebrows furrowed. Had Aglaea lost something of Llivia's? Her carelessness had cost them in the past. Perhaps this was another incident of a mysterious pickpocket that she had failed to notice.

"What is she talking about? What did you lose this time?"

His voice remained level, although stern. This was Secundus at his most calm- unlikely, when he caught on that there was something to punish.

@Liv @Echo

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This was too much. It really was. Aglaea had had a hard enough time coming to terms with telling just Livia about the silphium, and realizing that that meant the whole story would come out. Secundus bedding her since they had married, the child that was now growing inside of her because of that... It was enough to drive her to madness, thinking she'd done something so enormous, betraying her closest- and only- friend. But now, Secundus had to come in, sticking his nose in their business, bringing his wrath with him. Aglaea was completely at a loss for words. 

She heard Livia speak through a haze of panic and fear, but they cut through and the tears finally spilled over, though she never stopped trying to fight them. "I'm sorry, domina, I'm so sorry," she said, her voice thick with tears. She had hurt her friend even with the admission of taking the silphium, not to mention everything that was sure to come out. Secundus spoke again and she looked up long enough to catch him with a look full of animosity. He was the cause of all this. Two years ago, she had been able to tell Livia anything. He had come between them like a wedge, driving them apart. 

"I didn't lose anything, dominus," she said, not bothering to cover up her contempt anymore. She wanted to talk to Livia alone. They almost never got to be alone anymore, not truly. The house had too many eyes and ears, watching for any transgressions. "Please," she said, gaining at least a little control over her fury and her tears, "it is nothing you need to worry yourself over, dominus."

@Liv @Járnviðr

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As long as the three of them were in the room, there would be no getting at the truth. The hand on her shoulder made Livia's blood boil, and she bit the inside of her lip to keep herself from removing it; fortunately Secundus seemed to pick up on how unwelcome it was and quickly drew it back. She felt like screaming out in frustration, but had no choice but to steady herself and deescalate the matter. However hoodwinked she felt, Livia owed it to the years of loyal service Aglaea had given her not to throw the slave under the lectica, particularly not when the fallout could put her in dire straits too. 

"...An opal necklace." Said piece was at the jeweller's for polishing, but she very much doubted Secundus even knew what necklace she meant, let alone cared about its supposed whereabouts. Waving her hand in irritation, Livia repeated herself, this time putting a forceful intonation behind the words, "Like I said, nothing you need to concern yourself with." Gods, didn't her husband have some important paterfamilias business to attend to - like find an ignorant groom upon whom to foist his sister?! The acrimonious way in which Aglaea addressed him did not go unnoticed; clearly she was not pleased with his interruption either, and whatever ceremony or sense of servitude that had kept her from showing it in the past appeared to be gone.

She tucked a curly lock behind her ear, using the gesture to assume a veneer of normalcy that had been missing for many months, and tried again to verbally shoo her husband away. Livia and Aglaea needed to speak alone, with no undesirable eyes and ears prying on them. "Secundus, please. I'm not presentable," she appealed, pointing at her nightclothes and loose uncombed hair. Whether her state actually made a difference to him or not was anybody's guess; he seemed as unenthusiastic to Livia when she was fully naked as when it was winter and she was wrapped up in wools and furs. "Won't you leave us for a moment so I can get ready, and then we can discuss this?" 

@Járnviðr @Echo

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Secundus started at Aglaea in undisguised shock for a brief moment- then pure rage, at having been addressed that way- and then, a mask of stoic calm. He crossed his arms; they looked tense: coiled and ready for action. He listened to Aglaea's outburst with no further sign of emotion at all, because there wasn't much of one beneath the surface. She had clearly lost her faculties, and he would ignore her until she had recovered them. His wife's tone was less surprising, but he bristled at it. He did not want her diffidence. He wanted her anger.

"Livia, I am happy to leave your slave to her clearly overwhelming emotions, which seem to overtake her whenever it would be most inconvenient for me, but I have no desire to leave you out of my sight. After your behavior at our party, you should not be surprised. You may dress yourself as modestly as you choose, since you will only be keeping me company, rather than another man."

He looked at both of the women once more before striding back outside. Secundus returned to his seat, sighing in satisfaction. This was what he had needed, he thought: impetus. Livia had soured his mood over the preceding months, but now, he had realized that he was never going to persuade her to take their marriage seriously, with the respect that it deserved. In that case, why should he? He waited for his wife to finish dressing herself.

@Liv @Echo

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Aglaea didn't care that she seemed irrational or out of her mind. Quite frankly, she felt like she might as well be, and so decided to stick with her defiance. As Secundus's expression changed rapidly from shock, to fury, to calm (which she knew from experience was a farce), she stared him in the eye, her own expression cold and yet still furious. Her one defiant act couldn't be punished more harshly by being followed by another, more innocuous one. She listened to the spouses speak, holding her tongue for now, then watched as the man strode out of the room, like a rooster having put his hens in their places. 

As the curtain fell still behind him, she let out a breath, quietly, not wanting to draw the attention back to herself again. But who else would it be on? It was she who had caused all this, and Livia would be expecting answers. She put her finger to her lips to signal Livia to be quiet, then beckoned her toward her own room, which was connected to Livia's by a curtain, but far enough away that they couldn't be overheard if they spoke quietly. 

She invited Livia to sit on her bed, choosing the floor for herself, sitting on her bent legs in a pose that spoke of tension. She was silent for a time, not meeting her mistress's eye, trying to decide how to start. But, after a moment of quiet, she finally started. "Domina, there are... things that you do not know about me." She almost never used 'domina' when they were alone, so clearly she was serious. "And since you are going to find out sooner or later, I want you to hear them from me." She hesitated briefly again, but decided that all her truths should come out at once so that she could at least have a clear conscience. 

"First, you know that I am a Hebrew. But there is a new cult, a sort of... offshoot from the Hebrew religion. I am a member. We are called Christians. I did not tell you this because members of my cult have been targets of some violence and even death... of course I trust you to keep my secret, but I feared that telling anyone would... desensitize me to the danger of that act. Please forgive me."

She stopped talking for a moment. That secret had not been as difficult to tell, as she was secure in her faith and prepared for the consequences of it. Her voice had been steady, as her tears had subsided after the exchange with Secundus. But now to the more difficult truths. 

"I took your silphium, domina. It's because, since you married Secundus..." She stopped again, huffing in frustration. "He thought you would never want to bear him a child - he was right, of course. And he's so afraid of dying without an heir..." Aglaea seemed to draw herself up, calling upon her own strength. "So a few days after you were married, he came to me and asked me to take your place. He wanted me to bear him a son."

Here she stopped, her throat becoming thick with tears again. "Domina, the silphium didn't work. I won't need any more. I am pregnant." 

@Liv @Járnviðr

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Livia found herself holding her breath in anticipation of the furious outburst she was sure would follow the changing emotions flashing through her husband's face, but was taken aback when the explosion did not come, replaced by icy calm. Averted until later, she thought, though it did not make her feel any more calmer. In fact, his parting words made her own temper flare. "You needn't worry. Even if you disrespected me and our marriage by bringing a whore into this house under the guise of a party, I will not do the same to you by dressing like one, regardless of how many men may be watching." She glared daggers at his retreating back, wishing he would trip over something and hit his head.

Now, to deal with more serious matters. She followed Aglaea to her chamber and sat on the bed as she was bid, all the while not letting her slave out of her sight. She would be merciful, Livia decided, and give Aglaea a chance to explain herself. When the other woman at last began talking, the gravity of the situation weighed more heavily on her shoulders with each passing second. She bit her lip to keep herself from interrupting, instead nodding tersely until the first revelation had her wide-eyed with surprise. "A... Christian?" Livia was not entirely sure what it meant; she had heard mentions of the sect in passing, describing a bunch of troublemakers involved in religious bickering in Judea. How had their influence spread to Rome, and what did it mean? With a pang of anger she thought to herself that she should have forbidden Aglaea from attending her ridiculous temple after all.

But the effects of revealing that secret were nothing compared to what had come next. Livia sat there, stunned into silence, the sound of her heart thrumming in her ears and her eyes filling with tears as Aglaea's words echoed inside her head.'Take your place.' 'Bear him a son.' 'Didn't work.' 'Pregnant.' 

Without her even noticing, Livia's hands had tangled themselves in the mass of her light brown hair. 

She tore at it, standing up with a garbled wordless scream that caught in her throat. That... that... monster! Putting his filthy hands on her property, her slave, her friend like that!

Livia paced around the chamber in a daze, eyes focusing on random targets for an instant before moving on to the next one but pointedly ignoring Aglaea's sitting form on the floor. What would she do now? They had to do something, naturally. She couldn't fake ignorance until Aglaea's belly grew like a melon, and neither could Secundus. Overwhelmed by her inner turmoil, Livia came to a halt in front of Aglaea and knelt down, the two sitting face to face for a few seconds...

... until Livia drew her hand back and slapped Aglaea hard across the cheek.

"You foolish, foolish slave!" she hissed with gritted teeth, placing both hands on the body slave's shoulders and gripping tightly. "Why didn't you tell me right away?! I would have told you to buy enough for the two of us, you idiot!" And she would have confronted Secundus and demanded he stopped, and if he had refused she might have gone to her father to obtain a divorce. But now? Now it was hopeless. And Aglaea, having a baby while Livia remained barren? Even if she actively took action to prevent seed from taking hold in her womb? The irony was lost on her, distressed as she was.

What should they do? Livia lowered her head, muttering darkly to herself. "He'll find out soon. It's not the kind of thing one can hide for long..." And what would Secundus do with the child? The same as his brother - free them with hopes of making it his heir? Preposterous. "I must tell Marcus..." Yes, this could change things for Marcus too, raise an obstacle to his plans... Maybe they should start looking for someone discreet and knowledgeable about poisons... But what about the child? Perhaps Aglaea should just get rid of it while there was still time...

"What shall we do?" Livia asked, voice shaking. It was a question for herself, Aglaea and the gods.

@Járnviðr @Echo

 

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  • Liv changed the title to Any Four Walls Are a Prison [M - V]

Aglaea's eyes were glued to her mistress as she finished talking, clouded with tears though her eyes were. But her eyes were not clouded enough not to notice that her mistress was on the verge of crying as well, or that she tore at her hair and began pacing around the room like a caged lioness, ready to murder. The slave couldn't take her eyes off of the other woman, frightened of what she would do. Even someone not as close to Livia as Aglaea was could see the turmoil inside of her, threatening to boil over. I did this to her, Aglaea thought hopelessly. How could I have done such a thing? 

Hope filled her breast as Livia knelt down before her. Perhaps they could figure out what to do together - Aglaea had done so much to help Livia over the years, surely this was not so monumental that her friend and mistress couldn't help her. And she had so few friends to whom she could turn. But her hopes were soundly dashed as Livia raised her arm and struck her slave across the face. Shocked out of her tears, Aglaea was tossed to one side by the force of the blow, raising her hand to touch the stinging flesh in dismay. She didn't have long to recover, though, before Livia was shaking her, calling her foolish, saying she should have told her so that she could have bought enough for both of them. 

As Livia fell silent in thought, Aglaea gazed at her in misery, feeling some ghostly sense of betrayal at her reaction, though the other part of her mind said that she deserved this, deserved everything Livia did to her. "You think I didn't want to tell you?" she asked quietly. "It was all I wanted, domina. I wanted to take comfort in knowing someone else knew. I was... I was trying to do what was best for everyone. I was trying to protect you." She touched her stinging cheek again and a few tears trailed down her cheek. "You were so distressed after Gnaeus's death, I knew you couldn't handle it - me telling you, or his coming to your bed. I was trying to protect you from him."

She gazed up at the ceiling in despair. "I thought... I thought maybe if he was disappointed for long enough he would divorce you and I could forget this ever happened. But he's so persistent," she said, her mouth screwed up in the effort to control herself. "He told me not to betray this secret. I feared what would happen if I did. And now it has happened and there's nothing I can do." 

Then Livia spoke again, saying that she must tell Marcus. Aglaea caught herself before she scoffed aloud. Marcus. Aglaea didn't care for him, particularly, his being a member of this horrible family. But he gave Livia comfort, an escape. It was almost like what Aglaea's synagogue did for her - a balm on her soul, a place where she could be without thoughts of her situation and the consequences. But what could Marcus do about this situation? He was powerless against Secundus, everyone was. 

What shall we do? asked Livia. Aglaea regarded her with measured caution, now she seemed calmed down, unsure of what exactly she meant by that. She had heard that some women, who didn't want their babies... what they did to rid themselves of them... The thought had never crossed Aglaea's mind, but now it did, she was horrified. The child had nothing to do with this problem - he or she was a result of it, but was an innocent player all the same. Almost unconsciously, she cradled her belly protectively, already feeling a motherly feeling similar to how she felt about Livia. "I don't know."

@Liv @Járnviðr

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Had Aglaea really wanted to tell her, thought? Or had she just taken advantage of Livia's fragility to do as she pleased? No-- that was spite rearing its ugly head and there was no reason to doubt Aglaea's claims; she had always been steadfast until this moment... and what a moment it had become. Of course Aglaea was speaking the truth. She had to be, because the alternative was just too horrid for Livia to even consider.

"You're right," she admitted quietly, releasing her grip on Aglaea and letting her arms drop to her sides. Her body slave knew her better than she knew herself. If the truth had come out in the first few months of her marriage, Livia might just have thrown herself from the Tarpeian rock and put an end to her shame and misery. The time that had elapsed since then did not make things any easier to stomach, however, and she wiped a stray tear with the back of her hand. 

She took a deep, sniffling breath and looked up at the ceiling, wondering if some amused deity was laughing at their predicament. What wicked amusement was this? Yet if a god or goddess was witnessing this sordid play, they might as well bear witness to something else, Livia thought bitterly as she cursed her father and her husband alike for putting them in this untenable situation! 

Feeling a little more in control of her reactions, Livia studied Aglaea with a stern glare. "You said he," she all but spat out the word, "wanted you to bear him a son. Did he ever mention what would happen to the child?" For all he criticised his brother, the bastard was no better. Declare it free and adopt it, possibly. Or somehow expect Livia to go along with this awful scheme and agree to pass it as their legitimate offspring. Good for Secundus that he was darker in complexion like Aglaea - it matched his rotten heart.

@Echo @Járnviðr

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Aglaea cast her eyes down on the floor once she was done speaking, fully expecting to get slapped again. In the moment, she hadn't processed it, but now there was more quiet time she realized how much it had hurt - both physically and emotionally. She understood that Livia was upset with her, and she knew she deserved it. But slapping her for not coming to her? And the irony was that Aglaea had wanted to tell her more than anything. But what Secundus wanted in his domus, he got - Livia's ire, Aglaea's womb, his secret hypocrisy kept under wraps. 

What did he expect to happen? Did he think that Livia would just go along with it, pretend the child was hers? And if so, were both women supposed to hide in the house for nine months so no one suspected? Aglaea nearly laughed at the absurdity of the situation. 

She watched as Livia wiped her tears with the back of her hand, and she pulled out a handkerchief as a reflex of sorts. It seemed her servile nature never truly went away, no matter the situation. Sensing Livia's need for silence, though, she kept quiet, no matter how much she wanted to speak empty, comforting words to her, tell her it would be alright and that they would figure something out. 

Finally, Livia spoke up again, her tone not much changed from before. She asked her slave whether Secundus had mentioned what he wanted to do with the baby when it came and Aglaea responded with a noncommittal shrug. "He said he wanted an heir," she said carefully. "I expect he wants to free him or her to have an heir, or at least an adopted daughter." She bit her lip, wondering whether she was brave enough to speak again. "I can't let a child grow up in this house, with that father. I just can't."

@Liv @Járnviðr

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In a mechanical gesture Livia took the small square of fabric from Aglaea, only noticing how deeply-rooted habit was in both of them after she had dabbed at her eyes with it. How very absurd it all seemed, and yet the normalcy of the exchange made her tear up anew. 

What options did they have, then? Livia bit a nail, already aware of one of them. "There's always not letting it grow up at all," she suggested drily, but regretted the words the second they left her lips. If Aglaea felt anything like Livia had, the bond would already be there even if the child's existence could not be seen or felt yet. And she had felt so wretched both times, as ig she had failed at protecting the most precious thing in the world... In spite of Aglaea's share of blame in the whole mess, Livia did not think she deserved such harsh punishment. She dipped her head in embarrassment and apologised, avoiding eye contact. "Forgive me. That was a cruel thing to say, and I don't mean it." Except that for the instant it took for the thought to form and be spoken, she had - why should Aglaea be allowed a child when Livia had nothing to show for hers, not even a bulla or lunula as a keepsake?

"Even if we say nothing now, he will know when you start to show." No matter how strongly Livia agreed that no child should be subjected to having Secundus for a father - and that she did was exactly why she had been taking silphium in the first place -, his role as paterfamilias gave him authority over all in the house, and the power to decide their fate. She tugged at her hair again with her free hand, wanting nothing more than to scream her frustrations out, but if she did Secundus might hear it and come in again. By Juno, how she hated the man!

Another alternative came to mind, but it was not one Livia cared much for. "I could have you sent away... but to where? And under what pretences?" Not to mention that that would mean crude, curly-haired Ursa would attend to Livia for the whole of Aglaea's absence, and that was most unfortunate in and of itself. Perhaps Aglaea had thoughts of her own on the matter. "What do you suggest?" There was tiredness and resignation in Livia's voice, but she felt they must commit to a course of action before they left the chamber; the gods knew when their next opportunity to speak undisturbed would be.

@Echo @Járnviðr

 

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Aglaea felt a ghost of a smile flit across her face when Livia accepted the cloth and wiped her eyes with it, but it instantly fell when the tears arrived in her eyes again. "Please don't cry domina," she said quietly, a note of desperation. "I don't like to see you cry." She knew this was futile but it made her feel slightly better, even if she knew Livia had the right to cry about the whole mess. The Judean still felt guilt about not telling Livia, even if she believed it had been the right course of action. Her original plan, of letting Secundus's hopes be dashed until he gave up, hadn't worked, and now they were saddled with a much more delicate and dangerous situation. 

Aglaea stared at Livia as she suggested she should not let the child grow up, an expression of hurt flitting across her face. It was the one option she would never consider. Already, she felt a responsibility to this child, to get it into the world so it had a fighting chance at a happy life... a life so unlike its mother led now. But Livia immediately backtracked, saying she hadn't meant it. Aglaea gazed down at her clasped hands before nodding at length. "I forgive you. I understand how painful this must be for you and I'm very sorry." Livia pulled at her hair again and, feeling a little safer in touching her mistress, Aglaea gently took her wrist in her hand and pulled it away from her head. "Don't do that, domina. You have the most beautiful hair." Her hand shifted to hold Livia's in hers. 

Livia went on to suggest that she send Aglaea away for her pregnancy and the slave bit her lip, considering the possibility. But she was right - who would take her in for nine months, until she was unable to be useful? Her sister might have, at one point, but their relationship had been so strained recently, Aglaea doubted Horatia would want another slave in her household to care for. Then there was Livia's father, but again - Livia probably wasn't very fond of her father for putting Livia unwillingly into the marriage that had caused this situation in the first place. It seemed an untenable option. 

"What, and leave foolish Ursa to comb your hair in the mornings? You know she yanks it horribly," Aglaea said with a slight twist in her mouth that spoke of a smile. She grew serious again as Livia asked her what she thought. "I'm not sure, domina. But I don't think we can hide it from Secundus very long anyway. Perhaps..." She sighed, throwing up her free hand in frustration. "We can't win, no matter how we slice it. Maybe a plan will come to us in time, but why hide it? Secundus will come to know eventually." She glanced at Livia again. "And we can't stay cooped up in here for very long. He'll want an explanation."

@Liv @Járnviðr

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It wasn't as though Livia enjoyed crying either! But she knew the words to come from a place of genuine worry, so she just gave a watery smile and attempt to regain control over her emotions,swallowing until the lump in her throat was of manageable dimensions and blinking until most of the wetness was gone.

She let Aglaea take her hand in hers, moving it away from her hair, and chuckled in earnest at the little joke at the absent female slave's expense. It was true that Ursa was no ornatrix, never would be, and had yet to realise that the way she treated her own curly hair didn't apply to Livia's straighter and limper locks. "You would come back to find me bald," she quipped, mirth shining in her eyes for a second but fading back into helplessness and distress.

Aglaea was right: they couldn't stay there forever, and however capricious Livia might have been on an ordinary day, the morning routine was practised enough that any great delays would arouse suspicion. She was also right in that Secundus would come to know in time... and a spark of defiance surged within Livia's chest. "Why not tell him now?" Take him by surprise and see him squirm his way out of the mess like the vermin he was. Then he would stop rubbing that stupid party in her face! 

Of course, another benefit of coming clean was that he would have no reason to force himself upon Aglaea any more, having got what he wanted. Likewise, that could also mean there would be no reason for him and Livia to share a bed on occasion, at least until the child was born and was proven to be the right gender. And that, in turn, meant Livia had to be extra careful in the months to come. She let out a tired sigh. There simply wasn't an easy way out of this nerve-racking situation. "It will get him off your back, I think, now that he's accomplished his sick goal," she reasoned somewhat belatedly, and stood up to move back into her own room. 

She selected a dark green stola, thinking the colour suit her mood well with her fits of jealousy and anger, and some jewellery to go with it. It felt so silly, to stand there as if it was any other day and nothing had changed... but it was all she could do at the moment.

@Echo @Járnviðr

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Aglaea smiled back as Livia did, noticing the way it didn't stick for very long. Smiles had a way of doing that in this household - appearing quickly and flitting away like frightened birds. "We can't have that happen," she said with a short laugh, referring to Livia becoming bald at the rough, inexperienced hands of Ursa. Aglaea was protective of her mistress in more ways than one, including her beauty. Livia was now suggesting that they tell Secundus now and Aglaea gave a shrug. "No time like the present, I suppose," she said. There was really no point in making him wait, especially since he would want an explanation for their earlier encounter. 

She lifted herself off the floor, her knees aching from the pressure she'd put on them. "I hope you're right." The last thing she wanted was to continue going to Secundus's bed with Livia in the know, so she hoped that that would be a benefit to telling him. "Let's get you ready for the day," she continued gently, following her mistress into the room. With practiced hand guiding her back into a calmer state, she wrapped the stola around Livia and then helped her with her hair, noting a few broken strands from her tearing hands with a "tut tut." Finally, Livia was ready, dressed like a proper matron. It was time to face the master of the household. 

@Liv @Járnviðr

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Secundus sat impatiently, hands thrumming his knees rhythmically. He had never quite been able to accept that the long stretches of time Livia spent readying herself were necessary. The woman did everything she could to avoid him, except when she would rather berate him. Today was no exception; leaving her alone with a female slave was certainly safer than a male one, he thought darkly, although if Livia found a way to betray him with a woman, he would not have been surprised. She invented new ways to ruin him every day. He hated when the two of them spoke privately. Aglaea had once seen him as a strange but decent man, and now her mistress had turned her against him.

As the minutes passed, he found himself wondering darkly whether they had tried to escape. They engaged in such theatrics, acting as though Secundus was unreasonable in his distrust of them. When had they ever proven themselves trustworthy? Unlike his wife, Secundus had honor. He took seriously the virtues of a husband and son, while Livia seemed to believe that she had no duties as a wife or domina. She punished him for her own shortcomings, and now she forced him to wait for her while her slave waited on her. Eventually, dissatisfied with having to exercise his patience, Secundus called out to them.

"Livia, please, join me. All of Rome awaits the moment you deign to entertain your husband, rather than seclude yourself in a miasma of selfishness."

@Liv @Echo

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No, it wasn't the sort of thing that could be put off indefinitely, not least because it would become quite visible in the near future. Livia practised half a dozen small speeches in her head as Aglaea tended to her, but none felt right in the end, and she was once again left wordless at the day's turn of events. She should have paid more attention to her tutors, but rhetoric and oratory had seemed like the boys' domain at the time and far too boring for a girl anyway.

Secundus' patience had run out - not that it abounded in the first place. At the sound of his voice the anger and indignation Livia had felt earlier seemed to morph into dread. How would he react to the news? What would he do? It was impossible to predict, and the lump on her throat that had been on its way to disappearing came back in full force. She fiddled with one of her rings and finally ventured out, coating her distaste for the man she had the misfortune of calling her husband in a veil of aloofness. 

"Such caustic words hurt me, Secundus. If I don't put in the effort you berate me for being lazy. When I do I am called selfish. Can I ever please you?" Her tone was coquettish, almost playful, but Livia meant every single word she spoke. There was just no pleasing the man. She took a seat opposite him, back straight as a rod as she carefully rearranged the folds of her clothes, and studied him intensely. Poor, poor Aglaea, forced to cater to his whims. The umbrage gave her a sudden burst of inner strength, and Livia cleared her throat.

"Husband, is there something you would like to tell me? Something pertaining to Aglaea, for example?"

@Echo @Járnviðr

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