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Late June, 75 CE

What a blessing it was, to be able to leave the house without her mistress on occasion. It only came every so often, usually no more than once a month, but Aglaea savored every minute of it when it did come. Of course, her outings were usually stipulated on her ability to run some errands, like picking up a purchase at the jeweler's or going to the market for the kitchen staff for a random ingredient. Today's final chore was to deliver a package from Livia to her brother-in-law, Tertius's home. Aglaea was unaware of the contents, but she knew Livia had intended it as a gift for either the master of the household or his son, so she knew it was important to be timely. 

She approached the house from the back, knowing her place as a slave very well. The door she slipped through seemed to be the culina, which was bustling in order to prepare for the afternoon meal. Aglaea sensed that her best move wouldn't be to disturb the various staff here, so she made her way carefully through the dingy room and toward the main part of the house, looking around for a household servant who could help her deliver her package. Glancing around, she noticed one girl she recognized vaguely, someone she might have met before. "Excuse me-" she approached the girl, who was a bit younger than she was. "It's Charis, isn't it?"

@Sara

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Charis was back in the garden. Now nearly in her seventh month of pregnancy, her duties were lighter but she enjoyed the distraction the weeding and pruning gave her. She was feeling more like herself day by day, but normality came in waves and she spent the majority of her time quietly working, seeking to distract herself from the never ending confusion of her present situation. Today, therefore, was a day like most others. She'd risen early and withdrew at lunchtime as the heat became intolerable. Now it was late afternoon, she had resumed her duties and was knelt before a rosebush, trimming it back when a voice queried and called her name. 

"Hmm?" She pondered and glanced over her shoulder as somebody approached and then she glanced up to see a familiar-ish face standing over her. "It is." She nodded and then stood, wiping her hands on a spare scrap of linen (she'd learned the hard way from the laundresses not to muddy her tunica). She bit her lip as she tried to place the other woman and then it came to her and a smile fell on her face, "You are Agla..." She winced, "Agl...aea? Domine's sister-in-law's slave?" She queried gently. She was certain this woman, much like herself, was much more than just a slave but it was helpful in these times just to be practical about it.

 

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Aglaea had met Charis briefly before, when Livia went to meet Tertius in his domus. She was glad that the other woman recognized her - she had seemed like a pleasant young woman and one that Aglaea might like to foster a friendship with. She had so few friendships, after all. Mostly just the other people in her synagogue, and various people she had met around Rome. She hadn't made many friends within her own household, even - they were all too frightened of Secundus to be seen speaking to one another, lest he have an episode and think they were conspiring against him. 

Charis tried to pronounced her name and got it right on the second try, to which Aglaea smiled. "Yes, that is right. It is good to see you again." She glanced at the woman's belly, which was growing with child. She chose not to mention it, though, remembering her own situation with Secundus and thinking she wouldn't want anyone to acknowledge her if she accidentally fell pregnant. She wasn't sure whether Charis was happy about her child, though, of course. Charis also remembered her as her master's sister-in-law's slave. Aglaea had long since gotten over any qualms about being called what she was. She had been a slave too long to have an issue with being recognized as one. "Yes, Livia Justina." She paused. "I was actually wondering if you could help me with something... if you are not too busy, of course."

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"It's good to see you too." She smiled genuinely with a little nod. Besides his clients, Domine didn't receive visitors all too often. She supposed if he had a wife, he might, but as a bachelor - and one estranged from his family - who was going to call on him? 

"Ah yes, now I remember." She seemed nice - Livia Justina - young, too young to have a husband her Dominus' age or older, but nice enough. "Oh no, of course I can - this can wait." She set down the tool she was using to trim the bush and winced as she stood. The further she progressed in this pregnancy, the worse her back ache became, but she tried to brush it off. Dominus wouldn't be angry with her helping another slave, would he? No, she reasoned to herself, this woman was the slave of his sister-in-law, a woman he liked, so it would be fine. She shoved any nerves that he'd be irritated, down to the pit of her stomach and offered a breezy smile to the young woman next to her. "Come," She said and gestured to a bench secreted away at the far end of the garden, "What can I help with?" 

 

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Aglaea noted the wince and made a movement as though to help her up, but she seemed to manage it on her own alright. Aglaea had never been pregnant before, but, being a woman, she had some knowledge of the havoc it could wreak on the mother's body. She hoped that Charis wasn't in too much pain - it would be a shame, as she was one of the few people in Rome who had been consistently kind to Aglaea. She couldn't even say that about her own mistress sometimes. 

Aglaea followed along as Charis gestured to a bench. As she sat, Aglaea hesitated for a moment, then reasoned it couldn't hurt to rest a moment. It had been a brisk walk over, after all. "Oh, it's nothing major, really," she said. "I was just looking for your master to deliver a package from my mistress." She glanced at the other woman. "I'm not sure what it is, if I'm honest," she continued. "Probably a gift to get on his good side." She chuckled a little. She fell quiet for a moment, then worked up the nerve to ask: "Forgive me, but are you with child?"

@Sara

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"Oh." Charis blinked and then bit her lip. She hadn't spoken to Tertius, not really at least, since he had let her out of her captivity and she had begun to mend herself. She didn't particularly wish to see him now, knowing that it could send her spiralling, but she was hardly going to ignore Aglaea's request. "No, no that's fine. I can give it to his body slave to give him." She offered with a breezy smile, "And I know he likes your mistress," She affirmed, "I'm sure he'll be grateful." Not that she could divine most of Tertius' moods, enigmatic as he was, but he seemed to get on with his sister-in-law, which was something. 

Silence swelled for a moment, before Aglaea asked a tentative question and Charis glanced at her with bemusement. She couldn't help herself; a wide grin stretched on her face as she chuckled - trying to restrain herself from breaking out into a proper laugh. Oh bless her!

"Y-yes, I am." She nodded after she managed to collect herself, "Sorry, I don't mean to laugh at you - I promise, I just...most people don't ask so delicately..." at least not now she was so far progressed. Her grin softened into a smile, "But yes, this isn't just honey cakes." A hand absently fell to her bump and she glanced curiously up at Aglaea. "It's...an odd feeling, to be so pregnant. This is my first..." That made it this far, she thought sadly to herself.

 

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Aglaea pulled out the package in question, setting it on the bench between them so that she wouldn't forget to give it to her. And since she had some time, she figured that there was nothing wrong with sitting here and speaking with the younger woman, who was really a sweet and gentle thing. A refreshing change from most of the people she dealt with - shady merchants or frightened slaves of Secundus's household. "Thank you very much. I didn't want to go wandering through the house when I wasn't invited, after all."

Charis then seemed to hold back some laughter at Aglaea's delicate question, failing a little bit. Aglaea blushed slightly but managed to chuckle along with her. Perhaps it had been a silly question. Charis explained that no one asked so delicately, but that she was indeed pregnant. She watched as her hand fell on the bump created by the child and felt a warm feeling wash over her. Children were always a blessing, and seeing pregnant women always reminded her of when Livia had had - and lost - her children. A bittersweet memory. 

"I'm sorry," she said with a good-natured smile. "I just didn't want to assume. How far along are you?" She smiled slightly as she thought of Livia - but had a sudden thought of Secundus and her arrangement with him. She almost shuddered but managed to keep the shadows from her face, for the most part. Surely, Charis had some lover within the household with whom she had conceived this child, and surely it was a happy occasion. 

@Sara

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Charis chuckled and tossed some of her hair that had fallen, back over her shoulder. She waved a hand, "That's kind of you - most aren't so discrete." She narrowed her eyes and tried to count the months in her head since Saturnalia. For the Romans, that the child was conceived on such a festival was surely auspicious, for her it was just grim. 

"Nearly seven months now, I think. It feels like years though," She smiled a little with good nature and tried to ignore the lump in her throat when she thought that her last child hadn't ever made it this far. The gods had spited Immin, her late husband, condemning his child to the afterlife but allowed Tertius' to thrive. How was that fair? "And nobody here has been with child," She added in a quieter tone, "So nobody can help tell me what happens next. I already feel enormous, I can't believe I'll get bigger." She couldn't help her grin. A thought occurred to her though and she glanced across at the other woman, "Have you ever...? Been with child?" 

 

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Aglaea chuckled as she said most people weren't discrete about her condition. Aglaea had learned over the years to be delicate about most situations, particularly about pregnant women. She'd had a trial by fire with Livia's miscarriage and stillborn child and dealing with her deep depression afterward. Charis seemed to be dealing with it well, but of course, Aglaea didn't know the whole situation. Was it a wanted child? "I do try," she said with a smile. 

Charis went on to explain that she was seven months pregnant and Aglaea gazed at her with wonder. "Goodness, I'm sure it does. I can't imagine..." Aglaea did feel a pang of jealousy, assuming that the child had been conceived out of love. She wanted something like that; deep within her, all she wanted was a man to care for and a child made from love. Charis then seemed apprehensive, asking whether she'd ever had a child. "No... I've never been so blessed," she said quietly, a faint smile still lingering. "I wish... but I am uninvolved," she said with a little laugh. She was curious about who Charis's baby's father was but was too embarrassed to ask such a question. "That sounds difficult, not having anyone to help you through the process. Has no one gotten you a midwife to teach you about... these things?" Aglaea was sure that if she ever got pregnant, Livia would find her people to help her through the process. 

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Charis sighed, a little disappointed. Aglaea was sweet - on the few chances they'd spoken before she'd found her nicer than most and it made Charis sad she hadn't experienced pregnancy; both out of a selfish desire for help, and also because judging by the slightly longing looks she shot her bump, because she evidently was intrigued about it. If only she knew the whole story; the failed abortion, the captivity she had endured at the hands of her master, the breakdown...all due to the little life that was growing within her now. She had come around to the idea of being a mother to Tertius' child, and was desperately hoping all went well, but when all was said and done - was it all worth it? She didn't know yet.

She nodded slightly at the question; "Domine has appointed somebody to help me, she comes every few weeks to check in but...she can be so brusque sometimes, as if she doesn't care because I'm just a slave. I think she usually helps forewomen or noble ladies." It wouldn't surprise her that Tertius had hired her the best, but the woman was so coarse Charis would have rather he'd hired somebody that knew and worked with slaves. She sighed and shrugged, her fingers playing with the fabric of the tunica over her bump. "It's just...not where I thought I'd be, here, pregnant, in Italia." A slave. "If you would have asked me two years ago I would have thought you were mad..." She managed a hoarse little chuckle.

 

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Aglaea sensed the other woman's disappointment and gave her a pitying look. "Birth is such a difficult thing to go through. It is a pity you haven't had more help, and I wish I could be helpful." If she had known the whole story, she would have gathered Charis in her arms and held her like a child. No one deserved to go through the things that she had. But of course, she had no idea and could only guess at the origin of the baby on its father's side. 

Charis explained that the midwife who came to check up on her had been hired by her master, and evidently worked with upper class women. Aglaea nodded knowingly. "Yes, I can imagine... my mistress's midwife wasn't the friendliest of people either. Perhaps it is a result of the women they work on," she said, grinning a little. It was the closest she would get to criticizing her mistress or other women in that class. 

Then Charis went on to say that she never thought she'd be here in Italia, pregnant. Her chuckle was hoarse and Aglaea gazed at her, slightly surprised. She hesitated a moment. "Life has a way of surprising us, doesn't it?" Slowly, she gathered the woman's hand in her own and squeezed it. "This must all be difficult for you. I will pray for the best outcome, and for you."

@Sara

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Charis chuckled, "I'm sure it is. Dominus isn't married though, so I don't have any real experience of ladies of their class." Her fingers played with the fabric over the bump and sighed. Aglaea was so sweet, she didn't deserve her company being morose and downtrodden. She tried to brush all of her worries and her fears aside as she turned to the woman with a light smile.

"Thank you - that's really very kind of you, and I'm not unhappy," She looked a little fearful for a moment. She didn't need another slave gossiping about her being ungrateful and for that to get back to Tertius. She felt a wave of nausea wash over her - she wasn't completely back to herself just yet and was still too worried over what her dominus would think and do, and she didn't need any more worries. But Aglaea was kind, surely she wouldn't repeat her misspeak? "It's just...this is my first house, I've-I've only been a slave for a little over a year. I'm adjusting well though I think, domine seems pleased now." Now they'd gotten over their hiccup.

 

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Aglaea only smiled at Charis's admission that she hadn't spent much time with ladies of the senatorial class. Aglaea certainly had opinions about them, excluding her mistress, but Charis didn't need to hear about all of them. Perhaps she would give her some tips if her master ever got married, but that was a conversation for another time. Aglaea had taken the other woman's hand in hers and squeezed, but she didn't want to make her uncomfortable, so after a moment, she let go and laced her fingers together in her lap. 

"I'm sure you aren't, but one can be happy and still have a difficult time," she replied gently, her brow furrowed in worry about the other woman. Something wasn't right with this situation, but Aglaea had enough training in being proper to not pry if Charis didn't want to open up. She did, though, say that she had only been a slave for over a year, which answered a lot of her questions. She remembered being a young child, speaking barely any Latin and having a lot expected of her. It was easy to learn as a child - it was harder for adults, even if they were young like Charis was. 

"I'm sure he is. Your Latin is excellent, and your gardens are immaculate," she said with a smile. She looked back down at her hands. "I remember being in a similar position you are in now. Being new in a household. It isn't easy." She bit her lip. "If you ever need help, or just someone to talk to... I just want to let you know that I'm available to you."

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Charis flushed with pride at the compliment. The gardens were her pride and joy and she felt a little sad at the prospect of being kept away from them once the child was born, as surely no matter what happened she couldn't resume her normal duties immediately (if at all). 

But Gods above Aglaea was so kind! Charis wished she could do something to show her, her gratitude but as she glanced around the gardens nothing immediately stood out. Besides, she had gotten into such trouble when she had socialised with Cynane and she couldn't risk her baby or her future. She sighed, and tucked her hair behind her ear before reaching out her hand to lightly squeeze the other womans. "You're too kind you know that?" She chuckled, "I was told being kind would get me in trouble here, people take advantage." Like her dominus, but that went unsaid. "Have you been with your mistress long? How long...did it take for it all to feel normal? If that's not too personal of a question, of course..."

 

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Aglaea was pleased to see that her compliment made Charis happy. Aglaea had tried to cultivate a personality of kindness and generosity, even in such a brutal time and place as she lived in. She loved seeing the looks on the faces of the people that she complimented. And Charis had such a pleasant personality as well - she would have to come and visit her more often. And she certainly wanted to see her baby when it was born - if Charis would let her, of course. 

Charis called her kind and Aglaea gave a humble smile. "I do try. Thank you." The other woman then explained that she had been told being kind would get her into trouble with people taking advantage of it. Aglaea's expression was knowing. "It can. But my personal philosophy is that you should be kind anyway - up until a point, anyway. You shouldn't let people take advantage of you." Charis then asked her how long it had taken her to feel normal in her mistress's house. It was an odd question; she had been with her so long, that it felt unnatural to be away from her. 

She said as much, then paused. "I have been with her for fourteen years, of course. But, if I am honest, as long as I've been with Livia, sometimes it still doesn't feel normal. Things change, happen... but I suppose it depends on your master. I was treated like a daughter in my first home, and like a sister in my second. I suppose... a year or two, to learn the family and its habits." She gazed at the other woman gratefully as she squeezed her hand back. "You are from Britannia, right? I had a bit of a leg up, understanding Latin culture, as my town was occupied by the Romans. I am sure that you will feel at home in no time. And in the meantime, as I said, I am available to you."

@Sara

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